If it wasn’t for the success Kyle Barnes saw last year at Kingsport Speedway, he’s not sure how much confidence he’d have going back to his home track for the 2021 season.
Motor Mile Speedway, a NASCAR Advance Auto Parts sanctioned 0.416-mile paved oval track in Radford, Virginia, that is just about 20 minutes from Barnes’s home, didn’t hold races in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. So Barnes and his team instead travelled two hours every week to Kingsport, a 0.375-mile concrete semi-banked oval track in Kingsport, Tennessee.
The travelling paid off. Barnes won 10 of 13 races, and was Kingsport’s sportsman class champion.
“We had a stellar, stellar year,” Barnes said. “We were travelling two hours up the road and back every week. I think one morning we saw the sun rise on Saturday. So that was really difficult.
“I got my championship out of the way last year and it was an amazing job by my entire family to help me be able to do that.
As Motor Mile reopens and Barnes returns home, he knows racing in the track’s limited sportsman division won’t be easy. In the opening race there were 22 cars, compared to between 10-14 he was usually up against at Kingsport.
Having a full year of success at Kingsport under his belt, though, gives him a huge amount of confidence for 2021.
“Anytime you can go into somebody else’s home turf and really pick up on something really fast it makes a huge confidence booster for you. Last year we competed against a bunch of great, awesome drivers out there and learned a lot. It taught me a lot about racing.” Barnes said.
“Without last year I probably wouldn’t go into this year with that much confidence, but I’ve got confidence in my team and my sponsors to be able to do well. Without them I know it wouldn’t be possible. I think early season results have shown we can win some races, just now it’s just putting it together.”
Barnes plans to run a full season at Motor Mile, something he hasn’t done in the 10 years he’s been racing there. In 2010 he won the Rookie of the Year Award in the limited sportsman class and the season finale race. Since then, his team has also travelled throughout Virginia and the Carolinas over the years, but they’ve raced at least five times at Motor Mile every season.
This year the team is going into the season focused more on wins than points.
“Our goal is to try to get three wins down there and if we can get three wins down there that would be big,” Barnes said.
In two races this season he has a seventh and second place finish.
He learned a lot at Kingsport he’s taking to Motor Mile.
“Just learning how to deal with traffic and trying to manage your tires race after race and just having them for the next week,” Barnes said.
“Kingsport is way more of a bullring than Motor Mile. It’s a lot more hardnose racing, door to door. There’s a little bit more contact out there so it really teaches you more about car control and I guess that’s why I love that place because it puts it more in the driver’s hands.”
The 26-year-old Barnes learned how to drive from his dad and uncle, who both also raced in the 90s and early 2000s. It was Barnes’ uncle, Anthony, who drove the sportsman car for the team before him.
They’re both now the main help for Barnes at the track, with his dad, Tim, serving as crew chief and car owner, and Anthony the main tire guy in the pits.
Even though Barnes himself has been racing for 14 years, he still leans on his elders, especially in situations during races when things aren’t going his way.
“This past week we got into a little skirmish on the front stretch and got shuffled back to 20th. Just having Anthony and my dad in my ear kind of coaching me and keeping me calm and getting me back up in traffic we were able to go from 20th to 4th in about 25 laps,” Barnes said. “In situations like that, that’s where my uncle with all his driving experience and my father, with all his crew chief and spotting experience, that’s where they really shine and that’s where they help me out the most.”
Barnes is now also able to help the next generation of Barnes drivers in the same way. His younger brother, Tristen, is in his first full-time season of racing. The 15-year-old is competing in the super street division at Motor Mile, and also helps Barnes on the car during the week.
“I’m not always able to get down to the shop so my little brother and my dad, they’re the main driving force behind getting the car ready and making sure it’s up to the standards we have to get to go racing,” Barnes said.
“I try to coach him the best I can. He did an amazing job this weekend. I can’t say enough about how well he did. He’s really, really good about taking care of his equipment and not wrecking and getting into anything. I can’t say enough about that because I definitely was more wild than he is.”
The entire Barnes team is a family event. His mom, Wendy, helps out as well, and he also has help from Emma Chrisley, Jimmy Whitt, and Junior Bailey. Whitney Cockram and Daryn Cockram, who also competes in the limited sportsman division at Motor Mile, help out and are sponsors with DCT Towing and Recovery. Fort Chiswell RV Park, where Barnes also works, and PayToWinSetups.com also help sponsor the car and provide support for the team.
“Without those three partners we wouldn’t be able to make it to the track each and every week,” Barnes said. “Without my little brother, my uncle, my dad, and my mom, the rest of my crew, all those guys and girls, they really make it possible for me to be able to do what I do behind the wheel.”
Barnes has always told his dad his biggest goal was to get one championship in his race career. Now that he’s done that, he wants to continue to travel around and collect as many wins at as many tracks as possible.
Thanks to a stellar 2020 season, he has the confidence to work towards that.
“We got the championship that I wanted. I wanted to at least be able to say I won one championship, but I think wins to me are a whole lot more exciting,” Barnes said. “I’d like to go out and win three, four, five races and go somewhere else and win a few too. Some of the greatest drivers in short track history, Lee Pulliam, Philip Morris, and all them, they travel around and they’ve got wins at almost all the tracks on the east coast. That’s what makes them great.
“I know I don’t have the budget to run late model stocks like they do, so if I can go and run a limited sportsman or a sportsman class like we do now and we can go get those wins, that’s awesome in my book and that’s our main goal. Just travel and be in contention to win anywhere we go.”
Racing will return to Motor Mile Speedway on May 8 with twin late model 60s, limited sportsman, super streets, mod-4, and U-Cars beginning at 7 p.m.