A nearly identical scenario played out a couple weeks later at Citrus County Speedway. DeCaire passed Steele for the win late in the race when Steele got trapped behind a lapped car. He told me after that race, ‘School’s over, Numbs.’
“I was heartbroken, honestly. You would have thought I slept with his girlfriend.”
By the end of the 2008 season, DeCaire was anxious to expand his horizons outside of the southeast. He was coming off his second consecutive TBARA championship and was dominating local racing with the George Rudolph-owned purple No. 68.
The duo had won just about everything Florida had to offer and added yet another championship when they took the Central Florida Wingless title.
A June 2009 invite from car owner Mike Blake gave him the opportunity he desired to race up north.
“I drove up to Anderson, Ind., for a HOSS (Hoosier Outlaw Sprint Series) race,” DeCaire recalled. “I got out of work on a Friday night, drove straight there, won the race and drove back home. The next day Blake calls and says, ‘We gotta get you up here for more races. They’re putting this Must See Racing deal together for next year (2010). Why don’t you just be my driver for that.’ And that’s what led to me racing up north.
“J.R. Kunstbeck and me packed everything in a car and headed to Indiana before the season started.”
DeCaire was given the opportunity to try to live his dream, but the life of a broke young racer paying his dues was far from glamorous.
“We were sleeping in the car and bouncing around from couch to couch. Then my buddies Jake Argo and Sean Buckley had a three-bedroom apartment and had an extra bedroom. I was sleeping on the floor. I didn’t have a bed or any furniture; I didn’t even have a TV. One day one of my roommates went into my room and said, ‘Dude you don’t even have a bed.’ I said, if I could just win a race I’ll be OK. I was just making sure I had my portion of the rent.”
Eating regularly was an even greater challenge.
“We would go to hotels and sneak in the back and eat continental breakfasts. There were hotels all around where we were staying. We were ramen noodles chefs. My mom would send me up canned foods and stuff like that. Finally, I met Gregg Rose, who owned a Jimmy John’s in Brownsburg, and he said he’d sponsor me in Jimmy John’s. For six months straight I ate Jimmy John’s every day unless I got paid for racing. I wasn’t discouraged because I was going to 80 to 90 races, because dirt teams would let me work on their cars. I guess I didn’t have a clue.”
Another break would come from racer Shane Hmiel. Hmiel gave DeCaire a job working on his USAC sprint car and midget. Along with it came a regular paycheck and a new place to stay in Fairmount, Ind.
“I was working for Shane and going to races with him. I was running my car, and the schedule worked out perfectly, nothing really overlapped. Things were starting to come together because Shane was paying me and I had steady money and was winning and running up front with my deal.”
On July 22, 2010, DeCaire fulfilled a bucket list item by driving a USAC Silver Crown car at Indianapolis Raceway Park. It was one of his finest driving displays to that point.
“Blake and I had pieced a Silver Crown car together. We went to IRP on an open trailer and we only had four wheels for it. We couldn’t get it to run all day. I had to dismount wheels between qualifying and the feature. I made two laps in qualifying at half-speed because it wouldn’t run, but I had to make a lap per USAC rules,” DeCaire noted. “We cleaned out the fuel lines because it had sat so long and ended up getting it to run for the feature.”
When the green flag dropped for the start of the 100-lap event, DeCaire put on an impressive driving display.
“I drove from 30th to ninth,” he recalled. “I got to Shane (Hmiel) with 20 to go and I thought I could run top-five. Aric Almirola was my spotter; he helped me get through that whole race by spotting me. Shane started running me into the grass and drove me up the track; he blocked the sh*t out of me. He cost me a much better finish. He later told me, ‘There wasn’t any way I was letting that start and park pass me.’
“He was racing for a championship and he was saying that all day, because he was mad I wasn’t helping him on his car. I thought that day was gonna be my big break; I had just drove through the field.”
Nearly a month later at Berlin Raceway in Marne, Mich., another strong performance would net DeCaire his second consecutive top-10 finish in as many USAC Silver Crown starts.
“Shane and Levi Jones were trying to tell me what to do, but it wasn’t working. I called Dave (Steele) and, over the phone, he told me what to do. I don’t know what it was, but that car woke up. I was running third or fourth at one point, but I ran the tires off it.”
This story will be continued in Travelin’ Troy, Part II.