He not only achieved this dream, but also surprised himself in his rookie season of racing cars.
Now he’s one of the youngest NASCAR champions in the country and nationally ranked 10th out of about 3,000 drivers in Division 5. Saturday evening he was honored, along with the other division champions at the Reno-Fernley Raceway’s awards banquet.
Like many his racing began at an early age.
“We had this little dirt kart we used to drive around our property. We all liked doing it but it broke down so we sent it back to be repaired,” he said. “However, the truck it was sent back on got stolen along with our go kart.”
After visiting and watching racing at Desert Park Raceway the family decided to buy an asphalt racing kart and compete with the Northern Nevada Kart Club.
“I was 8 years old and the first race was what I expected as I expected not to do the best but didn’t get into any accidents and only got lapped once,” he said.
While the race might not have been his best, Barr was hooked on the sport.
After starting with a 50cc motor he soon moved to an 80cc one and competed in the Junior 1-2 division. After two years, when he was 11 years old, Barr finished second in points and it was time to move into cars.
Among the many people that have helped him, his grandfather Richard Sr., a veteran racer himself, has been like a mentor to Barr. Grandfather Rich began his racing in 1955 with quarter midgets, worked his way through various stock cars in Southern California and ended driving in 1969 after a stint campaigning sprint cars.
“If we would have stayed in Jr. 1-2, and in order to keep up with the speeds, we would have had to get a kart that was probably $10,000,” his grandfather said, “And the whole season would have probably cost $15,000 so we decided to move in to stock cars.”
Over the next two years, Barr did two things. First he helped, well did a lot of the work, building the Pinto he races today, and found a second love in his life, music.
“It was mandatory, my sixth grade year, to play an instrument so I picked the trumpet, liked it and ran with it” he said. “I was First Chair for the sixth, seventh and eighth grade then did the jazz band in the ninth grade.”
When he started a family friend Jason Staton provided the music lessons and Barr said his musical hero is jazz legend Miles Davis. Currently Barr plays in his high school trumpet section, usually as First Chair.
“The reason why it took two years to build the car is because Travis was learning how to put it together, welding, fabricating as well as engine disassembling and assembling on the bench,” his grandfather said. “Now he knows all about the racing parts of the car, how the springs work and things like that.”
The elder Barr feels this knowledge, especially as it relates to the steering wheel and springs, has helped his grandson progress so quickly. And his knowledge of vehicle dynamics allows Barr to ask for the adjustments the car needs.
Barr admitted it was a lot of work, “But I knew it would all pay off in the end.”
When it was finally time to race they loaded the pinto and headed for the American Valley Speedway in Quincy, Calif. but that first race didn’t go exactly as planned.
“It was weird as I hit the wall three laps into the race,” he said. “I got loose coming out of Turn 2 and tagged the car’s rear end. It taught me not to go high and not to be a hero and lay on the throttle.”
That turn at Quincy has been a challenge for many drivers.
Asked how it felt Barr said, “The feeling was horrible as it was like my entire body went numb. And we raced there for four races.”
After four races their plans changed when Reno-Fernley Raceway reopened and they found out that NASCAR, which sanctioned the facility, has a 14-15 learner’s permit program.
While he can race with that permit, Barr still has to wait until mid-January until he can get his Nevada’s learner’s permit.
After his experience at Quincy he took the advice that first a driver must learn the track and the passing will come. Which was probably good as he spent this year starting from the back.
“Most of the time it was on purpose because when we started winning races we became number one in the points and they put us at the back,” he said.
He’s also learned to be patient when a race starts.
“You don’t want to race to the front going into Turns 1 and 2 because everybody dives for the same hole,” he said. “So what I do is to not make any moves unless it’s absolutely safe. Then I just pick them off one by one.”
The track at Reno-Fernley is different at both ends with Turns 1 and 2 being flatter than Turns 3 and 4, which have more banking. Many veteran drivers have come to grief before they realized this fact about the track.
So while Barr is on the track during hot laps his grandfather observes how the car is handling at both ends.
“We’ve designed it so Travis can show me what’s happening in the hot laps,” Richard said. “Then I’ll make an adjustment and he’ll back me up.”
In this type of racing it all comes down to side bite, or how the car will stick in the corners.
While explaining how it feels, Barr said, “When you don’t have enough you either spin out or the front end of your car pushes up the track and you’ll have to back off or hit the wall. When you have enough, you don’t have to crank the wheel so far, can get off the throttle later and on it sooner.”
Grandfather Rich feels this is a natural talent as it allows drivers to keep the rear end of their car under them with only minor sliding. He explained the best NASCAR drivers all have this talent and he feels Barr does as well.
Now that he has this championship behind him, they hope to help other younger drivers to get on the track. One candidate is Barr’s 11-year-old cousin Abigail Jaraillo, who has been helping in their racing shop.
And she can drive a spare Pinto so Barr rides and coaches her on the small track his grandfather has. Next year, when she’s 12, they hope to put her in the car for mud packing and maybe hot laps.
Reflecting on this season, grandfather Rich said they always plan on finishing what they start but it was a surprise things went so well.
Asked about his first race in a car, Barr sad, “When I made that pass for the lead it was like, wow!”
Unfortunately the car was disqualified due to its tires being the wrong size but it showed Barr he could win. From then on he was fourth and third once, second twice and won nine races on his way to the championship.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet but we won the title four races before the end of the season,” he said. “So that’s when it was kind of, yea!”
Like any racer Barr has received help from his parents, grandfather, and sponsors Les Schwab Tires, Landa Muffler and Brake, Reno Brake and Competition Carburetor and its owner Bob Oliver. He’s also grateful for all the advice given by many veteran drivers, like Travis Petersen.
Barr also gave thanks to God for all he has been given. And he makes sure to attend church every Sunday, even if he raced the night before.
Looking ahead both are working to have the car ready for next season’s first races in April. During this off-season they plan on taking the car to their sponsors for photos to give them.
Summing up their plans grandfather Rich said, “Next year we’re going to defend our championship and I’m putting a Mod Mini program together for a couple of races as Travis can do both.”
For this young champion, Saturday evening was a time to realize a dream come true and be recognized as a NASCAR champion in the Whelen All-American Series.
•Saturday was also a special night for Shawn Natenstedt as the previous night he was honored as Rattlesnake Raceway’s track IMCA champion and then, on Saturday, lauded as both RFR’s Division 1 and NASCAR’s Nevada dirt state champion.
•At Friday’s banquet for Rattlesnake Raceway in Fallon, champions were honored plus a special appreciation award given to Dennis Crook. Last year he suffered a stroke but this season took over as the track’s announcer.
Before receiving his award, Crook gave special awards to those that stepped in and helped him when he was almost helpless. One of them was his father Steve Crook and among the others was Steve McGee, who drove Crook’s Mod Mini to a class title this year.
OTHER RACING NEWS
•This weekend’s final round of the Nuclear Fallout Motocross series at the Stead track was canceled due weather considerations. Now the championships and standings will be calculated on the basis of four rounds.
•This weekend there are two off-road motorcycle races in our region.
Closest is the AMA District 36 Stampede Hare Scrambles. The pit area is located off Exit 32 with the pits located four miles east of I-80.
Saturday, beginning at 8:30 a.m. is for the youth, beginning women and vintage bikes. Sunday has two races for various sportsman and veteran classes with an 8:30 a.m. start to the first with a 1 p.m. start to the second.
Further east MRANN ends its season with the Nightengale to Lovelock race.
Saturday action, on short courses, begins at 9:30 a.m. with the Pee Wees and continues with events for the Mini Bikes, V Women and Vintage bikes. On Sunday the big bikes get their turn with a 135-mile long, point-to-point race between Nightengale and Lovelock, with the finishers assembling at Sturgeons Casino.
Both days begin south of the Nightengale exit off I-80, which is located east of Fernley.
•NASCAR’S Nevada Quartet spent the weekend at the Texas Motor Speedway.
In Friday’s Camping World Truck race Brendan Gaughan finished 31st, while T.J. Bell fell victim to a vibration and ended up 32nd.
Kyle Busch started fourth but finished 33rd and was suspended for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup events for over aggressive driving. In Saturday’s Nationwide event, T.J. Bell’s run of bad luck continued as he finished 41st with electrical problems.
Kurt Busch competed in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race where he fell out of the top 10 in the final laps to finish 30th.