Thursday, August 28, 2014

A.C. Barnes feature

Racing gives Barnes room to grow

By Tom Gillispie

Race fan Anthony Christopher Barnes probably had no idea what he was getting into last year when he befriended racer Travis Byrd on Facebook.

“He asked if he could have a headset; he wanted to listen on the radio during races” at Hickory Motor Speedway, said Byrd, who is fifth in Limited Late Model standings. “Around June, we bought him a pit pass. His first race, (car owner/driver) Ashley (Huffman) won, and we thought he was a good-luck charm.
“Anthony and I have a pretty good relationship.”
Barnes, 19, has spent most of his life in a wheelchair because of spinal bifida. And for much of that time, he’s followed racing.
“Since I was a little kid, I’ve watched (racing),” Barnes said. “It’s a passion of mine. I’ve been going to Hickory since the fourth or fifth grade. I love watching (racing) and being around it.
“My first memory of Hickory Motor Speedway was watching (2005 Super Truck division champion) Robin Harris when he used to race. When he’d win, I’d go to victory lane and get my picture made.”
Byrd says the Dwight Huffman Racing team bought Barnes a NASCAR license, and Barnes has always there to lend a hand. He visits the team shop between races. On Saturdays, he’s in the pits, doing whatever he can. He might keep practice lap times or help move tires.
And when they move a car, “I’ll get on a rear quarter panel and push with one hand as I steer (the wheelchair) with the other hand,” he said.
On how much this DHR connection has meant to him, Barnes said, “It has meant the absolute world to me to be in the pits. It’s been an absolute blessing. I’ve met some great people in the pits. They seem very outgoing down there, and I interact with them.
“I live with my mom and sister, and I’m the only guy in house. (Now) I have other guys to interact with.”
Huffman says Barnes helps the team with more than keeping lap times and pushing tires.
“Anthony boosts everybody's morale,” Huffman said. “He doesn't have a bad day. He'll poke you; he brings a smile to your face, lightens your mood. We often get so caught up in the moment that we miss obvious things. He calms you down for minute, helps you think, regain your composure and do what you have to do.”
Asked if he has a best friend among the racers, Barnes said, “I’d have to say Travis. He’ll always be there for me. He’s like a brother to me. He’s my best friend, but I love them all.”
Byrd says he’s enjoyed Barnes being part of the team.
“It means a lot (to me),” said Byrd, from Sherrills Ford. “He can accomplish anything I can. With hard work, he can do anything he wants to. When I look at Anthony, I see a lot of myself. He's got a lot of desire and wants to learn. I give him a lot of credit to have the courage and drive to do something.”
Barnes, a 2013 graduate of Alexander Central High School, says his current drive is to go to college.
“I’m working on that right now,” he said. “I’m working on getting into Western Piedmont Community College in Morganton. I want to get my math and all of that out of the way.”
He says he’s not sure what he’d major in. When asked if he’d find something in racing, he said, “If I could have something like that, yeah, that's what I'd lean toward.”
But that’s in the future. Right now, he’s just enjoying racing.
“I’m kinda looking forward to the end of the season, but I don't want it to end,” 
he said.
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