FLORENCE, S.C. — There’s nothing Ron Barfield Jr. sees more grand than the dream.
One that just comes together through hard work, like the time he was discovered at a Snowball Derby and made his climb to what now is the Xfinity (once referred to as (“Busch Series”) and Truck Series.
He misses having to win one battle — the qualifying — before advancing to the grand battle, which was the race itself.
“You had to make the race,” said Barfield, who graduated from West Florence High School in 1989. “Half the battles were making the race, but I came along in the transition in NASCAR where every short-track star in America tried to make a Busch race or had the opportunity to go Busch racing. In my shop, we owned a Late Model Stock car that ran the Saturday night race tracks around here.
“But we also bought a Busch car in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s,” he added. “We’d put our local team together and hope to go to Darlington or go to Richmond and hope to qualify for the race. That was the short-track man’s dream.”
Nowadays, whoever comes to qualify is already in the race.
“That’s the difference, the dream’s not there,” Barfield said. “It’s not there for Saturday night racers, anymore. There are more guys out there racing today on those Saturday nights that probably have more talent than some of the guys who race in NASCAR on TV today. But they will never get discovered because they don’t have the opportunity to get discovered.”
Barfield, owner of Dillon Motor Speedway, competed in Busch and truck races, and even raced in the 1997 Brickyard 400, starting 23rd next to Jeff Gordon, who started 24th (Barfield finished 22nd). Barfield posted 17 top-10 finishes in trucks, with his best finish being third in 1999 at Evergreen. And in the Busch Series, he placed ninth twice in 1997 — at Richmond and Talladega.
When Barfield raced Busch at Darlington, his best finish was in the 1997 spring race, in which he started sixth and finished 13th.
Barfield was able to have the chance to make his dream happen. And he had to face lots of competition just to make it to the race.
“Back in the day, we’d go to Richmond and Darlington, and there were 60 cars trying to make a 42-car field,” Barfield said. “These days, there’s hardly any rookies, anymore. What I mean by that is they’ve already signed up with teams that are already guaranteed a starting position. Whenever I was running, if you didn’t run fast enough, you didn’t get a guaranteed starting position.”
Therefore, qualifying could be just as exciting as the actual race.
“You’d have guys hanging it out, driving the car for all its worth to get that extra 10th of a second,” Barfield said. “And as a result, they could have either wound up in the wall or just ended up going home after not making the race.”
Barfield talked more about the change of times.
“Most of your guys out there today running, a lot of them come with the big pocketbooks that got them there,” Barfield said. “I came along when you had to win at the weekly race track, the feature events at places like Dillon, Florence and Myrtle Beach. You had to win at those tracks to be able to get a shot to go racing and get a shot at the big time. Getting a shot at the big time back then was more feasible than it is today because you were racing driver against driver — instead of a driver racing against a checkbook.
“I’m not being negative, by no means,” he added. “But it has completely changed today. The guys on the Xfinity Series, there’s a lot more money behind those guys today, where the money was not behind the guys back then.”
Looking ahead to Darlington’s next two races this week, Barfield did share a common bit of advice from his experience behind the steering wheel.
“Don’t race the other drivers, race the track,” he said.
An eight-time APSE national contest honoree, Scott recently authored his first book,”70 Years of Thrills and Chills, Drama and Dents at Darlington Raceway.” In college, Scott played on a tennis scholarship and earned degrees from Young Harris College (Ga.) and Berry College (Ga.).
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