DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Many drivers who compete on the local oval tracks look forward to the day that they can race at the Daytona International Speedway. Not many achieve their goal, but Steve Barnes of Westminster made his dream a reality when he finished 17th in the 18th Daytona USA 200 on Friday.
Barnes started 39th in the 42-car field and began moving up when he began drafting with Duane Haines.
By the time the second of eight cautions was waved, Barnes had passed six cars. On lap 33, two cars tangled on the restart going into the first turn in front of Barnes. Despite his lack of super-speedway experience, he threaded his way through the spinning cars.
"It was a cloud of smoke in front of me. I couldn't see the car nor the wall. I couldn't see anything," said Barnes. "I didn't like that part of it. It was scary."
Barnes made three quick pit stops for gas during caution periods.
"I was real happy," said Barnes. "I did a lot better than I expected. The car felt better in the last half of the race, but it was probably because I was feeling more comfortable.
"We changed the gear before today's race. We did it to save gas mileage, but it hurt me a little because I couldn't keep up with some of the cars. But I am happy."
Barnes has been preparing for the big day since he started racing in the four-cylinder division at Trail-Way Speedway seven years ago. He competed on a regular basis at the Hanover, Pa., track with his brother Matt. Three years ago he attended a three-day driving school FASTRACK at the 1.5-mile Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
Last February, Steve and Matt were part of Westminster's Barry Fitzgerald's team that competed in the same race at Daytona. The experience was all that Barnes needed to make the move to asphalt racing. Midway through last year, his father and major sponsor, Ed Barnes of Barnes Service Center in Westminster, purchased a Goody's Dash Series car.
Barnes was able to get some track time on the asphalt. He practiced at the five-eighths-mile oval at Jenerstown (Pa.) Speedway before he raced in his first Dash Series race at Nashville Speedway last fall. Barnes gained valuable track time. He qualified 29th and was running a good race when he dropped out on the 75th lap when the header broke.
Barnes did some additional testing along with Matt at Jenerstown before the end of last year. During the winter, they worked on their Dash Series car and installed a new Jasper motor. In January, Barnes attended a rookie evaluation session at Daytona. The test session on the high-banked oval was Barnes' first time on a super-speedway.
"It was different. I was very nervous," said Barnes after his test session last month. "It was the fastest I've ever gone. I was going so fast down the backstretch that it pulled me back against the seat. It was a strange feeling."
After he passed evaluation, Barnes began to prepare for the big week by obtaining additional sponsor support from American Car Care Centers and Jerry Corrider of Corrider Contracting.
The Daytona USA 200 is part of Speedweek festivities at Daytona conducted right before the Daytona 500. It kicks off the 19-race NASCAR Goody's Dash Series and is the only race on a super highway.
Barnes arrived a week before the race for registration, inspection and a meeting for rookies.
Barnes wasn't able to get the track time he was looking for on Monday and Tuesday.
Despite little time on the big oval, Barnes was able to turn in a good run during the first day of qualifying on Tuesday. Rather than sit on the time, the team decided to take time trials again on Wednesday.
"We knew we had to go back out and take time trials again," said Barnes. "All the cars were faster in practice. We picked up eight-tenths of a second."
Barnes qualified 38th in the 42-car field with a speed of 151.958 mph. Thirteen cars didn't make the field, the fastest on record. The fastest qualifying time (165.065 mph) was four seconds faster than last year's.
Barnes' car is a 1994 Chevrolet Cavalier powered by a 320-horsepower, 2.7-liter, four-cylinder motor with a 13:1 compression and capable of reaching 165 mph. The car weighs 2,800 pounds.
Barnes began his career seven years ago in the four-cylinder division at Trail-Way Speedway. Although he did not race every week last year, Barnes had three wins and four seconds and finished 10th in points.
Several Carroll countians made the trip to Daytona as part of the team, including Barnes' father and brother, Amanda Russell, Jamie Haines, Bryan Brooks, Craig Mann, Sherry Mann, Craig Hollander and Kevin Barnes. Other crew members were Doug Morgan, Ron Marsh and crew chief Jason Covert.
Friday's race was a good start for the 25-year-old rookie. Barnes plans to race at the new Homestead (Fla.) Speedway on March 16, then Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Speedway before deciding whether to race for Rookie of the Year honors this year.