Growing up in a family with deep racing roots, Blake Barney always thought about getting behind the wheel.
His grandfather, Dick Barney, owned Modifieds for many years on NASCAR’s Modified circuit, with drivers such as Reggie Ruggerio and Tony Siscone sitting in the cockpit. Barney also owned a car that was driven by Jimmy Blewett for 2010 and 2011 on a part-time schedule, where the combination was able to score a best finish of second.
For Blake, the early years of his life were filled with trips to the race track to watch the family car be successful. Eventually, he was chomping at the bit to get at the controls himself. But it took some time.
“My grandfather really was owning cars the entire time I was growing up,” Blake Barney said. “He was so wrapped up in racing bigger cars and I was always a racing fan growing up, but we never really thought about it at first. I played football, basketball, baseball. I was playing all kinds of other sports and we just never decided we were getting into it. But when I was 13, for my birthday, my grandfather bought me some karts and we raced at Wall Stadium Speedway in the Sunday Series.”
From there, things took off for the Jackson, New Jersey, driver. Fast-forward about seven years and Barney is competing at the highest level in Modified racing on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Getting to this level was something Barney always hoped would happen, but it took some success in another New England tour-type Modified division first.
“There was never really a set plan, but when I was about to turn 16, my grandfather decided we were going to get a Sportsman car and run in that division at Wall. When I was 17, I ran a full year in the Modifieds at Wall and we did some Tri Track Modified Series races. Doing well in those Tri Track races pushed me to try and run the Whelen Modified Tour in 2018,” Barney said. “My grandfather believed me, and it was always my dream to run the Whelen Modified Tour.”
Last year, in his rookie effort, Barney scored two top 10 finishes at Virginia’s Langley Speedway and New York’s Oswego Speedway. The move to the Whelen Modified Tour was one that brought plenty of challenges for the rising star and his team.
“It was a huge step for me. When we went to the first race at Myrtle Beach last year and finished 11th, it was great for us. I was ecstatic,” Barney said. “At Langley last year, I ran third most of the race and I feel like the southern races play to our advantage. When you to go some of the tracks down south, it is a new place for just about everyone, which puts them on my experience level compared to being at Thompson or Stafford where some drivers have a ton of laps.”
Much like many rookies, Barney was visiting many of the tracks for the first time behind the wheel, and in some cases, it was the first time he had even physically seen the track in person.
“When you run a Saturday night program weekly, you are able to fine-tune your setup at the same track, but going to other tracks and trying to show up with a good baseline setup caught us off guard. A lot of times we would show up and we didn’t have the good baseline unloading,” Barney said. “A lot of things had changed in just a few years, including the shock technology, so my family had to catch up a little bit with me. It was all new for us.”
In the first three races of the new season, Barney has shown improvement, including on the speed charts during practice. But it’s still a work in progress for the 19-year-old, and he knows the journey to Victory Lane is going to be a difficult one that will be worth it once he gets there.
“We’re working on it. When you want to run at this level, you have to make the car the best you can in all of the littlest ways,” Barney said. “More experience is always a good thing. As a team, we haven’t been running as good as we would have liked to run. We haven’t been showing up to the race track with the best cars. Obviously, I want to run better and win races, but I know it is going to take time and some cooperation with my team to figure out what is best for me.”
Next up for Barney and the Whelen Modified Tour is a trip back to Stafford Motor Speedway for the 48th annual NAPA Spring Sizzler, this coming Friday night. The race was originally slated to be run April 28, then May 5, but rain postponed both dates.
Luckily for Barney, who competed in two practice sessions on April 27 before the rain at the Connecticut half-mile, he had time to take the car home before the drop of the green flag. A spin down the backstretch ended with contact from Timmy Catalano, damaging Barney’s car.
“We showed up to Stafford with a good car, I was 11th in the first practice, but I was really confident, and when we put the harder tire on, we didn’t make up for how loose the car was going to be and I made a mistake,” Barney said. “Just little things like that. We are still learning what is best for me as a driver.
“Right before it was going to rain, we figured we wouldn’t make qualifying, but we were going to get it back together for the race and honestly, it was going to look pretty rough,” he joked. “The whole left side of the car, the bars were bent, the body panels were bent… it was definitely a saving grace for us to come back, look at what we did wrong and realize what we can do to prevent it next time.”