“There’s only one way to do something—the right way.”
“If you think you know everything, you don’t know anything.”
These are but a couple of the sayings that echoed around Troy Trepanier as he worked as a youth. His grandfather, John, reminded him constantly to do everything to the best of his ability, every time.
It may have been a frustrating youth for Trepanier [who jokes, “Of course, I already knew everything, right?”], but in the end, it did work out. Trepanier used that perfectionist attitude to build one of the best reputations for building cars in the business.
“You’ll want to thank me for it someday, but it’ll be too late,” said Grandfather John.
Of course, he was right. Trepanier’s grandfather passed away before he could see his grandson’s success through living eyes or hear his thanks with his own ears. Of course, that doesn’t mean the message didn’t get through. Something tells me that somewhere, Troy’s grandfather is looking and listening, and he’s happy with what he sees.
Troy grew up in an environment that instilled a determined work ethic and encouraged ingenuity—as long as everything was done “the right way.”
“My dad had a general automotive shop for 38 years, so I grew up in that. And then my grandfather [his paternal grandfather] was a pipe-fitter fabricator. He did a lot of stuff at home, welding jobs and things like that. His house is on the same property as my dad’s automotive business.”
Rad Rides by Troy is located on that same property today.
“So, I grew up in a mechanic shop and welding pop cans together in my grandpa’s garage. I got some of the basic fabrication lessons from my grandfather, and he taught me how to do things right. Then, the automotive side came from my dad. I grew up with both of them,” recalls Troy.
He also remembers that his grandfather was a perfectionist and expected the same from him.
“He’s the one that really taught me to always do things right,” says Troy. “Nothing was ever good enough when I’d help him. It was always, ‘Do it better.’ And, there was only one way to do things: ‘The right way.’ He had all of these sayings. But, everything I do still, whether it’s sweeping the floor or building a million-dollar car, there’s only one way to do it, and that’s from him drilling it in my head,” recalls Troy.
The first car Troy ever did was a ’66 Chevelle, which his grandfather had bought brand new.
“I remember hauling my mini-bike in it and everything growing up. He blew it up and gave it to me, and that’s kind of what got everything started,” says Troy.
Right Out Of High School
Troy’s summers and afternoons were spent at his father and grandfather’s shops, but the rest of the time, he led an ordinary childhood and high school existence.
“I played every sport in school: basketball, baseball, golf, cross country. I did all of that in school, and I did well in school, but from there, instead of going to college, I came and worked for my dad. I did everything, but I mostly did chassis stuff. I did that for awhile and then worked on the cars at night in the same building. Finally, that got to be too much, working all day and night, and so I decided to do it on my own,” says Troy.
Acknowledging all of the help he’s gotten from his parents and family, Troy says they built an addition on one of their buildings. Rad Rides by Troy has now grown into all of the buildings.
“Everybody always asks me, ‘Do you think you’d be doing what you’re doing now if you hadn’t grown up in this environment?’ and I guess I never really thought into it that deep. I was always consumed with what I was doing at the time and never really thought any further than that, but it’s turned into a pretty good deal,” says Troy.
The First Few Builds
Troy has been building cars since 1986, but says he was just tinkering in those days.
“I built my first four cars for myself. I’d build one, go out and get all of the publicity in the magazines, sell the car and buy a new one to build. I did that four times just to get a good reputation going, and I had real good success,” he says.
Real good success means two of those four vehicles were named Hot Rod Magazine’s car of the year—not too shabby for someone fresh out of high school.
“So, that helped, and it was a family thing in the beginning. My mom and dad always went with me, and so I think that aided me further. I did that for almost 10 years. By 1996, it’d actually become a business, Rad Rides, and I started doing it full time,” says Troy.
In those days, it was just Troy and one other guy. Today, Rad Rides by Troy employs 18 people.
In Troy’s words, Rad Rides “does everything, and everything’s in house.” With so much work being done in house, and the work of Rad Rides by Troy being so highly regarded, whoever’s in charge of quality control has done a great job. How does Troy manage it?
“I still touch everything that leaves this shop in one way or another. And all of my guys are great. I’ve got probably seven or eight guys that are under 25. I’ve got a lot of young people, and then I’ve got a mix of guys my age, mid-30s, and then a couple of older guys.”
Troy says the great thing about his crew is that he doesn’t have to baby-sit anybody.
“We talk about ideas on each piece that they work on, but then I just let them do it. They’re very qualified, and I’ve been very fortunate to have guys move here.”
Out of the staff of 18 at Rad Rides, Troy estimates 11 of them moved from out of state to work with him.
“They’re here for a reason. They see the quality that we’ve been doing, and they want to be a part of it. And, we’re really fortunate to have great customers who make it fun to work on this stuff,” says Troy.
At Rad Rides, when someone thinks of a creative way to do something, they’re given the opportunity to do it. Cool ideas are not dismissed because of financial restraints. For the most part, the customers of Rad Rides allow Troy and his band of merry car makers to do things the right way and be inventive.
“We’re able to pretty much dream up and build whatever we come up with, and we’re not limited. That really makes a big difference,” says Troy.
Complementing the diverse spectrum of work being done at Rad Rides are their designs.
“We do some sketching. We have an in-house gentleman, Bob Thrash, who sketches for us. And then a lot of it, we just have a specific style. Some customers need a rendering to work with, and some of them—most of the people that we work for—like our style. So, they’ll pick a particular car, and then they’ll just trust us.”
Obviously, Troy interacts with the customers, but they let him make decisions on style, colors, everything.
“Everybody in here has designing capabilities. We just do a lot of little sketches and work from that. There’s no big blueprint laid out or something like that. We have the idea in the beginning, and we follow through with that, but a lot of it’s just from the cuff,” says Troy.
The Best Part
Asked what his favorite aspect of being in business for himself is, Troy says simply, “Freedom.”
“Of course, you get the gut-ache, the pressure of doing it, because it’s your own deal. But as you build up a great reputation, you get great people to work with and everybody trusts you, customers and employees. A lot of things start to come easier now,” says Troy.
“It’s nice. If we call somewhere new, a manufacturer or an OEM person, they know us. The credibility makes it easy to run the business. And, that’s because we’re honest, hardworking and we make things work,” says Troy.
Having an established business also helps with life away from the shop, particularly the ability to take time for the family.
“I have three children: 10, 7 and 4, and I do a lot with them. I coach softball, soccer, things like that. So, if something’s up, I just go do it. I don’t have to worry about the shop, because I’ve got the guys here to take care of it. And that’s one of the best things right now, being able to enjoy my family without worrying about what’s going on here,” says Troy.
Part of the reason for that comfort is that Troy’s employees have relationships with all of the customers whose cars they’re building.
“When the customers come in, they’re not just looking to talk to me,” says Troy.
On the flip side, when asked about the most challenging aspect of running his own business is, Troy answers that it’s actually disciplining employees. It’s difficult for him because they’re friends who hang out a lot.
“We have a real tight-knit group. You get on these big projects and you’re working so many hours together in a short time frame, you have to get along. When I’m hiring someone new, I’m looking at their personality as much as what they can do, because there’s so much time spent here in a tight group. So, we like to really get people that interact well together. And on the weekends, I’ve got a pool, so we’ll hang out there. Or, if there’s an event somewhere, a lot of us will go together. We just try to make it fun,” says Troy.
At Rad Rides, they’re not just coworkers, they’re buddies. So, to follow up on his first statement, since Troy has trouble disciplining employees, he delegates that responsibility to others.
“I rely on my other management people,” says Troy, laughing, “so I don’t have to do that discipline part. I’m just no good at it.”
However, Troy adds that he has an excellent group that is primarily self-motivated and takes great pride in the work that they produce.
Troy has many favorites from the cars he has created over the years. Among them are Sniper, the car that introduced him to the big stage, and First Love, for which he won the Ridler Award.
“We did the Sniper in ’96, and it was a ’54 Plymouth with a Viper drivetrain, and that one sticks out for a couple of reasons. We were only a three-man shop at the time, and that was my first big customer. We unveiled it at the SEMA Show for the 50th Anniversary of Hot Rod Magazine, and they had everybody there that night: John Force, Don Garlits, etc. Also, the customer became one of my best friends, and he’s still one of our customers today, so that was a huge stepping stone for us. Chip Foose and I worked together on that car, a little bit, and by having the customer behind me, I was able learn a lot from the right people on that car, and it really was a big stepping stone for us. When people saw that car, they knew we could do pretty much anything,” remembers Troy.
The anniversary for Hot Rod Magazine was also a coming-out party for Rad Rides by Troy.
There are several other cars Troy mentions among his favorites, but one of the most recent of them is the car he built for Ross and Beth Myers, a ’36 Ford named “First Love” that won the Ridler Award.
“He had bought this particular car when he was 9 years old for $25. He kept it 47 years, found us, and we did this car for him. He was very passionate, very classy, knew what it’d take to get the job done and just turned us loose. We built something that’s going to be hard to be matched in the next few years in terms of creativity, engineering and quality. What was nice about the project is that everybody got to dream up each part every day, and whatever it took to do it, we did it. The owner was super appreciative, so it was just a great project to work on,” says Troy.
Troy says having won the Ridler Award once, he’s not worried about winning it again, saying the experience couldn’t be any better than it was for First Love.
“A car like that takes the right customer,” says Troy, pointing out that an average car done by Rad Rides is $250,000. Most of them are $400,000 or $500,000.
“First Love cost two million, which is crazy until you see it, and then you understand. But, he was behind us 100 percent and never balked at any of the prices, and that’s important. He would come in with a great attitude and pump everybody up. It was great, and people that know him say they’ve never seen him as happy as when we finished that car,” says Troy.
The Blowfish is another of Troy’s favorite builds, and its owner is George Poteet, the same customer who commissioned the Sniper. Troy loves to work with him, and vice versa, and so when Poteet got involved with record setting at the Bonneville Salt Flats, it was only a matter of time before he sought out Troy again.
“He knew that we could do that type of fabricating, and he said, ‘You need to get your name in the record books out here.’ So, we built this ‘Cuda, a really fancy racecar, and we put our quality level to it, and we had Chrysler involved with us and all of the right people,” says Troy.
The record they were trying to beat, for the Blown Fuel Competition Coupe [engine class F], was a 25-year-old record. On their first fun, they beat it by 35 mph.
“That’s as big of a feather in our cap as winning the Ridler, because it’s a whole different crowd. They respect speed. When you talk about the Blowfish, it set the record. The credibility we’ve received from setting that record has been unbelievable,” says Troy.
The Blowfish isn’t done yet. After setting the record at 255 mph [the record was 220 mph], the Blowfish, Poteet and Rad Rides extended the record this year to 270 mph, with a four-cylinder engine. They’re switching to a V8 now, with a goal of running 300 mph, which has only been done a few times with a “door-slammer.”
SEMA 2007 and Beyond
Setting records and winning awards is just part of the business for Rad Rides by Troy, and that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon. At the time of this interview, Troy was working on another car with plenty of potential.
“This year, we’re bringing a ’40 Ford that we’ve been working on for five years, on and off. It’s very trick. We’ve built 80 percent of the body from scratch. It has a ’99 Mustang top that’s narrow and reshaped. So, it retracts like a new convertible that you’d buy where the roof goes it and the clamshell shuts in back; it’s that type of car. It’s very slick, and we’ve got a ton of time in it. We’re finishing it right now to bring to SEMA. It’ll be in the Eaton booth,” says Troy.
He adds that they may also be bringing the Ridler car and others, and if you make it to SEMA, be sure to set aside some time to spend admiring these vehicles. As Troy’s grandfather John Trepanier might say, “They were done right.”