Corona, CA – Austin Barnes stood on a stage in a conference room at the BlueWater Resort and Casino with his parents and crew members behind him and numerous spoils of success around him.
He talked about what each of those on the stage had contributed to his second championship in the Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by LoanMart. He said all the friends and foes who had made the trip to Parker, Arizona, for the January 23 awards banquet were like family to him and he really enjoyed racing against them.
Then Barnes mentioned that several of those in attendance had announced that they intended to make him an also-ran this season and he smiled and invited them to take their best shot.
“I heard a lot of people say they were gunning for my title next (this) year so we’ll have to prove to them once again why we’re the best team in the Modifieds,” Barnes said in a Facebook post after collecting all his trophies and the $6,700 in bonus cash and products that brought his earnings for the 2015 season to a record $26,225. “Can’t wait for the season to start in a month so we can chase this whole thing over again.”
The 2016 season, the 11th for a series that has grown from modest roots in 2006 to become the best short-track touring series in the West, will get under way with a special event at Kern County Raceway in Bakersfield, California, February 27, and conclude with another special event at The Bull Ring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway November 19.
Between those two events the 10 races that count in the Hoosier Tire West point standings will be run at eight different tracks in four states to decide the championship and the distribution of almost $350,000 in prize money and products. That’s a far cry from the first season, when the total payout was $36,000, and it’s one obvious reason the series is attracting some of the most talented drivers in the country.
There were five winners in last season’s 10 points races – Barnes (4 wins), Dylan Cappello (2), Scott Winters (2), Matthew Hicks and Kyle Tellstrom – and all five drivers will return, albeit in somewhat different situations.
Cappello, the 2014 champion and 2015 runner-up, will be in his third season with the Garcia Racing team. However, the Peoria, Arizona, resident will have new teammates in DJ Safety Rookie of the Year candidate Peyton Saxton of Las Vegas and Blaine Perkins of Bakersfield, who will miss three of the first five points race while competing in the K&N West Series.
Winters, of Tracy, California, will continue with the Ferrari Kramer Racing team that helped him finish third last season despite having two cars extensively damaged in on-track incidents and Hicks, of Lakeside, California, will continue with his family team.
Tellstrom, a Ukiah, California, resident who was a consistent contender late in the season with his own team, this year will join veteran Wes Miller of Turlock, California, on the new Creevan Racing team of former Garcia Racing crew members Michael and Marty Creevan and Wade Miller.
Chris Bray’s Phil’s Phabrication team put all three of its drivers in the top 10 last season and has the potential to repeat that with 2015 Rookie of the Year Jack Madrid of San Clemente, California, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, residents Jason Irwin and Shane Skaggs. Irwin was fourth and Madrid ninth in last season’s standings. Doug Hamm was 10th, but the veteran driver from North Las Vegas this year will be the crew chief for Skaggs, another Rookie of the Year candidate.
Irwindale (California) Speedway champion Travis Thirkettle has thrown his helmet into the Rookie of the Year competition as has Kayli Barker of Las Vegas, who’ll be driving for H-Town Racing with veteran driver Pat Petrie as crew chief.
Ryan Partridge, another Irwindale champion, is planning to run selected events, as are North State Modified Tour drivers Darrin Knight and Kris Price.
Taylor Miinch, a San Diego State University senior who closed his season with a win in the Las Vegas special event, will continue with his own team, as will Linny White, Shelby Stroebel, Eddie Secord, Doug Carpenter, Blake Rogers, Eric Hamilton, Dave Arce, Dustin Tilbury and Jerry Toporek.
Jason Patison, the series’ first champion, sat out most of last season but will return with the new SierraSpeed team of Eric Snyder and William Guevara of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, who drove for H-Town Racing last season, has purchased the Race Car Factory Chevrolet that Perkins drove on occasion in 2015.
Two-time series champion Jim Mardis and veteran Larry Gerchman are among those who haven’t finalized their plans. But there’s still a little time before the family feud begins again.
The Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by LoanMart is supported by a potent marketing concept known as “Team Lucas” whose members include General Tire, GEICO, E3 Spark Plugs, Optima Batteries, Carlyle Tools, Kawasaki, AutoMeter, iON Cameras, Speedco Truck Lube and Tire, BILSTEIN Shocks, LoanMart and SuperClean.
Additional sponsorship is provided by Lucas Oil Products, Protect the Harvest, MAVTV Motorsports Network, Hoosier Tire West, Sunoco Race Fuels, K&N Filters, Aero Racing Wheels, ASI Racewear, Bosch, Five Star Race Car Bodies, Frank’s Radios, Racing Plus and DJ Safety.
Detailed information on the series is available at www.LucasOilModifieds.com.
-Lucas Oil Modifieds Press Release. Photo Credit: Speed51.com photo