Mooresville, N.C. — The hearts of the racing community throughout the northeast and the world of stock car racing are hurting as news spreads of legendary asphalt modified builder and racer Maynard Troyer’s passing on Thursday at the age of 79.
Troyer, from Spencerport, New York, built and raced asphalt modifieds in the late 1960’s until 1982, when he retired from competitive modified racing. He founded Troyer Engineering in 1977, and began mass-producing asphalt modified cars for race teams up and down the East Coast.
He made a few starts in NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series, but never really had the type of success he enjoyed in the modifieds. His Cup career may be best remembered by his 1971 Daytona 500 crash in which he lost control on lap 10, hit the “flat” at a high rate of speed and began tumbling so fast that an official “flip count” is nearly impossible but is thought to be a total of 18 times.
I wasn’t old enough yet to remember that. I saw the video footage later, on a series that one of the networks’ produced called “13 Great Disasters”.
You can view it here:
I grew up in the 1970’s in the shadow of Oswego Speedway, a track so close to Lake Ontario that you can see it from the top of the grandstand. It was there that Troyer won numerous times in that period and had many a legendary battle with the likes of legends Richie Evans, Geoff Bodine, George Kent, Jim Shampine, Gary Reichert, Ron Bouchard, Satch Worley and more.
In those days it was common for 40 or more of the “Mighty Mod Squad” to show up at Oswego for one of the doubleheader race weekends with the track’s Supermodified division. For the Labor Day Weekend Modified 200, you could have a field totaling more than 80, including some of the most heralded legends of the division.
Maynard’s cars were always bright red, until 1977, when he showed up with the first version of what became known as his “white lightning” paint schemes. Never had I seen anything so stunningly beautiful as that car, and it remains one of my favorite cars to this day.
Troyer was a genius at making cars fast, and making them pretty. His craftsmanship is as good as you’ll ever see, and although he was small in stature he had a huge right foot that liked to push the loudpedal through the floorboard.
I watched Maynard sweep about every modified show Oswego had in 1976 including the Modified 200, and then just one year later I was there when he strapped into his good friend (and my first racing hero) Jimmy Shampine’s backup supermodified for the International Classic 200.
That led to one of the most humorous stories in the speedway’s history.
Shampine had built the infamous “radical offset” supermodified car a year earlier, but did not run it in competition until June of ’77. He won the first two races he ran with the car, and he had chosen to race it in the Classic.
Troyer installed his own engine in Jimmy’s backup roadster for that race, and an agreement was reached at that if Jimmy needed the backup car at any point in the race and they could make a time to call Troyer in to make the swap without losing a lap, Maynard would then high-tail it up the road a piece to Fulton Speedway to see if he could start the feature in his Modified and protect his NEARA Series points lead.
As luck would have it, Shampine’s car broke early in the race. He watched Troyer run inside the top ten with his backup until a multi-car accident brought out a red flag.
It was under that red flag that Troyer pitted and the driver swap was made. Troyer attempted to cross the track into the grandstand area through the “small” pit gate door on the outside wall just at the end of the front straightaway.
I remember sitting in the grandstand watching Troyer, still in his firesuit but carrying his driver gear bag, go frantic waiting for track officials to open the gate.
The communication from tower to “gatekeeper” was a little too slow for the hurried racer, so he proceeded to jump the outside first turn steel wall into the grandstand area and scurry out to the parking lot to get in his car and drive south about 15 minutes hoping to get to Fulton on time.
Shampine took over for Troyer and drove from the back to finish fourth, the last classic he would run with “old faithful” before he sold the car prior to the 1978 season.
It was just five years later, on September 4th, 1982, that Shampine, driving in the Modified 200 for former Troyer crew chief Billy Taylor in the infamous “White Tornado” No. 99 that Geoff Bodine won so many races in, blew his engine, spun and hit the track’s inside hubrail on lap 78. Another competitor, unable to see Jimmy in time to slow and avoid contact, hit Shampine’s car with enough force to spin it around.
The top-notch track safety crew carefully removed the distressed Shampine from the car, loaded him into the track’s ambulance and left for the Oswego Hospital. The race resumed and finished with Greg Sacks getting the win.
I had never seen an ambulance drive around the track so fast and get out the gate before. I was 14 and this was my hero. I was scared out of my mind but prayed that he would be OK to race in the Classic the next day. I watched the rest of the race, but had no real interest in its’ conclusion.
When I went to the pits afterward, it was the expression on Troyer’s face that first told me that the situation with my hero couldn’t have been good. He was just sitting on his trailer. Teams were going about the business of loading up, but there wasn’t a lot of chatter.
I left before the track lowered its flag to half-mast. I arrived home to hear from my mother that my worst fears had been realized.
My first racing hero was gone. It was this then 14-year-0ld’s first lesson in mortality, and I didn’t sleep at all that night.
Troyer retired just a few weeks after Shampine’s death, and I heard somewhere a while back that the tragedy weighed heavily into his decision.
He did briefly return to Oswego action the following year to dial in a gorgeous supermodified he built for friend and Troyer modified racer Dean Hoag. Maynard finished fifth with the car in its maiden voyage and then raced it a few more weeks after that.
To my knowledge, he never raced again once he turned the car over to Hoag.
He did build two more supers, though, one for driver Gary Iulg, who destroyed it in a crash, and one for veteran car owner Skip Matczak. It was in the Matczak car that another bit of irony occurred in 1985.
Troyer’s modified racing rival Evans climbed aboard the Matczak No. 3 built by Troyer for the Port City race that year, and proceeded to take the car three-wide to the outside of top racers Eddie Bellinger and Mike Muldoon to win a heat race in one of the wildest finishes in track history.
Evans would lose his life at Martinsville later that season, but his time in the No. 3 is believed to be the only time he ever raced in a car Troyer built. Evans always built his own modifieds and the battles with Troyer in that division took place often at tracks all over the Northeast and they were epic.
It was at Stafford Speedway in the mid-70’s that a “run what ya brung” race was held. These races were popular with fans because you never knew who was going to show up with what oddball kind of car. Troyer borrowed the supermodified top wing off of Shampine’s car and Evans did the same thing from good friend Nolan Swift.
Evans won that race with Troyer second. This same finish happened probably hundreds of times across
the years those two raced together, in one order or the other. I’m thankful to have witnessed more than a few of those in person.
Eventually, Troyer and his company built a dirt modified affectionately called a “Mud Bus” and revolutionized that division as well. He retired from building cars in 1990 but the company, which he sold in 1998 to business partner Billy Colton, continues to produce winning cars on both pavement and dirt to this day.
1986 Daytona 500 Champion Geoff Bodine, a competitor of Troyer’s for many years in the modified division, said of Troyer’s passing, “Maynard was a great racer. He helped me to learn how to race.” I’m sure the same could be said from dozens of other racers who were mentored by one of the all-time best.
I will forever remember Maynard Troyer as an innovator, a championship-caliber racer and one of the most personable drivers in the pit area. His impact on northeast modified racing both dirt and pavement will live on in infamy.
If NASCAR doesn’t eventually put him into the Hall Of Fame, it will be a shame. Though he never competed in the present-day incarnation of the “Whelen Modified Tour”, he was one of the finest ever to strap into a car in NASCAR’s oldest series, and his chassis have won countless weekly NASCAR shows on both surfaces.
I believe he belongs in the Hall alongside Evans and Jerry Cook. I know I’m not alone in that belief.
May God bless Maynard Troyer’s family, friends and all who knew and loved him in this time.
Another good one gone.