By STEVE EIGHINGER Herald-Whig Staff Writer [email protected] Jan 4, 2021
QUINCY — Even for Terry Traeder it’s kind of hard to believe.
After all, 60 years is a long time.
“Where in the heck did all of the time go?” said Traeder, whose family-run
TNT Golf Car and Motorsports business, which includes TNT Kartways in West Quincy, Mo., is celebrating its 60th anniversary throughout 2021.
Terry Traeder and his son, Jason, operate the business today as second- and third-generation owners — following in the footsteps of TNT founder, community leader and longtime local personality Clyde “Gus” Traeder, who died in 2016. Gus was Terry’s dad and Jason’s grandfather.
“How do you stay in business for 60 years?” Terry Traeder asked. “You have to do things right, be persistent and at times be tenacious. It hasn’t always been easy.”
The business, which is headquartered at 930 Maine, has been involved in several different branches of the motorsports industry over the years. In addition, the Traeders own Missouri locations in Wentzville and Osage Beach, and for a period in the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s operated a business site in Florida.
Terry Traeder, 69, says he has no intention of retiring anytime soon. In fact, he’s hoping to open a manufacturing and distribution center for golf car accessories in the not-too-distant future in Quincy.
“That’s our next goal,” he said.
While retirement is not yet a part of his vocabulary, Traeder admits his role has changed.
“I’m not looking at retirement, but Jason and the staff are now doing most of the heavy lifting,” he said. “I supply the knowledge, and I still like the thrill of the deal. I think it helps keep you alive and gives you a reason to get up in the morning.”
Any conversation about the Traeder family business has to begin with its architect, Gus Traeder, who was the consummate salesman, promoter, booster and innovator.
Gus Traeder left an indelible mark on Quincy, and his death, two months shy of his 91st birthday, punctuated the end of an era. Gus and his wife, Fern, built their business out of the family garage after moving to Quincy in 1949 from Rome, Wisconsin.
Traeder displayed a remarkable — and golden — business touch. He transformed the Montgomery Ward farm store he managed on Maine Street into the chain’s top outlet in the nation. He went on to start his own business, Traeder’s TNT, and it became one of the largest volume motorcycle dealerships in the Midwest. Later, the company helped develop the Yamaha golf car, and it continues to service golf courses across the country.
TNT is the oldest Yamaha golf car distributor in the nation, receiving its franchise in November 1977. The Traeders’ territory covers about 375 golf courses in Illinois and Missouri.
“Gus was a promotin’ sonofagun,” Terry Traeder said. “He was such a sales guy. The first 30 years his business was open seven days a week. He usually got to work at 5 a.m. and didn’t get home until 10 p.m.
“Gus opened his business on July 16, 1961, and since that time TNT has had the goal of offering the best products at fair prices — with a goal of taking care of customers like they were family.”
Terry Traeder, who serves as company president, said 90% of TNT sales are now golf cars.
“The golf cars used to be a minor thing, but as baby boomers grew older and moved away from motorcycle, they moved to golf cars,” he said. “We have always been proud of being the first Yamaha golf car distributor in the nation.”
Jason Traeder, 41, TNT vice president, echoes his dad’s sentiments.
“I love what we get to do every day,” he said. “I’m really fortunate to be able to build fun and exciting golf cars for our customers.”
TNT is also one of the largest suppliers of Yamaha parts in the nation, along with selling Scag commercial mowers, Kawasaki Mules, motorcycles and ATVs.
TNT has 12 employees at its Quincy location and about 30 overall when including the sites in Missouri.
“We are also celebrating all of the great employees who have been a part of TNT history, people like Stanley and Marilyn Long and Jeff Miles,” Terry Traeder said. “The Traeder family also appreciates the great support of our customers and the Yamaha Motor Corporation.”
The Traeder name will arguably always be best known for its connection with developing the sport of karting at the grass-roots level in West-Central Illinois, Northeast Missouri and Southeast Iowa. The Traeders’ promotion of world-class racing events and the development of TNT Kartways brought national attention to the region.
Terry Traeder said TNT Kartways, a twisting, turning half-mile asphalt track known as TNT Speed and Sport Center in its early years, served a natural tie-in for the family’s motorsports business.
The kart track, built in 1961, quickly became one of the sport’s destination sites, and was featured on the ABC network’s “Wide World of Sports” in 1962. The track has had more national karting championship races than any site in the nation, even though it hasn’t held any national races since 1994.
Gus Traeder was the founder and longtime promoter of the Grand Prix of Karting, which put Quincy on the world karting map during its original 32-year run that ended 2001. The event was resurrected in 2018.
Terry Traeder piloted the movement that brought the Grand Prix back to life, dedicating the rebirth of the event to the memory his father, which seemed only fitting in more ways than one. Gus Traeder is buried in Greenmount Cemetery, which is located across the street from South Park, home of the Grand Prix.
Terry Traeder proudly reminds that his dad’s funeral procession took a victory lap through the South Park karting course — complete with a flagman and checkered flag — before entering Greenmount Cemetery.
“This is America’s greatest karting event,” Gus Traeder said on numerous occasions. “To win a race at the Grand Prix was harder than winning a national championship event.”
Keith Freber, who serves as third-generation president of famed Margay Racing Products in St. Louis (one of four major U.S. kart chassis manufacturer), has been a longtime fan and friend of the Traeders’ business operations and karting expertise.
“(The Grand Prix) is our sport’s Indy 500,” Freber once told The Herald-Whig. “It’s what the Grand Prix of Monaco is to Formula One racing.”
At the time of Gus Traeder’s death, Chuck Scholz, a former mayor of Quincy, said the passing was a “tremendous loss for this city.”
“Gus was a city treasure,” Scholz said shortly before Traeder’s funeral. “He was the best promoter Quincy ever had. He put Quincy on the map with his love of racing. He was a class guy.”
Terry Traeder said events such as the Grand Prix of Karting and the family business were inseparable.
“The big races helped people know who we were,” he said. “The races have always been a big part of our lives. That’s why those races the track are so important to us.”
The road to success for the Traeders contained a pot hole here and there. A couple of floods and a fire devastated — but never destroyed — family business ventures.
“There have been ups and downs, but everyone has those,” Terry Traeder said.
A former world karting champion himself, Terry Traeder is a member of the World Karting Association Hall of Fame, which is headquartered in Concord, N.C., next to Charlotte Motor Speedway. Fittingly, Gus Traeder, also is a member of the WKA Hall of Fame.
Terry Traeder possesses 60 major on-track accomplishments, including 13 various national championships and a combined 27 Grand Prix of Karting victories on the South Park and former downtown Quincy courses. He won more than 1,000 major races during a career that spanned 1958 to 1994.
Terry Traeder has nothing but grand memories for the family business and its direct ties to the sport it promotes, specifically the Grand Prix of Karting.
“To win the Grand Prix of Karting requires perseverance, passion, skill and a bit of luck,” he once said. “These qualities exemplify the life and work of (Gus), who lived every day of his 90 years by never wavering in the face of a challenge and always believing that success would come if you work hard.”
Sounds much like the formula used by the Traeder family in its 60 years of operating TNT Golf Car and Motorsports.