By Mark Ambrogi
Bill Throckmorton is getting closer to his dream of putting a car in the Indianapolis 500.
It won’t happen in 2021. The team’s effort to put R.C. Enerson in the race in the Chevrolet came up 1 mile short at 227.298 mph.
“I guarantee we’ll have a car in the 500 next year, and R.C. will be the kid driving it,” Throckmorton said.
Throckmorton, a 1985 Avon High School graduate, formed Top Gun Racing. In their inaugural hunt for the famous Borg-Warner Trophy, Throckmorton said his wife Stephanie has been working on building the team for nearly two years, and 2021 was the team’s first attempt to put a car in the 500.
“My wife Stephanie and I have talked about wanting to have an IndyCar team for three years.” said Throckmorton, who is the owner of the Grant King Race Shops, which restores vintage cars on the far west side of Indianapolis.
Throckmorton said he was encouraged by the month.
“We had 38 days to put a car together, be set up and we were 1 mile off the Penske team (Will Power who will start 32nd with 228.876 mph),” Throckmorton said. “What’s bad about that? That’s pretty good. It was close. We did everything we could. Nobody is disappointed. We are planning on running four more (IndyCar) races this season.”
The team, sponsored by Grant King Race Shops, plans to run road courses in Mid-Ohio, Elkhart Lake (Wis.), Nashville, Tenn. and an oval at Gateway Motorsports Park (outside St. Louis).
“Our little team is like a family,” Throckmorton said. “We’re a little team with a lot of motivation. We’re the Cinderella story.”
Throckmorton said that translated into developing a big fan base for the long shot effort.
“The car came from Italy in a box with no parts assembled on April 2, and we’re testing at Gateway on May 10,” he said.
Enerson, 24, has had four IndyCar starts, three for Coyne Racing in 2016 and one for Carlin in 2019, all on road courses. He was fourth in points in the Indy Lights series in 2015, giving him experiences on ovals.
“Having an IndyCar team is just a dream come true for Bill,” Stephanie said. “I enjoy racing. I was the announcer for Gas City I-69 Speedway for 17 years.”
Facing the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge, Stephanie said..
“It’s been a short road but a long road to get here,” Stephanie said. “We’re just concentrating on the IndyCar Series right now. We have a great team put together.”
Roy Wilkerson serves as Top Gun chief mechanic, and Eric Peterson.works as lead engineer.
“I’ve had race cars all my life,” said Throckmorton, who drove sprint cars and midgets. “We’ve had our own sprint car teams. We have teams in other forms of racing. We’re working out of Grant King (Race) Shops now.”
Throckmorton said Stephanie’s contributions are huge.
“She does everything,” Throckmorton said. “Without her, we wouldn’t get anything done.
King, who opened the shop in 1970, was Throckmorton’s uncle by marriage. King’s first wife Doris was his mother’s sister. King owned and built Indy cars and ran cars in the Indianapolis 500 from 1970-1983. He built cars that A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Tom Sneva and Al Unser drove, among others.
“I grew up in the shop,” Throckmortion said. “I worked there from the time I was 7 or 8 years old. I started sweeping floors when I was 5 or 6. I was welding and fabricating there from the time I was very young. I worked more than I went to school to be honest.”
Throckmorton, who quit driving in 1998, had started his own advanced welding and engineering business in 1988. He has owned the shop since 2001. King died in a car accident in 1999.
Stephanie, whose maiden name is Valentine, drove sprint cars and midgets on pavement as well from 1991-1997. The couple have been friends for 30 years but have been married since 2018.
“Our shop is basically a working race shop museum,” Throckmorton said. “We still restore and build cars. We do restoration of the famous race cars. We usually do it for customers. Then we have a lot of our own cars like that.”
Throckmorton said there are an assortment of Grant King built cars, IndyCars, sprints and midgets on display in the shop. There are thousands of photos and memorabilia.
One day Throckmorton would love to see one of his own Indy 500 cars put on display.
Getting to know Bill Throckmorton
Hendricks County connections: Graduated in 1985 from Avon High School
Family: Throckmorton married Stephanie Valentine in 2018.
Hobbies: Racing history, has made YouTube videos on the history of Grant King Race Shops. “(Retired Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian) Donald Davidson is definitely one of my heroes.”
Favorite Indy 500 moment: “When Tom Sneva qualified our (Grant King) car as a rookie in 1974. He ended up qualifying the car in the rain and put it in the third row.”
Favorite driver: “I knew a lot of the drivers from the 1970s and ‘80s. I don’t have a favorite, just appreciate all of them I’m lucky enough to know.”
Favorite TV show: “NCIS: New Orleans.”