Chuck Barnes seemingly had the short track world by its tail just a few years ago. He was one of the top dogs in the talent-rich CRA Super Series in the Midwest, he'd turn heads down South while invaded a few of the PASS South events and he won in the ARCA RE/MAX Series by holding off none other than Series Legend Frank Kimmel while making his first career start at Toledo.
And then, for a while at least, he walked away from it all. Short track fans didn't see Barnes' name on any race rundowns. Super Late Model competitors had one fewer racer to beat. They all wondered where he went.
Now Barnes is back. He's gotten back into the driver's seat, most recently at the CRA Winchester 400, and he opened up as to what drew him away form racing for a little bit, where he is at now and what he envisions for the future.
Barnes stepped out of the racecar to start a family. After the birth of his son, Caiden, 18 months ago, Barnes reset his priorities and spending large amounts of time and money fielding a competitive racecar just wasn't something that was going to happen. Barnes didn't go kicking and screaming away from the track either. For him, his priorities were clear and the decision was not tough to make.
“It was pretty easy, those are just the things that you have to do when you grow up - that is the way that I look at it,” said Barnes. “My son has been awesome and he's the best thing that has happened to me.”
But Barnes couldn't stay away and when the time was right, he came back to the driver's seat. It hasn't been easy though.
“It feels good to be back,” said Barnes. “Now that I'm racing and trying to do it, that makes it very difficult. I told my wife in the two weeks before Winchester that if we just made it through Winchester, we would spend some time together. I haven't been around much…I've been working until eleven o'clock at night or one in the morning to get it ready. It's awesome watching [Caiden] grow up and it sucks to spend up all my time with this.”
Well…maybe it doesn't really suck for Barnes. After all, he is considering stepping out of the racecar again - but still turning wrenches. At this point, Barnes isn't quite sure what he'll be doing in 2009.
“Right now, I'm just taking it one race at a time and maybe we'll put something together for a rental program next year. I like working on them as much as I do driving them, so we'll see how things go. As long as we have a good driver, I wouldn't mind just taking care of the equipment for them.”
While on his hiatus from driving, Barnes moved to North Carolina and got quite the education on how to run a race team as an employee of the Petty Enterprises NASCAR Sprint Cup team. After his tour of duty on that level, Barnes returned to his Kentucky home.
“I moved home to keep working on racecars, even though I don't get paid for it now. I miss being down there on one hand, but it's nice to be home too. Now I work on my Dad's repair shop. It's definitely not the same thing.”
Many short track stars, including Andy Santerre and Mike Garvey, have stepped away from driving while still in their prime to go and coach young talent. Barnes could follow in those footsteps, but was very modest when any comparison between himself and someone like Garvey was made.
“I don't know that I'm quite that qualified,” Barnes laughed very shyly.
And at some point, Barnes could turn wrenches on his own son's racecar. That is something that he already dreams about.
“I told his Paw-Paw over there that he's going to have to foot the bill when he's ready to go racing. We'll decide what he needs and he won't get the junk I got, he's going to get the best of everything.”
Right now though, Barnes himself is getting the best of everything - and it's not necessarily in a racecar. Fatherhood is a role that he embraces and it has made even a bad day at the track a good one on the way home.
“Before if we didn't show up and run in the top three, it was a great let-down,” said Barnes. “Now I look at things different. I've got something way more important sitting up in the stands to think about. So no matter how bad a race is, I get to ride home with him and that makes for a good day.”
Barnes' next ride to the track will come this coming weekend, in the All-American 200 CRA Super Series event at Nashville's Music City Motorplex.