TUCSON, Arizona — Back in 1974, before all but a handful of drivers in the Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by RAM Mounts had been born and running naked at sports events was in vogue, country music star Ray Stevens sang about a guy he called “The Streak.”
Twenty-one years later the guy being called “The Streak” this weekend was born in Escondido, California, a city about 30 miles northeast of San Diego that continues to be his home.
The streak’s name is Austin Barnes and he’ll be after his third win in a row Saturday night (April 8) in the FAST EZ-EFI Tucson Shootout presented by ZOTTO Mattress at Tucson Speedway, the fast 3/8-mile paved oval about 15 miles southeast of downtown Tucson, Arizona.
Or, as Stevens sang, “if there’s an audience to be found, he’ll be streakin’ around, inviting public critique” in his immaculate red About Service Automotive STR Chevrolet.
Barnes, who won the Hoosier Tire West points championship in 2012 and 2015, holds the series record with five consecutive victories in the 2011-2012 seasons and his 16 championship wins are second on the all-time list to the 19 of Chris Gerchman, who has retired. But last season he was winless for the first time since 2010 (he didn’t compete in 2013) and that wasn’t acceptable to Barnes and his father and crew chief, Tedd, who put the car up for sale during the off-season.
The car’s still for sale, although that may be a temporary situation. Barnes has talked of cutting back his Lucas Oil Modified Series schedule to race in other series but said a few weeks ago that he would “keep going (with the Modifieds) as long as I’m winning” and that’s all he’s done since everyone sang “Auld Lang Syne” to 2016.
The 22-year-old opened the season with a win in the Spray Nine Race of Champions on the high-banked half-mile at Kern County Raceway in Bakersfield, California, February 11. Barnes took the checkered flag almost a second ahead of Scott Winters in that race, which was part of the three-event Race of Champions but did not count in the series point standings.
A month later at Havasu 95 Speedway in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, Barnes finished 1.938 seconds ahead of Blake Rogers on a quarter-mile oval that proves going slow often is the best way to go fast.
That brings us to Saturday night’s 75-lap Tucson Shootout on a wide track the drivers praise for its raciness and curse for its abrasiveness.
The second of this year’s 10 championship events will be the series fifth race at Tucson Speedway and the only driver in the expected 30-car field who’s been to the winner’s circle is Winters, in 2015. The Tracy, California, resident talked before that race of how the track demanded having patience early and aggressiveness at the finish, then had one of those almost perfect nights and was dominant throughout the second of his three starts at the track.
Chris Gerchman won the first Tucson race, in 2010, over Jim Mardis and Tim Morse. When the series returned, in 2014, Gerchman won again, that time over Tripp Gaylord and Barnes. DJ Safety Rookie of the Year Jack Madrid and Barnes chased Winters across the finish line in 2015.
Last season, employing the same strategy Winters advocated, Ryan Partridge took the lead with 10 laps to go and beat eventual series champion Matthew Hicks and Larry Gerchman, then talked about how his save early-race late plan had worked to perfection.
So far this year, Barnes’ plan to win ‘em all is working to perfection too.
-Lucas Oil Modified Series Press Release
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com