By his third outing, DeCaire was beginning to become frustrated at being forced to start at the tail each feature.
“My third race was at Auburndale, Fla. It was a non-wing race and my car owner, Skeeter, was supposed to start on the outside pole. I was supposed to start last. Before the feature, I convinced Skeeter to switch cars without telling anyone so that I could start on the outside pole.
“All three of our cars looked identical and the officials didn’t know. I took the lead and led a bunch of it. Shane Butler popped me in the ass and slid by me; I ran second in my third race. On the frontstretch after the race everyone was pissed because I didn’t start where I was supposed to.
“Everyone was raising hell,” Troy says with a laugh.
By the 2004 season, DeCaire was showing talent, holding off sprint car aces Sport Allen and Dave Steele to earn his first career victory on Oct. 9 in a TBARA event at Columbia Motorsports Park. In addition, he finished ninth in the final TBARA standings to claim Rookie of the Year honors.
By 2005 DeCaire was catching fire. Driving for Stan Butler, after February’s Florida Speedweeks TBARA events DeCaire found himself trailing only Steele for the series point lead.
Steele’s father, veteran car owner Mac Steele, took notice and offered DeCaire a ride in his Auto Craft No. 0. Steele invited the 19-year-old to wheel his Beast chassis at The Milwaukee Mile and Winchester (Ind.) Speedway for USAC National Sprint Car Series events and the Little 500 the following May.
While driving for Mac, DeCaire began to build a relationship with his son. DeCaire knew all about the younger Steele and his stellar racing career, but until that point didn’t know him personally, due to the fact that Dave spent most of the summer in the Midwest competing with USAC.
At the time, Dave was preparing to open his Steele Performance Parts business in the same building that his father housed his sprint car operation and, as a result, was spending a significant amount of time at work on the premises.
It didn’t take long for Troy and Dave to build a rapport, becoming frequent lunch partners.
Like he did with all of his closest friends, Steele would assign Troy a nickname. He dubbed him “Numbnuts,” and from that point on never called him by his given name again.
“He eventually shortened it to Numbies or Numbs, because it was easier to text,” DeCaire added with a laugh.
Eventually, Steele asked DeCaire if he would be interested in working at his new business. Troy quickly accepted, recognizing the opportunity to learn from the veteran racer.
“I’d go there and ask him what we were doing that day. He’d say, ‘Paint that wall.’ It was never work on race cars. Very rarely I’d say, ‘Dude, come on, teach me something.’ He’d say, ‘I am.’ I was his janitor, basically. I’d say, ‘Come on, man. You’re Dave Steele, teach me about racing!’
Dave gradually began introducing lessons that would prove useful throughout DeCaire’s career.
“He would sprinkle in little things. He would ask me, ‘Do you know how to take apart a rear end?’ I’d say, nope. And then he’d say, ‘Well, you’re gonna learn today.’ I would basically do all the jobs he didn’t wanna do. One day he told me to take the head off his Ford Ranger. I told him, ‘I didn’t come here to work on Ford Rangers, Dave. I didn’t come to paint walls. Teach me sprint car stuff!’
“He started giving me racing things to do. If I messed it up, he would hand me a broom and it would be another week of janitorial stuff.”
As the relationship progressed, Troy began to feel more and more certain that Steele was simply using him for entertainment.
“I was always getting yelled at and called a dumbass,” DeCaire noted.
But, it was a friend of Steele’s that put that theory to rest.
“One day one of his closest friends said, ‘That guy loves you,’” DeCaire remembered. “I questioned him and asked why he thought that, because I really thought he hated me. ‘He lets you go on the boat with him every Sunday, doesn’t he? He doesn’t let a whole lot of people do that,’ he told me.”
In addition, Steele was giving him an education. Rather than simply giving the young racer the answers he requested, Steele pushed Troy to learn to think through and figure out solutions.
“If I asked him a question, he’d want me to answer it before him. If I got close to the answer, he stopped talking and would say, ‘Perhaps.’ He was forcing me to learn.”
As DeCaire began to become more competitive, an on-track rivalry developed between the two.
“If I won the race on Saturday, I wouldn’t get the text telling me where to meet to go boating on Sunday. When I would ask him about it, he’d say, ‘You didn’t get the text?’ Eventually we rarely talked about racing, when we became direct competition.
“One night at Desoto Speedway, I caught and passed him with about six laps to go and won the race. Prior to that race, every time I had won I had started in front of him. He would always tell me I finished ahead of him but I didn’t beat him because I never passed him. ‘When you pass me, that means you beat me,’ he would always say. But I passed him that night for the first time.
“He was a straightaway out when I got to second. I grabbed the wing slider, but I didn’t really know much about the wing slider. I moved it back and all of a sudden I’m catching him. At that point I’m drooling. Dave had no clue. Nobody runs Dave Steele down and passes him!
“I caught him and sailed high into three on the outside. I got him before he knew and could do anything about it. I cleared him, but that is the scaredest I have ever been, ever. He was probably just as surprised as anybody that I passed him and won. I couldn’t believe I finally beat him.”