Myrtle Beach Speedway has provided racing memories for more than 60 years since it first opened in 1958. That is especially true for three generations of the Barnhill family.
Bryant Barnhill, who has competed in the NASCAR Truck Series, cut his teeth at the 0.538-mile oval just a short distance from the Atlantic coastline. Last week, the track announced it would contest its last race ever in 2020, currently scheduled for August 18.
Competing at the track is a family tradition for the Barnhills, dating back to its early days as a dirt track.
“There’s been a lot of history between my family and Myrtle Beach Speedway,” Barnhill told Speed51. “Honestly, it’s a track that’s meant a lot to me and my family and has given us so many memories.
“It goes all the way back to my grandfather, Jack Barnhill. He used to manage tracks. My uncle and dad, they raced dirt. When Myrtle Beach Speedway was built, my grandfather helped run it for a couple of years. I’ve heard so many great stories from my dad and my grandpa from that time period.”
Over the years, many of NASCAR’s greatest drivers have competed at Myrtle Beach Speedway. Barnhill recalled one occasion when a future seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion was invited to a race by his grandfather.
“At one point in time, he wanted to get Dale Earnhardt to run, back when it was dirt. Dale said, ‘I’ll come run if you pay me $250.’ Alright, that’s reasonable. He didn’t tell my grandpa how he was going to get there and whatnot.
“He rode down with a friend from Kannapolis. After the race, he ran and got paid, then he gets a ride with one of the Allisons back up to Darlington. My man basically blue-collared the whole race day to make sure he came out fully clean with that $250. I always thought that was really funny. As big of a driver as he was, it’s crazy hearing stories like that.”
It was not uncommon for racing royalty to visit the speedway, either to compete or to talk racing with his grandfather. On another occasion, Bryant’s father, Chris Barnhill, had a close encounter with one of those bench racing sessions, but had a more pressing issue on his mind.
“One day, my dad busted into my grandfather’s office, not caring about who is in the room or who is my grandfather talking to. All he wanted was a little bit of money for some soda and some crackers. Needless to say, in the room is Kyle Petty, Richard Petty, the Allisons, Darrell Waltrip.
“Pretty much, Hall of Fame class people hanging out in my grandfather’s office, talking racing. My dad had no care in the world about who these people were. His main focus was getting that soda and crackers.”
Chris Barnhill and his brother Kevin would race themselves, both at Myrtle Beach and other dirt tracks in the Palmetto State. When Myrtle Beach converted to asphalt, the family followed.
“My dad and uncle raced dirt, primarily Lake View and other tracks in lower South Carolina. When Myrtle Beach got paved, my family switched all their cars over to run asphalt. Myrtle Beach became our primary track from that point on.
“My entire career, our shop has been 15, 20 minutes from the race track. We didn’t really go to any other tracks until I was two or three years into my Late Model career. Myrtle Beach has always been home track for us.”
Eventually, it was Bryant’s turn to follow in the family tradition, taking over his father’s equipment when he stepped aside from competing. The third generation racer quickly left his mark on the speedway’s history books.
“After I ran karts for a while, I took over for my dad at Myrtle Beach Speedway. I took over his old chassis and ran the Limited Late Model division. I ended up breaking the record for youngest winner at Myrtle Beach Speedway, which was previously held by Jeff Gordon and Trevor Bayne. That was pretty cool.”
For all of Barnhill’s life, the biggest race at the track has been the Myrtle Beach 400. The race began in 1993 with the former NASCAR All Pro Series, but became one of the crown jewel events in Late Model Stock racing a few years later. It has routinely drawn one of the deepest fields in the discipline every year.
Growing up just down the road from the speedway, that event took on special meaning for Barnhill, which made competing in the event even more meaningful.
“Honestly, to me, it’s something I’ve literally dreamed about. Ever since I was a young kid going to those races. A lot of people can say it’s dumb to think this, but I’d rather win a Myrtle Beach 400 than a Daytona 500, because it would mean so much to me and my family.
“Growing up, that was the race that I put at the top of my career list. I still remember my very first time making the race. At that point in time, that was a pivotal part of my career, being in that field in the Myrtle Beach 400, a race I had seen numerous times before as a kid and dreaming to be a part of it.”
The race is also an incredibly unique one due to Myrtle Beach Speedway’s characteristics. With 225 laps around the track’s incredibly abrasive surface, most Myrtle Beach 400s are noted by long stretches of pack racing. Drivers negotiate and jockey around each other while deciding when and how hard to push their cars – and tires – in order to be in position at the end of the race.
“It’s a whole another game. It’s like superspeedway racing. You’ve got to pick your lines wisely. When you make a move, you have to make sure it’s fully calculated. You have to be very methodical with how you are racing in the pack.
“That taught me a lot in my career, being able to manage a pack. It’s a high-mentality game. Honestly, making mistakes in a field, it may not show you at that time, but it will hurt you later on.”
Memories of racing with his family team have shaped Barnhill’s young career thus far, with those lessons learned on the race track helping him in his aspirations to climb the racing ladder. It has also given him time at the track with family and friends, something he deeply treasures.
“It’s definitely helped make me into the driver I am today. I consider myself a polished product for a team in the upper-level series. I have had to work with very, very tight budgets and had to race against some of the best in the country on a weekly basis.
“To be with my family, and my family to share that struggle with me, that has meant the world to me. The memories I have of Myrtle Beach Speedway, the good times, the bad times, no matter what, at the end of the day it was time spent with the family at our favorite race track.”
While those memories will carry on forever for Barnhill, just as they have for the rest of his family, the last race at Myrtle Beach Speedway is just a few months away. For Barnhill, it serves as a cautionary tale for short track racers and fans across the country.
“Never ever take your home track for granted. Never do it. We entered 2020 with the mindset of another year of great racing. Despite the things that have gone on with the coronavirus, we expected a full year of racing at Myrtle Beach. That has been completely turned on its head.
“Go out, support your local home track. Support your local racers. Take friends and family, experience that with them, enjoy that time with them. Never take it for granted.”
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photos provided by Bryant Barnhill