Tuesday, July 27, 2010

SPORTS>>Owner Barker gets his man

Leader sportswriter

Cabot car owner Kevin Barker loves seeing a plan come together. Finally.

Bryant driver and Lonoke native Casey Findley has driven Barker’s modified car to top-three finishes the last two weekends at Beebe Speedway, including a runner-up finish to Johnny Bone, Jr. in the big Scrapp Fox Memorial on Friday.

But those solid runs have come after Barker struggled not only to find consistency, but also a permanent driver.

Barker is a former driver and longtime modified car owner who has two IMCA state championships and two I-30 track championships under his belt. But filling the driver’s seat of his No. 34 machine has been a challenge this year.

He started the year withSherwood driver Scott Brown in the E-mod class, but Barker did not like the rough driving notorious for that class. From there, Brown gave Cabot driver David Payne a temporary ride while Payne revamped his own 7D modified after losing an engine early in the season.

Payne recently completed the overhaul and got back in his own car, leaving Barker’s seat vacant once again. But a call to Findley gave Barker what he has been accustomed to over the years — a seasoned driver with a proven record.

“I’ve talked to Casey off and on a little bit through the year this year, and I asked if he would like to finish up driving the rest of the year,” Barker said. “Hopefully, it will work out for the both of us and we’ll run together next year. That’s what our plans are.”

Findley had a banner year in 2006 with 23 victories across the state in his 17F car, but as sponsorship funding began to evaporate, so did many of his winning runs. Findley enjoyed moderate success in 2007 and 2008 before his program began to struggle last year. He made limited appearances in his car through the first half of this year before getting the call from Barker.

“I’ve raced against Kevin for a long time, and he was kind of in between drivers,” Findley said. “And I know he’s always had good stuff. We’re getting along good, and they’ve got a good pit crew, so hopefully we can get together. It’s really hard to win nowadays, but if we can just run consistent in the top three or four and win a few, those are my expectations.”

Barker is coming off a solid year in 2009 with former driver Tyler Stevens of Searcy. Stevens drove the car to nine victories and second in points at Beebe before getting an offer to take part in the growing, crate late-model division that has emerged in the Batesville area.

The partnership with Stevens in 2009 capped off a successful decade for Barker, who won IMCA state titles and I-30 track championships with driver Chuck McGinty of Conway in 2005 and again with Cabot’s Jayson Hefley in 2007.

But the lack of success in the first half of this season has not caused Barker to lose much sleep.

“No, it doesn’t really bother me,” Barker said. “I’ve done very well with drivers I’ve had in the past. Anytime I show up at the track, my only intention is to win, but I can go back and look at the years I’ve had in the past.

“There’s not a lot of them out here who have had that kind of success. It’s easier to take when you’ve had that success in the past when a lot of them are still trying to get to that point.”

Findley is also looking for a long-term partnership with the Barker group and believes it can be successful, but also said his runaway effort in 2006 may be hard to recapture with the increased level of competition, particularly at Beebe.

“I don’t really get frustrated, because the competition is a lot tougher now than it was then,” Findley said. “We got lucky and came across a good sponsor at the time and had good resources. We still have good resources now, but the problem is that everyone else also has good resources, and a lot of setup information is out there.”