Prev Article Next Article

Spotlight Interview: Bill Trovato

Posted By: Steve Baur
Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photography by the Race Pages staff

 
Interested in and intrigued by engines for as long as he can remember, Bill Trovato read the book “The Chevrolet Racing Engine” by Bill Jenkins when he was a teenager. In the years that followed, he started his own engine-building business, BTR Performance, near his home in Rochester, New York.
 
Trovato built an Oldsmobile engine for the 1970 Cutlass that he raced in the former NMCA EZ Street category, and an Oldsmobile engine for the 1978 Starfire that he raced in that category and then in the series’ Edelbrock Xtreme Street. 
 
Then, he made a major move when he bought a 2010 Camaro body-in-white in 2013 and built an LS engine for it. He remains formidably competitive in his chase to an Edelbrock Xtreme Street championship. In fact, he nearly achieved that goal a couple of times.
 
Trovato thrives on learning and taking things to the next level, and he evolves and excels while exploring ways in which to improve something. That serves him well and secures success—personally and professionally. Maybe more importantly, it also inspires his imagination.
 
Read on for more about Trovato, who said he is married to his best friend, Marianne. He has already achieved a 4.59 and 150 mph in the eighth-mile in Edelbrock Xtreme Street, but plans to go even quicker and faster with a new powerplant in 2022.
 

WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN CARS?

 
I grew up in a suburb of Rochester, New York, and when I was 14, I noticed that my neighbors down the street had cars that they were constantly doing burnouts in. One had a 1970 Barracuda and one had a 1973 Laguna, and I thought that was kind of cool. Then in high school, one of my buddies had a neighbor who had a 1970 GTX that he raced at Spencer Speedway in New York, so my friend and I went to watch him. The track was a tenth of a mile, and one night in 1983, when I was still in high school, the track announced that anyone could make a pass, so I made a pass in my 1970 Cutlass with a 350 cubic-inch Oldsmobile engine. I did the one-wheel-peel burnout and everything. I ran a 9-something in the tenth of a mile, which would probably be a 15-second pass in the quarter-mile. Then I was hooked, and the rest is history.
 
WHAT STEPS DID YOU TAKE NEXT SO THAT YOU COULD RACE MORE?

I had a job pumping gas at the local gas station, and the mechanic there bought a 1970 Toronado GT, and he told me that if I tore it apart for him, I could have the engine from it for my 1970 Cutlass. It was a 455 cubic-inch engine with 365 horsepower. Since my father would never want me to instal that engine into my car in his nice clean driveway, I waited until he left for work, rented a cherry picker, brought it home and started pulling the engine out of my Cutlass. I was a stupid 16-year-old kid at the time, so to get rid of the engine, I just took it somewhere, opened the tailgate and let it roll out. Then I went and got the engine from the mechanic’s 1970 Toronado GT, and I accidentally hit the oil pan on the frame and it opened up. So my friend and I went back to get the oil pan off of the engine I had let roll out of the truck, and there were city workers moving it out of the road, so we waited and then got the oil pan off of it. By 2:30 p.m., I was lowering the hood, but I hadn’t completely cleaned up the mess, and my dad walked up, swearing about that mess. He and my mom might not have loved what I was doing, but they knew I was passionate about it, and they let me do it. 
 

WERE YOU QUICK TO TAKE THE CUTLASS TO THE TRACK AFTER YOU PUT THE 455 CUBIC-INCH ENGINE IT?
 

I sure was. I took it back to Spencer Speedway, and it was a full second faster with that engine. From there, I started buying things for the car, like cams, gears, and a nitrous kit, even though I was just 17. After I graduated from high school, I started working at a Delco factory in Rochester, New York.
 
WHAT WERE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES AT DELCO?
 
The company made small electrical motors for GM, and I started out on the assembly line and then I was TIG welding. You couldn’t pay for the kind of education I got there. I wanted to get into the skilled trades, and I took a test and got into the apprentice program and became a skilled tradesman. So, basically, I worked with millwrights, sheet metal and pneumatics experts and plumbers, and I was literally trained by all of them. There were 3,200 people working there when I started there, but then work was being sent to Mexico and the workers were leaving. When they gave me the opportunity to leave in 2005, after 19 years in, they gave me $50,000, and I took out a loan and used the money to start my business, BTR Performance. I rented a shop in Rochester, New York, got equipment, including a CNC machine, and started working on engines. I wanted to get equipment right away so that I wouldn’t have to send any work out. I wanted to do it all myself.
 
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU CERTAINLY HAD A SOLID BUSINESS PLAN. HOW DID YOU GROW YOUR COMPANY?
 
Well, I told myself that when I was done with the first couple of engines I was working on for customers, I would make flyers and start advertising, but literally, by the time I got those two engines done, more engines had come in for me to work on. I didn’t have employees then and I still don’t to this day. I’m alone by design.
 
WHAT KIND OF ENGINES DID YOU FOCUS ON IN THE EARLY DAYS OF YOUR BUSINESS?
 
Most of them were Oldsmobile engines because back in the day, when I started my business, I wanted to specialize in something. Through the years, I started doing big-block and LS stuff and other American muscle engines.
 

WHEN DID YOU DISCOVER NMCA COMPETITION?

 
I had my 1970 Cutlass with a 455 cubic-inch Oldsmobile and a nitrous kit, and in the mid-90s, I was running various events, including the Oldsmobile event at Summit Motorsports Park. The guys from FastTimes Motorworks, like Chuck Samuel, Nick Scavo, Jeff D’Agostino and Mike Glasby, used to come to all of the Oldsmobile events, and that’s how I met them. Chuck suggested I come to an NMCA race, so I started racing in EZ Street. I ran mid-9s and stayed in that class until 1997 or 1998, when I hurt my engine. Around that time, I worked NMCA tech from 1997-2000. Also, in 1999, Dr. Jamie Meyer reached out and asked if I wanted to help Steve Wolcott and James Lawrence with the first NMRA races, and I was happy to do that.
 
BY THAT TIME, WERE YOU BUILDING YOUR 1978 STARFIRE?
 
Yes, I was, and then I started racing the Starfire in 2000. I was running 8.90s in the car, which was built by Nicky Montana of Chassis Connection in New York. I gave him a bare shell of a car and he put the whole suspension on it and the cage in it. I raced that car in EZ Street and then Xtreme Street until 2012, with a 360 cubic-inch Oldsmobile that I built with nitrous and then a 400 cubic-inch Oldsmobile that I built with nitrous. I did very well with it and went into the 7.90s.
 
WHAT COMPELLED YOU TO MOVE TO THE 2010 CAMARO TO CONTINUE EDELBROCK XTREME STREET COMPETITION IN 2013?
 
The Starfire and its Oldsmobile engines were just outdated by that point. They had taught me a lot as an engine builder, especially since I couldn’t just buy parts for them anywhere and often had to build them myself, but it was just time to move to the Camaro and build an LS engine and really get into the LS market. I bought the Camaro as a body-in-white from Scoggin Dickey Parts Center and sent it to Dillinger Pro Cars, and they built it up from nothing. It came on a skid and they installed the cage and suspension, and it was rolling when it left there. Then I had it painted and did the interior work.
 
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO TRANSITION FROM THE STARFIRE TO THE CAMARO?
 
I built a 400 cubic-inch LS engine to run with nitrous, and that was the first LS engine I had built for any of my cars. I liked the car right away because I had the opportunity to do things differently than I had done with the Starfire, so a lot of things that were previously a pain were no longer a pain. 
 
WHAT WAS INVOLVED IN THE DIAL-IN PROCESS FOR THE CAMARO?
 
In addition to a new engine, the Camaro had a four-link, which the Starfire didn’t have, and I didn’t have any data for that. It was running 7.90s and 8.0s in the quarter-mile, and when the class went to eighth-mile, I built a 440 cubic-inch LS engine for the car in 2015, with a Dart cast-aluminum block, and I have run a 4.59 and 150 mph in the eighth-mile. It was working well, but I’m actually building a new engine for this year.
 
WHAT WILL YOU SHARE WITH US ABOUT YOUR NEW ENGINE?
 
It’s a 465 cubic-inch LS engine on a Dart cast-aluminum block with Edelbrock LSR heads and a CID intake. The heads and intake were done by Marty Zimmerman. I’m using a Winberg crank, CP pistons, and GRP rods. I’ll continue to use the Edelbrock nitrous system and Turbo 400 by RPM Transmissions that I’ve been using. The engine is almost done.
 

WHAT ARE YOU HOPING TO ACHIEVE WITH YOUR NEW ENGINE?

 
There’s something to be said about running the same engine for a while. It gives you a chance to really dial it in, but I had taken my old engine as far as I could take it, and with the new engine, with all of its new parts, I should have more horsepower and go faster. I’ll continue to use the Holley Dominator, and I don’t anticipate a huge learning curve, or certainly not like the one I had when I went from an Oldsmobile engine to an LS engine.
 
YOU HAVE TAKEN PART IN THE ENGINE MASTERS CHALLENGE. WHAT’S INVOLVED WITH THAT?
 
Scott Parkhurst started Engine Masters Challenge, and I took part in it for the first time back in 2004, and then I did it two more times after that. I did well building engines to spec, and the goal for everyone taking part was to build a street engine with a specific cubic-inch and make it have as much horsepower as possible, like 2,500 to 6,000 horsepower. They would average the numbers and that was your score. The engines I built for that were all Oldsmobile engines, and Earl Emery, who is the one who wanted me to take part, bought the parts while I built the engines. We had a ball. Scott Parkhurst is also the one who asked me if I wanted to write a book.
 
WHAT WAS THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK?
 
It was called “How to Build Max-Performance Oldsmobile V-8s, and it was published in 2010. I had two reasons for wanting to write the book. I wanted to retain Oldsmobile followers, while also getting into the LS market, and as a kid, I had read “The Chevrolet Racing Engine” by Bill Jenkins, and was inspired by the fact that while he is no longer with us, his book is, and I liked that.
 
WE LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU IN ACTION THROUGHOUT 2022. WHO WILL BE HELPING YOU ALONG THE WAY?
 
My longtime crew members, David Mitchell and John Costello, are as excited as I am about the new engine and the new racing season.
 
 


join our

email list

You’ll be first to know about Race Pages Digital latest news!