Sprint-car fans throughout the Midwest are quickly learning what fans of the popular open-wheel cars in Florida have known for years.
The education is centered on the driving prowess of Troy DeCaire, who this season has proven to be the real deal, not only in his native Florida but also in the fast world of winged and non-winged sprint-car racing throughout Indiana, Michigan and surrounding states.
The 24-year-old DeCaire burst onto the Midwest sprint-car scene this spring after several top-shelf years racing with the Tampa Bay Area Racing Ass’n and other sprint-car series in Florida.
DeCaire’s time racing sprint cars in the Sunshine State began in 2004, a year that saw him become the second-youngest driver to win a TBARA feature and the rookie-of-the-year award in the asphalt winged sprint-car series. Back-to-back TBARA championships in 2007 and ’08, and around 40 victories over the last two years cemented DeCaire’s status as one of the best and most popular sprint-car drivers that Florida had ever seen.
By the end of 2009, DeCaire had won just about everything there was to win on the Florida sprint-car scene. At an age when many young adults become restless about their future and what it might bring — or more importantly, what they want it to bring — DeCaire was at a crossroads.
“We won all the big races in Florida, winged and non-winged,” DeCaire began, speaking with an air of confidence and direct honesty. “I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Did I want to race? Did I want to try to find a real job? I thought about it for awhile and decided that I wanted to move to Indy.”
In an age when many racers, mechanics and professionals in nearly every area of the racing industry are moving South (to stock-car country) where many feel the opportunity in the sport is greater, DeCaire packed his bags in April and headed 1,000 miles north of his Tampa home to Indianapolis, where he felt his goal of racing cars for a living had a chance to be realized.
“My cousin and I made the move. My cousin bought a 1992 Lexus for about $700 and we raised $1,700 from friends and family and left Tampa. We lived out of the Lexus for a couple weeks before settling into a room at a buddy’s house in Brownsburg, Ind., near a lot of the race shops. Living there, I can at least wake up in the morning and see what I’m trying to accomplish,” DeCaire said, noting that John Force Racing and other race shops are almost a stone’s throw from his current residence.
DeCaire said his parents, albeit a bit leery, supported his move.
“My mom was sad to see me go and my dad jokingly said he’d see me in a week. My parents support me, but they worry a lot, too. When people hear I’m from Tampa, they think palm trees and a beautiful house. My parents live in a tough neighborhood. My dad’s unemployed and my mom doesn’t make much money. A big part of my move is trying to figure out a way to get her out of there. You have to put yourself in a situation where you have no choice but to succeed,” DeCaire said.
DeCaire arrived in Indiana having one ride lined up with Mike Blake and an initial plan to run about 30 races in different winged sprint tours, including the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series. What’s spawned from his arrival in the Hoosier State is something DeCaire couldn’t have predicted, but surely hoped for.
DeCaire is now running for “about four different car owners” in several series. He’s racing winged and non-winged sprints, dabbling in USAC midgets and spending time on dirt and asphalt. DeCaire, who says his agreement with each car owner is a little different but generally ranges from around 30 to 40 percent of the purse, made his first foray into USAC Silver Crown racing Aug. 12, debuting in the Great Lakes 150 at Michigan’s Berlin Raceway and finishing 10th.
Two nights later, DeCaire earned what he figured was the biggest victory of his career, the Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial Xtreme Sprint Series feature at Salem (Ind.) Speedway.
“The win at Salem was big,” DeCaire said. “First, to be a part of the history of that race is special. Getting to hold the Silver Cup that guys like Rich Volger and A.J. Foyt had held in years past was very special. But it was also great for my career because a lot of big names were there with the USAC (sprint car) series running with us. They saw it and a lot of them shook my hand after the win, and I realized that it was a really big deal.”
DeCaire’s Salem triumph was his fourth feature win of the season and his first with the Xtreme Sprint Series, in which he leads the points with one race remaining. It was also DeCaire’s first victory in the Midwest, as his first three victories of the year came in TBARA competition.
When asked about the differences in racing in Florida vs. the Midwest, DeCaire said there are some stark contrasts.
“I don’t want to take anything away from anyone. Anywhere you go in this country, you have to be on top of your game. No matter which race track, there will be a guy who races there every week, knows the track and is fast.
“The cars are actually better in Florida,” he continued. “The equipment is mostly top notch and the cars are nicer. There are a lot of good drivers in Florida, but you race once a week, and sometimes only once every two weeks. In the Midwest, they race so much, and people know how to make more out of less. You get so many more chances to improve on your car, and there’s not much time to celebrate a win or worry about a loss. You just go on to the next race. There’s little time to sit around your shop and over-think things. You get to the next track and figure it out.”
As for regrets, DeCaire said he only has one.
“I regret not moving up here sooner. You know, I never thought I was good enough and I thought it took a lot of money that I didn’t have. People kept telling me I couldn’t do it and I listened. I made the move when I stopped listening to those people,” he said.
DeCaire assumes a full-time career driving sprint cars is a realistic goal at this stage. While in recent years many up-and-coming racers have set their sights toward NASCAR, DeCaire’s view to the top of the ladder veers in a slightly different direction.
“A lot of people harp on NASCAR as being the top form of racing. I don’t believe that,” DeCaire emphatically stated. “I’d like to go to Indy; I have a lot of interest in that. It’d be great to get back to the old school and get sprint-car racers back to Indy. But being realistic, I’ll probably race sprint cars full time. You can make a nice living racing a sprint car, and I wouldn’t be too upset about doing that.”
It’s doubtful that his growing fan base, which now spans from the Deep South to the Upper Midwest, would be terribly upset about that either.