DENVER – Growing up with dreams of becoming a professional race car driver, Tracy Trotter had his mind set on moving to North Carolina at a young age. While Trotter never reached the pinnacle of auto racing, the founder and president of Calico Coatings found his niche in the industry, coating high-wear parts for NASCAR teams for more than two decades.
Trotter, a Texas native, was introduced to the coating industry by a friend who was sought out by racing legend A.J. Foyt in the 1970s, when Foyt was having issues with the pistons on his IndyCar.
“My friend was a weekend warrior, helping at the race track on weekends while working for an industrial coating company in Houston,” Trotter said. “A.J. asked him to develop a coating for his pistons so that he wouldn’t be blowing up motors every week. Once he did that, he decided to open up his own coating shop in Houston, and A.J. was his first customer, so he started coating parts for race teams.”
Years later, after Trotter moved to North Carolina, that same friend partnered with an engine builder for NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace to open a coating company in the Charlotte region, and he hired Trotter to run its daily operations. After several years, Trotter decided to venture out on his own when it became clear that the company’s owner had no desire to expand.
“He retired from racing and he didn’t really want to spend the money or take the necessary risk to grow the company,” Trotter said. “I understood that and I respected that because he worked hard, but I left on good terms in 1997 and started Calico.”
Trotter rented a pair of 1,500-square-foot buildings near N.C. 150, and that’s where Calico got its start, operating with just three employees in its infancy. Prior to Calico, Trotter had only ever coated parts for the auto racing industry, but he knew he’d have to expand his clientele to grow his new business.
“It all started 100 percent in the racing industry, which is a big industry, but it’s not big compared to the oil industry and others outside that world,” Trotter said. “Racing is a billion dollar industry, but it’s still small comparatively speaking.”
In 2004, with the racing market starting to shrink, Trotter started looking for clients outside the world of motorsports. Naturally, Calico began coating parts for the auto industry, but the company also provides its services for the aerospace industry, the military and the oil industry, among others, with plans to slowly expand into the medical field as well.
“We’ve diversified a lot and we do a little bit of everything now,” Trotter said. “Wherever there’s friction, wear or corrosion in an environment with extreme heat, if you want your part to last longer, that’s what we do. Our clients send their parts to us, we coat them to make them more durable, and then send them back.”
That diversification helped Calico maintain during the economic downturn in the late 2000s, in which 40 percent of its clients in the motorsports industry went out of business, according to Trotter. Through it all, Calico has expanded time and time again over the past two decades and now employs nearly 50 people at its state-of-the-art manufacturing and research facility in Denver’s Balsom Ridge Business Park.
Trotter credits his employees, and especially his management staff of Jennifer Jenkins, Tyler Rowe and Chris Smith, for Calico’s sustained success.
“We were really lucky early on to find some people who were dedicated and willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done,” he said. “For example, Jennifer Jenkins, who’s now our new general manager, started working here when she was 20. For her, Tyler and Chris, this is really the only place that they’ve ever worked, and now those three pretty much run the company. Any business is only as good as the people who work there.”
Like the community it calls home, Calico continues to grow, recently adding another 8,500 square feet to help accommodate two new, larger vacuum chambers that will allow the company to coat larger parts.