Trey Starks is far from the average 26-year-old.
The insightful native of Puyallup, Wash., has piloted a winged sprint car for nearly half of his life — making his debut a dozen years ago — and he has already left the road to help build a family business.
His maturation process started at an early age and is now paying dividends on and off the track.
Starks made his first start behind the wheel of a sprint car in 2010, which is the only year he hasn’t officially reached victory lane. While the 14-year-old did cross the finish line first once that year, he was disqualified because his car was several pounds light at the scales.
Starks was credited with his first career win in 2011.
He doubled that the following season and then again doubled his career win total in 2013.
“We started racing on the West Coast,” he said. “We did as much traveling as we could do with the work my dad had going. We tried to see new tracks. The early days it was trips to California. Once I was old enough, it was taking some trips to Knoxville and running Eldora and doing a little more traveling with the World of Outlaws. We hit the Knoxville Nationals a couple of times and went to the Kings Royal.
“One year we raced in central Pennsylvania for a while, which got me some good exposure to see some new tracks and a different style of racing. We had some decent results and it got my name out there a little.
“With how work was for my dad, we couldn’t stay on the road full time and I was still in school,” Starks explained. “I wouldn’t say we wound down the family team, but we pulled back on the national racing in 2014. It was a transition period for our family logging business back home. Things were changing so we didn’t get to spend as much time racing as we’d liked to. I jumped in a couple of cars and did a little bit of traveling, but we weren’t able to travel much with the family team.
“As I graduated high school, I had a few different things happening at once. I went to college for a couple of years and eventually transferred to a four-year university, but that was short-lived. I got hooked up with Jeff McCall out of North Carolina. We had a connection through Jack and Bonnie Elam at J&J Auto Racing. We raced some 360 shows in Florida and the Carolinas and we finished up 2015 with the World Finals in Charlotte.
“I wouldn’t say that was a breakout, but it was a big moment for us. We ran really good and I think we led about half of the World Finals prelim before we had a part failure.”
Following a one-win season in 2014, Starks enjoyed a standout year in 2015 when he captured a career-best eight triumphs, including wins in five states from coast to coast and the Western Sprint Tour championship prior to leading the first dozen laps of the 25-lap World of Outlaws World Finals preliminary feature.
Starks topped that in 2016 when he produced a career-best 11 victories, winning at 11 tracks in the United States and Canada. He captured his first international win during the famed Gold Cup at Castrol Raceway in Edmonton, Alberta, and topped the inaugural World Short Track Championships at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C.
Additionally, Starks drove to his first Western Sprint Tour Speedweek title.
“That gave us some hope and sprung us into the following years with Jeff and Scott Gobrecht, who we hooked up with and raced a decent amount in central Pennsylvania,” he said. “We had some good runs out there and picked up a couple of wins. From 2016 through 2018, things really started changing for racing and life back home. My dad ended up selling his logging equipment and essentially the business. He started transitioning into machining. I was also attending college, going after an engineering degree as well as racing basically full time in central Pennsylvania.
“I could kind of see the writing on the wall that I wasn’t going to be able to do all three. If we were going to own our own business, it didn’t require me to have an engineering degree so that was the first thing to fall off the list,” Starks continued. “I tried to focus on racing and the new business. We did that successfully for a while. I was able to stay out on the road for a little.”
Starks won three races in 2017, highlighted by his first All Star Circuit of Champions and Pennsylvania Speedweek triumphs. He also made the Knoxville Nationals finale for the first time.
The following season featured four victories, including another Pennsylvania Speedweek triumph at Williams Grove Speedway.
“I was going to approach Scott and Jeff telling them we’ve had a great couple of years, but I’m not able to be away as much,” he said. “They proposed an idea, which allowed me to be home pretty much every week. That’s when we made the move to run Knoxville Raceway weekly. It was more of a relaxed schedule. I flew back and forth for two seasons there and it worked great for the most part, but as work picked up it essentially turned what we were doing in five to seven days a week into a four-day maximum work week.
“We had two really good seasons at Knoxville and were able to pick up a Knoxville Nationals prelim win in 2019 and that same year we won the Night Before the Tuscarora with the All Stars at Port Royal Speedway. We were still rolling pretty good.”
Starks capitalized on his first career win at Knoxville Raceway to garner the rookie-of-the-year award at the track in 2019. He picked up one victory and placed in the top 10 in the Knoxville Raceway standings for the second straight season in 2020.
“It was inevitable that work was going to take over at least for a little bit, so I had to part ways with Scott and Jeff,” he said. “It was a really, really good five or so years. I got a lot of good experience on different tracks and got to race with a lot of good competition. At the end of the day, I had to look at the opportunity I had back home, and it seemed like a mistake if I left the stuff at home and tried to chase a racing career. Looking back now, I’m glad I did that because we’ve had a lot of growth in the last couple of years.”
Starks has taken a more active role in T&C Concepts, which is run by he and his younger brother, Collin.
“My mom does the books and my dad helps out where he’s needed, so it’s truly a family business,” Trey Starks said.
The business offers a machine shop as well as engineering advice for companies around the world.
“We do work for some of the top aerospace companies in the Seattle area,” Starks said. “We do a lot of prototype machining for these companies. A big focus is for Amazon’s satellite system. If they want to prototype something, but not do a high-volume production run our focus is on being more agile. We might not be that competitive on the super volume, but we can do well on the one or two batch smaller prototype runs.
“Also, they’ll send us a concept of a part. We’ll provide some input on how to make it easier to manufacture and that helps the design process as well.
“Some of the areas we’ve worked are satellites, high-performance rockets, the automated drone industry like Amazon Prime Air, which is a drone delivery, Blue Origin rocket engine parts to ground support equipment. We also do structural components for Boeing whether it be a rocket, a satellite or an airplane. We serve the well drilling industry for a company locally.
“We do very few racing components, but we do enjoy it, so we’ve found ourselves dabbling in that a little bit. We’ve done some work for heavier industrial equipment as well.”
While the family business continues to evolve, Starks has also revived his family racing team. A trio of triumphs, including the Marvin Smith Memorial, highlighted 2021 and Starks is on pace for a career-best campaign this year. He posted seven victories in his first 10 races of the season, including his first Jim Raper Memorial Dirt Cup preliminary win.
“Last year, we weren’t that consistent and we were trying to rebuild the program,” he said. “This year we have all of our ducks in a row. The experience I’ve got nationally and how well I know the local tracks, all the pieces are falling together. It feels great to run good at the big races at home.
“I’m not sure what the future holds for racing, but it has been special to enjoy the success we’ve had this year with the family team while we’re also working hard to grow our family business.
“I feel like I’m exactly where I should be at this point in my life — both on and off the track.”