(NOTE: This story appeared in the Hickory Daily Record a few years ago.)
Barnwell concentrates on that next win
By Tom Gillispie
Keith Barnwell, the longtime spotter, has been really busy this year.
|KEITH BARNWELL OF GRANITE FALLS|
The Granite Falls resident has spotted for Sprint Cup driver David Ragan, Nationwide driver Cale Conley, Truck Series racer Tyler Young and ARCA driver Justin Allison. Barnwell says that ARCA win with Allison was one of his favorites all time.
"I've spotted every (Sprint) Cup race this year, 27 out of 30 Nationwide races so far, 17 or 18 out of 19 truck races, and six or eight ARCA races," said Barnwell, a 1977 graduate of Hudson High School.
"It's been a decent year. We had a good run yesterday (Sunday) with David Ragan" at Martinsville. "He finished a strong 10th, his first top-10 finish this year. It's been a struggling year. If he starts running better at the end of the year, that might make it easier for next year."
Barnwell's first race as a spotter was the 1986 Busch (now Nationwide) race at Daytona. There, he ran into Scott Houston, one of Tommy’s sons.
"He asked where I was going, and I said I was going to watch the race in the grandstands with a friend,” Barnwell recalled. “He said, 'How about taking this radio and spot for my dad and tell him what's going on?' So I went to the grandstands to do the race. Tommy was on the pole, but he blew a motor halfway through the race.
"By then, I was hooked. I had a niche I could make a contribution with; I had a hobby and fun thing to do on weekends, and it turned into a career path."
Barnwell’s first Cup race was the 1992 Daytona 500; his driver, Sterling Marlin, was on the pole but wrecked and finished 35th.
Barnwell spotted for brothers David and Jeff Green when they won the 1994 and 2000 championships, respectively, in the Busch (Nationwide) Series.
“At one time, I figured I’d had over 50 Busch wins, with Tommy Houston, the Greens, (former Busch champion Steve) Grissom and others,” Barnwell said. “I won a lot of races with a lot of different drivers.
“In Cup, I’ve had maybe 10 wins.”
Barnwell’s best season has to be 2010, when he spotted for Jamie McMurray’s wins in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, plus a Cup win at Charlotte.
Houston and Barnwell won at several short tracks. In 1986, for instance, Houston won short-track Busch races at Hampton, Va.; Hickory; Rougemont, N.C. (Orange County), and Martinsville.
“With Houston, we won some good Nationwide races,” Barnwell said. “Those races felt as good for us at the time as Daytona and the Brickyard did later. To win at Hickory Speedway was no different than winning at Talladega.”
Oddly, one of his most memorable races came with Green in a 1994 Busch race at Bristol. Green was second to leader Mark Martin under caution near the end of the race, but suddenly Martin dipped onto pit road. Now, it’s a famous race; then, it was shocking.
“That (Green’s gift win) was as surprising to us as us (later) winning Daytona,” Barnwell said. “(Martin’s car owner) Jack Roush was near me on the roof (with the spotters), and the caution came out. There was no green-white-checker then.
“I looked over, and Jack took his radio off and put it in his bag. He turned away and Mark came down pit road. (On the radio) David said, ‘What do I do?’ I said, ‘Stay out.’ He said, ‘I’m confused.’ Then NASCAR said that the 44 (Green) was to go to victory lane.
“It was confusing because things were taking place different from protocol.”
Barnwell says he later learned that Martin was talking on the radio with his Cup crew chief and what they would do for Winston Cup practice. Martin was thinking about that and absentmindedly pitted.
It was Green’s only win that season.
Barnwell doesn’t know who he’ll spot for in 2015. He says that he’ll be looking forward to that next victory.
Almost wistfully, he said, “You never know when, or if, it’ll come.”CONTACT: Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Also, my Twitter handle is EDITORatWORK.
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