Steve Barnett of Franklin won his second late-model track championship in three years this season at Twin Cities Raceway Park in Vernon.
Barnett, who drives for Tony Stewart Racing, also finished second in the final points at Brownstown Speedway. Barnett raced 39 times this season with an average finish of 4.5.
In completing his 40th year behind the wheel of a racecar, Barnett now has more than 230 career victories to go along with 20-plus track and regional series championships. Barnett, 58, a 1975 graduate of Franklin Community High School, is also a Franklin City Councilman, where he has served since 2008.
Barnett began his racing career in 1975 in a car bought from Columbus racer, John Warner.
“My dad told me if I wanted to go racing, I was going to have to buy my own car,” Barnett said. “So that’s what I did. It was a Chevelle, and the first race I ever won was a mechanics race at Whitewater Valley Speedway in Liberty.”
While Barnett was getting his career rolling, his father, Jim, decided to own cars, which would be driven by Columbus Hall of Famer Russ Petro and Paul Crockett.
“I learned so much from those two when I was an up-and-coming driver,” Barnett said. “They were no doubt two of the best to ever race from around here.”
Barnett raced at Brownstown on Saturday nights and Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville on Sunday nights before hitting the road to learn more. In 1983, he traveled with the All-Star Circuit of Champion Late Models, where he would finish sixth in points. Then two years later,he ran with the re-born USAC Late Models, where he finished second in the final points standings.
Barnett would return to racing locally until 1993, when he again ventured out on the road, running with the STARS Late Model Series. It was truly a learning experience as Barnett raced with the best dirt late-model drivers in the country during the season. He would win Rookie of the Year honors that year with the series. A year later, he returned to race locally and had one of his best seasons of his career, winning 14 features.
Shortly after that, Barnett met Stewart, and the two became good friends.
“He was running USAC at that time, right before he got into Indy cars,” Barnett said. “He said that he had always wanted to run a dirt late model. I told him, ‘Well I would like to run a Champ Car sometime,’ and so we decided to trade rides one time, and he liked the late model so much he said that he had to get one.
“I would maintain his car at my shop and then down the road we added a modified,” he said. “I would haul the car to the track, and he would meet us there or sometimes ride with us. If he could have done it full-time (run the late model), he would have been one of the best ever — in the same neighborhood as Scott Bloomquist and Billy Moyer.”
Barnett said his relationship with Stewart today is as good as it was nearly 20 years ago when they met.
“He is proud of what we have done this year winning the points at Twin Cities and finishing second Brownstown,” Barnett said.
Barnett also maintains Stewart’s open-wheel modified driven by Edinburgh’s Joe Godsey. Godsey won the modified points at Brownstown this year, marking the second year in a row he has accomplished that feat.
Barnett was instrumental in Stewart’s first-ever dirt late-model win in 1998 at Brownstown Speedway. Stewart, driving a C.J. Rayburn Race Car, was victorious in the Kenny Simpson Memorial Race.
“I know he still has the trophy from winning that race,” Barnett said. “To him, that was one of the biggest wins he has ever had as a driver.”
The Barnett and Stewart Race Team is sponsored by J.D. Byrider, Mobil 1, Bass Pro Shops, C.J. Rayburn Race Cars, Tranter Racing Engines, Advanced Racing, Hoosier Tires and P3 Graphix. Their crew consisted of Barnett’s wife Jeannie, Brad Hale and Randy Million.
Final Twin Cities Late Model Points Standings: 1. Steve Barnett 503; 2. Tory Collins 491; 3. Mike Bechelli 472; 4. Jeremy Hines 390; 5. John Whitney 347.
Flashback 40 years (1975)
Ray Godsey won the season finale for late models at Brownstown Speedway over track champion Paul Crockett and Doug McCammon. In the hobby stock division, Jack Smith of Columbus was the winner, followed by Herman Burton of Columbus and Gary Herbert. Burton was the track champion in the division.
Local racing results
Super Late Model feature: 1. Jason Feger; 2. Kent Robinson; 3. Jeep Van Wormer; 4. Steve Casebolt; 5. Bobby Pierce.
Crate Late Model feature: 1. Joe Godsey; 2. Grant Garrison; 3. Shawn Snelling; 4. John Gill; 5. Steve Landrum.
Modified feature: 1. Kyle Strickler; 2. Brandon Green; 3. Tyler Nicely; 4. Matt Cooper; 5. Devin Gilpin.
Super Late Model feature: 1. Bobby Pierce; 2. Cody Mahoney; 3. Kent Robinson; 4. Jason Feger; 5. Greg Johnson.
Modified feature: 1. Kyle Strickler; 2. Josh Harris; 3. Clayton Miller; 4. Brian Shawn; 5. Brandon Green.
Halloween 200: 1. Blake Hillard; 2. Frank Kimmel II; 3. Shawn Smith; 4. Artie Ware; 5. Jeff Berg.