Barker begins new chapter of NASCAR career in his season as Winston Cup Crew Chief with ...
Barker begins new chapter of NASCAR career in his season as Winston Cup Crew Chief with #77 Jasper Motorsports team.
MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Robert "Bootie" Barker was named as crew chief for the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford Team and driver Dave Blaney in late November and immediately began working toward adding his distinctive influence to the organization, which completed the 2002 season with it's best-ever (19th) finish in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series points standings.
Barker, 31, who joined Jasper Motorsports after serving two seasons as crew chief for the #23 Bill Davis Racing team and driver Scott Wimmer in the NASCAR Busch Series, is a former chassis/shock specialist for the #24 Hendrick Motorsports team for four-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon (1999-2000) and for the #22 Bill Davis Racing team and driver Ward Burton (1998-99). He rejoined BDR in fall, 2000 as crew chief for Wimmer, then a recent graduate of the American Speed Association (ASA), and flourished in his first managerial role, guiding Wimmer to four NASCAR Busch Series victories and finishes of 11th and third, respectively, in the NBS standings (2001-2002) with limited sponsorship support.
"Every guy in my position wants to compete against the best, and this opportunity to work with the Jasper team and Dave gave me the platform to race against the best in the world every week in the Winston Cup Series" said Barker, who helped Gordon win five WC races at four different tracks in alliance with then-#24 crew chief Ray Evernham during his 15-month sabbatical to the #24 team between his two stints at BDR.
"People say it all the time in positive situations, but it really is a dream come true for me. I've worked with Dave before and we had success right from the start, so I know our communication and our ideas about the cars are on a similar level. I really enjoyed my time at Bill Davis Racing, and especially working with Scott. He's a star of the future, for sure, and that made the decision to leave BDR really tough.
"Bill and Gail Davis gave me a chance to find out whether I could run my own program and make all the decisions crew chiefs are faced with to make cars go fast. They always gave us everything we needed to race at the front every week, even though we didn't have the sort of sponsorships some other teams had. I'll never be able to thank them enough. But the chance to work with Dave starting this season is my chance to move forward and find out what I really can do against the best. That's what it's about for me.
"The guys at the #77 shop have been great from the first day I got there, and the owners have given me everything a crew chief would want to go out and improve every week and win races. I like the direction they have gone in bringing in a little more engineering influence into their organization, a direction I believe is the way most teams will make their big strides on the track in the next few years. We hope to stay right in stride with them."
A native of Halifax, Va., Barker began his motorsports career working on Late Model Stock Cars for current Busch Series regular Ashton Lewis while still in college. He graduated from Old Dominion University in 1996 with a degree in mechanical engineering. Prior to joining the #22 BDR team in 1998, Barker worked as a chassis specialist for owner Kurt Roehrig in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
In guiding Wimmer in his Busch Series championship run during the 2002 season, Barker's BDR Pontiac entries earned BGN victories at Dover, Memphis, Phoenix and Miami in the final quarter of the season and posted 25 top-ten finishes in 70 total races with Wimmer (2000-02). Barker's entries also completed all but 345 of 6,546 total laps (including 274 laps in two of four DNFs) in 2002 and continued a two-season trend in which he helped Wimmer improve his start/finish ratio in 55 of the 60 races he finished, including all but three races this season.
Barker also directed a limited NASCAR Winston Cup Series program at BDR for Wimmer this season, including starts at Bristol and Phoenix. In his first career WC
start, Wimmer finished 22nd (and led nine laps) in an unexpected debut with Crew Chief Barker at Atlanta (11/00) when his scheduled ARCA qualifying was rained out and Car Owner Davis opted for an attempt to make the WC field.
For the 2003 season, Barker joins Blaney and a #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford team that was among the most improved NASCAR Winston Cup programs, finishing 19th in the final 2002 WC standings and dramatically improving its consistency in its first season with the former BDR driver.
"I would say it's a good time to coming to this level as a full-time crew chief with the rules changes regarding body locations coming about during the off-season," said Barker. "At least in the short-term, it levels that part of the playing field for guys like me, and for single-car operations like Jasper Motorsports. But what I would say is an even bigger advantage for me as far as timing is that this team finished 19th last year and I feel like they have even more potential.
"What I'm trying to say is that I think this is just the cusp or the beginning for Dave and for the team. I feel like I'm coming in at the right time. We've got a great motor program with the Penske-Jasper Engines, a great driver and we've improved all of the areas during the off-season in which we were a little weaker. I think it's really gonna seem like we did a lot when, in truth, we didn't - it was all there and it's just being in the right place at the right time. That's what I hope happens anyway."
Barker also brings a unique perspective from experience with two multi-car WC operations (Hendrick Motorsports, Bill Davis Racing) to the #77 Jasper Motorsports team, second in the 2002 WC standings only to the #32 Cal Wells team among all single-car teams.
"Somebody who hears this is gonna say, 'Well, he has to say this because he's on a single-car team,' but I think the multi-car team thing is overrated," said Barker. "What the multi-car team does is it allows you to work more efficiently.
"Let's say each team gets a 10-million dollar sponsorship, that's 30 million. Well, you can have a centralized chassis shop and your money is placed more efficiently to distribute. I feel like every team then learns off of each other, but they still do their same thing. I'll bet you Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, they'll have different setups. I'm not saying this for sure, but I'll bet you that with these multi-car teams, their cars aren't exactly alike.
"The advantage a multi-car team does give you, of course, are more resources as far as money. But we have a great sponsor in Jasper Engines & Transmissions and we have enough money. Another big deal is people. Having good people is the main thing and we have hired and been fortunate to get a lot more good people, so I think that's gonna show up more than anything. (Team co-owners) Mark Harrah, Mark Wallace and Doug Bawel have stepped up and spent a lot of money to get good people and I think that's the most important thing."
Barker's challenge is made more unique by the fact that he moves through the highly industrial Winston Cup Series environment in a wheelchair, the by-product of an accident at age 17 that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Harrah, also the #77 Team Manager, says that aptitude for the sport and the job at hand was really the only issue when deciding on the right person to replace Ryan Pemberton, who left in November after four years as the team's crew chief.
"I think Bootie will handle it OK," said Harrah. "To be real honest, I've never talked with him about why he's in a wheel chair. Just chronologically when it happened. He is sensitive to talking about it. He doesn't want to be treated any differently than anybody else, and that's the way I treat him. He has no trouble getting around the car, no trouble getting around at the race track. I've not seen one thing that is a chore to him to get done, that anyone else couldn't get done.
"I figure we'll have an aisle around the pit box for him, so he can get around to the monitors and see the replays of the pit stops. But he could very well just sit up on top of the pit box the whole race. We've talked about it, and if you think about it, the crew chief, even if he is up on top of the pit box, can't see very far up and down pit road. You're not seeing very much of the track. So I don't think it's a disadvantage even if Bootie doesn't want to get up on top of the pit box.
"We really had the inside scoop on Bootie because Dave had worked with him before at Bill Davis, and we watched him working with Scott on the Busch tour, so we knew something had to be happening there. We watched him the last half of the season, kept a close eye on him, and we were really impressed, winning four of the last eight races was pretty impressive to us.
"We watched him on pit strategy the last four or five races, and I thought he made some real good calls. It's a split-second crapshoot anyway. A lot of times a crew chief won't have but five seconds to make that call. But he seems to do real good on fuel-mileage strategy, and that's a more long-term thought process. However, Ryan was really good on Sundays too, so Bootie will have a tough act to follow. From what we've seen so far, I think he's more than up to the challenges."
Blaney finished third at both Dover and Charlotte in fall, 2000 in BDR Busch Series entries as well as his final WC race for Bill Davis Racing in 2001 at Atlanta (qualified a career-best third, led 16 laps before engine failure) with Barker as his crew chief before leaving to join Jasper Motorsports in fall, 2001. He believes Barker was the right fit for the program as it continues it's metamorphosis into a weekly contender.
"With his engineering background and what he's shown as a winning Busch Series crew chief over the past two seasons, Bootie was at the top of my list when we knew a change was going to be made with our crew chief position," said Blaney. "He's worked with a championship-level Winston Cup program in an integral position and knows what it takes to build a program that can run at the front and win races.
"That's what we were looking for with the #77 Jasper team to help move us ahead even further after the 2002 season. We worked together in a few races at BDR and it was easy to see what his potentials were once he got the opportunity to run his own Winston Cup team. I'm excited to see if he can help us move ahead as much this season as we did from 2001 to 2002."