by Jim Armbruster
September 29, 1995
Barton Was The First To Take Three Straight Driving Championships
Bobby Schnars and Squirt Johns were superstars of the first degree. Both won the title two years in succession. Never three.
"That puts a chill up my back," Barton said from his Ashville home. "As a boy, I would go to the race track and idolize guys like Ronnie Blackmer, Jay Plyler, and Bobby Schnars. I worshipped the ground they walked on. I had them on such a pedestal. It's kind of tough to conceive."
It must be. Maybe only those who have battled for the Super Late Model circuit championship truly understand the discipline it takes to win the S-E title. The focus has to come from not just the driver, but the entire crew, right down to the very last member.
"I'm just blessed with a fantastic team," Barton said. "We have assembled some tremendous talent. The first and foremost reason for winning the championships was because there were 34 races (at Stateline and Eriez in 1995) and we finished 33 of them. We didn't win them all, but the car did see the checkered flag. That's a tremendous testament to the guys who work on the car. It wasn't Dick Barton who won three championships in a row, it was the team. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The driver's no good if a wheel falls off. The driver's no good if the spark plug wires are crossed."
Barton's team is based out of the Jamestown area. Warren McDonald, Jim Seely, Terry Studd, Jay Classon, Randy Anderson, Del Seekings, Phil Klinginsmith, and Mike Eckert devote their time unselfishly. Crew chief John Lamb calls the shots. They've been together for a long time.
"I've always had people who were willing to not necessarily work for me, but work with me," Lamb said of his dedicated group of cohorts. "If you can't get along, get your personalities together, you're done. We've had the nucleus of our team together for so long now. I kind of equate it to the Rolling Stones, people who have been together for so long and still get along."
During Barton's early years in the Super Late Model division, Jim Greenawalt, Del Seekings, John Lillie and Terry Studd owned the cars. That was back when they had just one car and one and a half motors. Those were the days of Race Team 14, when Barton's number was 14B. The financial pressure on the ownership became overwhelming and Barton was out of a ride.
"It's hard to field a competitive Late Model on a working man's salary," Anderson explained. "You might be able to support a middle of the pack race car, but not a front-runner. It's just too costly."
Step in Ron Nielson. Change the number to 28B. Forget about the Chevy and drop in a Ford. There's as many as three cars in the garage nowadays and nearly a handful of motors. Nielson has solved the financial crunch.
"He owned a company called Aardvarks, or something like that," Anderson added, speaking of Nielson. "They were garbage collectors and had the contracts for a number of Western Pennsylvania cities. He had 60-some trucks and on top of that he owned his own landfill. He sold out to Waste Management."
After selling out, Nielson purchased a couple of race cars and hired a crew in 1991 to run some of the local dirt tracks like Lernerville and Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Motor Speedway. Nielson was a die-hard Ford fan.
"I used to run flathead Fords myself at Dempseytown, probably in '51, '52, and '53," Nielson said. "We ran Kuhl Road and the racetrack at 26th and Pittsburgh in Erie. And, I sponsored a car for a number of years, Mike Eckert's. I had Mike come to work for me and I backed his race car. That lasted for a few years. I couldn't run a business and race cars both, so I had to give it up. But, I said someday, I'm going to come back with a good race car."
Nielson attempted to do that in 1991. When things didn't work out like Nielson wanted them to, he became disgusted.
"I took the car home, put it in the garage and I didn't care if I raced again," he recalled. "If racing was going to be like that, then I didn't want any part of it."
"In the middle of that winter, either Randy (Anderson) or one of the Barton crew heard about my predicament."
Anderson, Barton, and Nielson got together and pondered the possibilities.
"After a lot of soul-searching," Nielson revealed, "I wasn't sure whether to follow through with it or have a garage sale. I figured if I was going to do it, it was these guys I was going to do it with."
Nielson chose to take that shot and it has paid its dividends. In three years, Barton, Nielson and the guys have won 36 features and seven point championships. And don't forget about the tremendous showings in big races at Pittsburgh, Pennsboro, and Hagerstown. They have been a threat to win anywhere they've gone.
And, surprisingly, they did it with a Ford when nobody, but nobody, was running Fords. Now, Fords are popping up all over the place. Just check under the hoods of guys like Todd Andrews, Scott Bloomquist or Jack Hewitt. They've all switched after seeing Nielson's idea succeed.
"It's kind of neat in some respects to be unique," Barton acknowledged. "It sets you apart. Everybody at the time was running General Motors stuff. I always ran Fords when my uncle Rod and I had Sportsman cars. From '72 to '80, I ran all Fords. But, (laughing), the motors back then weren't anything like they are now.
"As a matter of fact, I've heard they are getting more power out of a Ford now than they are from the Chevys. When Brent Rhebergen bought his new Shaver motor this year, I heard they tried to talk him into buying a Ford instead of a Chevy. And, you know, Ron Nielson was one of the pioneers in this whole Ford thing."
Nielson recalled, "I'd go to the races and there'd be nothing but Chevys running. That was my goal, to show the boys how a Ford could run. And I think I did that."
He sure has.
Nielson admits that it's not just the Ford motors that make his team so successful.
"The one thing I've learned the more I'm around racing is how sophisticated it is," he said. "It's not all driver versus driver. It's chassis man versus chassis man. It's tire man versus tire man. You need a combination or you're not going anywhere. I'd say racing is about 50 percent chassis, or at least 40 percent. Then there's driving ability, equipment, motor..."
"The majority of the casual fans do not understand that one little tweak on a shock or one little tweak on a tire puts you in the back of the pack."
It's that kind of stuff that has helped Nielson gain tremendous respect for the team he picked up three seasons ago, before he ever won a Super Late Model race as a car owner.
"Everything they do is meticulous," Nielson said. "It's gone over once, then gone over again. Everything has to be just perfect, right down to the last decal."
Barton noted, "Ron is such a nice guy you just want to do well for him. You don't have to do well, you just want to. You want to see Ron and his family smile. When they see their dad smile, that makes them happy."
"Ron's just a down-home individual. He has a country home. You're not walking on marble floors. They don't eat their meals in tuxes. They've worked hard. Everything is self-made. He always loved the sport, but he couldn't afford it while running his business."
Now that Nielson has made his fortune, he is able to spend more time with his first love, stock car racing.
"When I first got with Barton and the guys, it was just going to be for a year, maybe two," he said. "Now, we're looking at a fourth season. I hope to be around for a few more years."
In the past 11 years, Barton and his team have won 19 point championships, six at Stateline, six at Eriez, two at Sharon, and five Stateline-Eriez Circuit titles. The three in a row has set them apart from the rest.
Although Bobby Schnars has never won three straight, he has six circuit championships to his credit, the most of anybody, and one more than Barton.
"Anytime there is a first to set, I'm interested," said Nielson when asked what it felt like to be the owner of the team to be the first to win three S-E titles in succession. "It's my competitive nature. I like to win and if there is something to get, I like to get it."
"But going after number six may be out of the question. I know the guys want to travel more next year."
Barton added, "We said this past year that we were going to do more traveling. By virtue of traveling it takes away from the championship mode."
"Stay home and try for six or try to run with the big boys, it's a dilemma. We'll get together over the winter to discuss it."
But right now, Nielson's team can savor the fact that it grabbed yet another piece of Stateline-Eriez history.
"You know, one of the reasons we race is to gain respect," Barton admitted. "The three straight championships helps us earn a little bit of that respect."
"And when I get older and my grandchildren are sitting on my knee, it's going to be neat to tell them how we won the championships."