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Thread: Wheelchair-bound crew chief has energized Blaney's Ford team in short order

  1. #1
    Senior Member Max's Avatar
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    Jul 2001
    Montreal,Province of Quebec, CANADA

    Wheelchair-bound crew chief has energized Blaney's Ford team in short order

    Wheelchair-bound crew chief has energized Blaney's Ford team in short order

    By Mike Mulhern

    Mike Mulhern
    E-mail | Bio

    ROCKINGHAM - NASCAR has one of the toughest industrial work environments of any business in the country. A steel mill of a climate. Win, lose, live, die. The noise is inhuman, the noxious fumes can be choking. And if you're not winning, well, there's the door.

    Enter one Robert "Bootie" Barker.

    Not to belabor the issue, because Bootie is certainly not comfortable with all the attention, but he's breaking new ground in stock-car racing.

    He's doing much more than that. Crew chiefs are NASCAR's coaches, and Barker sees the world from a perspective about two feet lower than the rest of us. He has to do his job with a pair of wheels instead of his feet. Barker, injured at 17 as a passenger in a car, has just been called up to the big leagues.

    The big picture: The NFL doesn't have a head coach in a wheelchair. The NBA doesn't have a head coach in a wheelchair. Major League Baseball doesn't have a manager in a wheelchair.

    So Barker, who turns 32 next week, is going to face looks of amazement from the media around the country this season as he travels the NASCAR tour.

    Bootie is no Frank Williams yet. But for NASCAR executives, Barker's story is a wonderfully astonishing one, and something that they certainly didn't orchestrate. Barker got this job, as boss for Dave Blaney on Mark Harrah's Ford team, on his merits.

    Those merits have been good enough to help put Blaney on the pole for this afternoon's Subway 400.

    Now NASCAR officials find themselves with a beautiful human-interest story; a guy who made it to the top on his own.

    Fox plans a major TV piece on Barker in the next few weeks, and the New York Times is looking at this story in the larger context of American sports.

    Barker might not yet even realize just how big a story he is. But all he really wants to do is win on the strength of his wits and his talents.

    And today he just might have a good chance.

    A no-nonsense chief

    This is a good track for a dirt tracker, especially if it gets hot and slick. And Blaney is one of the best dirt trackers on the stock-car tour. Every summer he does a short-track run with fellow Sprinter Tony Stewart.

    Barker said that taking the pole was a surprise, "because we were mostly in race trim. But I knew after our first practice run we were pretty good. I told Dave we had a shot at it. I'm really more apprehensive about the race.

    "Being the underdog is fun. I like that. But even though we're the underdog, we've got Penske-Jasper motors, and they're as good as anybody's. Everything else I feel you can compensate for, so I feel we're in good shape.

    "Dave is like any other driver: He wants the car right, and if it ain't right, he's mad and I don't blame him. It's pretty much that simple."

    Barker seems to becoming a bit more accustomed to his new role in the spotlight. "It's part of the game," he said. "You've got to speak well and answer the questions to get the money with the sponsorship and everything, so it's no big deal."

    But he said he doesn't like the idea of being a role model. "I don't feel like I am at all."

    Barker, who worked his way through college by selling tires at South Boston Speedway, is a no-nonsense guy who certainly doesn't ever look laid back. And he's not a man willing to put up with a lot of frills or expansive statements. Harrah said that the team is going to be up front at many races this season. "Sure, but we have to prove it," Barker said. "Talk is cheap."

    When Ryan Pemberton, Blaney's former crew chief, moved on at the end of last season, Blaney went straight to Barker to fill the spot. Barker has been a familiar figure in the Winston Cup garage for about five years, first with Ward Burton and car owner Bill Davis, as shock specialist, then with Jeff Gordon. Last season he returned to Davis for his first shot as a crew chief, working with Scott Wimmer on the Busch side. Together they won four of that tour's last eight races. That led Blaney and Harrah to jump at the chance to hire him to head their Winston Cup operation.

    "When we knew Ryan would not be with us this season, the owners and I talked, and Bootie was immediately on the top of my list," Blaney said.

    What Barker has brought to the team is a noticeable fire in his eyes, and Blaney said that's infectious. "Bootie has just re-energized our whole team," Blaney said. "He's got a different approach from most guys I've been around - he's not afraid to try new things. Not afraid to go outside the box. Whatever it takes to make that car do what we want it to do, he'll try it. We just go after it.

    Harrah, the most active of the partners who own the team, is one of the most hands-on car owners on the tour, and he uses his engineering background. "I think winning this pole is a surprise to everybody but ourselves," Harrah said.

    "We have high expectations for ourselves. I don't think this will be the last time you see us here. It was obviously no surprise to us that we came here and unloaded well. We had the confidence to pass several tests the last couple of weeks, and we came here with a brand new car and knew that we would probably go fast with it.

    "Getting Bootie as our crew chief was an awesome decision. He's done a great job. We felt like this was probably our weaker car of the cars we have done, so we're getting real excited about Vegas and Atlanta now that we've shown what we can do at Rockingham."

    Turning the corner?

    In the engine department Blaney, Barker and Harrah may be benefiting from Roger Penske's switch to Dodge, because that leaves the Ford team with about 90 Ford engines to pick over and play with.

    "We worked really hard to make sure that the ambitious program that Penske-South had undertaken switching to Dodge for 2003 would not affect our cooperative effort with the engines," Harrah said.

    "We went to Daytona with plenty of horsepower, we've got healthy engines for the races ahead this spring, and we're looking forward to this year with the engine program we've got. Penske-Jasper South down in Concord is an awesome facility, second to none. If you ever go by there, you'll understand why we can do both the Ford and Dodge engine programs and still be on top of the horsepower game."

    Blaney's sprint-car career was stellar, 192 wins in 1,349 starts. But he's still trying for win No. 1 on the Winston Cup tour.

    "It's been tearing my heart out not to win the way I used to when I was in the Sprint cars," Blaney said. "But it's a whole different game here, with much higher stakes. And at least for me, a long learning curve to get to where we are today."

    So is this team turning things around?

    "In this sport you have to earn everything," Blaney said. "Nothing is given to you. And that's how it ought to be.

    "I've always wanted it now, and it's been a rough road. It's not happening as fast as I would like. But, hey man, that's life. You just keep working hard at it. And I can't say enough about the owners of this team.

    "They went out and invested a lot to improve this team. And I think it's going to pay off."

    • Mike Mulhern can be reached at

  2. #2
    Good story Max.

    We need more visibility, public attention, awareness.

    Good for Barker!

  3. #3
    Senior Member Max's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2001
    Montreal,Province of Quebec, CANADA

    Thank you,

    Phebus -formely known as Chris

    Why did you decided to change your name suddenly???

    Do Feds already at your door, Chris Chappell?

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