by Scott Kindberg
October 14, 2014
End Of Road
Less than a month after recording his 80th career Super Late Model victory at Stateline Speedway to surpass Bob Schnars for the all-time track record, the 60-year-old Ashville resident made his decision official after racing one final time at McKean County Raceway in Smethport, Pa. last Saturday.
''John Elway won a Super Bowl and retired and Bill Cowher won a Super Bowl and retired,'' Barton said of the former NFL quarterback and coach respectively. ''Can you imagine a better time? ... I have to tell you, though, there are times when I think about it and I get a lump in my throat, but I'm confident this is the right decision.''
He shouldn't have any regrets.
In a career that began in the Sportsmen's Class in 1973, Barton accumulated 267 feature wins along the way, and 48 track and series championships. At Stateline alone, he amassed a record 80 late-model victories and 10 track championships.
''I have had a longstanding respect for Bobby Schnars after watching him race for many years,'' said Bill Catania Sr., Stateline Speedway general manager. ''He was a fine champion and a fine competitor, but I can't think of anybody better to break his records than Dick Barton.
''Those men were smart drivers. They weren't just fast drivers. You have to think it through, and Dick thought it through right to the very end. He drove a textbook race (the night he broke Schnars' record). I doubt those records will fall.''Randy Anderson, local dirt-track historian and a member of Barton's team, said that Barton had been talking about retirement for a while, but was willing to continue to race until he broke Schnars' Stateline late-model victory record.
''Once that happened,'' Anderson said, ''I think he felt he had achieved all the goals that he had.'' The numbers are staggering.
In addition to the accomplishments noted above, Barton, by Anderson's calculations, competed in 1,450 late-model races. When added to the dozen years he drove in the Sportsmen's Class, Anderson figures Barton participated in excess of 1,750 races.
''A guy called me (Monday) and wanted to know if Dick raced longer at Stateline than anyone else,'' Anderson said, ''and I didn't know the answer to that. I'm pretty sure Skip Furlow raced about 40 years, but he retired when he was 55 and Dick made it to 60. ... Floyd Fanale was still competing when he was close to 70 years old, but he didn't do it consecutively. ... Forty-two years certainly has to be, if not the most, near the top.''
Anderson also noted that tributes have been pouring in to Stateline Speedway's Facebook page.
''They bring tears to your eyes,'' he said. ''Most of them talk about (Barton's) friendship with the fans and his sportsmanship with his competitors. A couple of guys mentioned that the sport will be less because he won't be around anymore.
''The word that was used the most was 'classy.' He brought class to a sport that is sometimes rough-and-tumble.''
Barton, who raced most recently for car owners John and Charlie Lacki, also credited the guys on his race team, without whom he wouldn't have been able to achieve such success behind the wheel.
''I consider myself lucky and fortunate to be part of that effort,'' Anderson said. ''I was there for 30 of those years. I'll never forget it, I'll tell you that.''
Barton admitted that retiring from racing scares him, because ''there's no better feeling than winning a feature event. I don't know how I'm going to get that feeling again, but I'm sure it will come along.''
Retirement will afford more time with his wife Joan and their adult children, Aaron and Andrea, who live out of state.
''(Aaron) texted me last summer and said there was a KISS concert and ZZ Top concert playing (in Florida),'' Barton said. ''It would have been such a riot to jump on a plane and (enjoy) the weekend, but in this sport it just requires a certain amount of dedication and a certain amount of sacrifice.''
Barton had plenty of both, and it was his ability to handle a car on weekend nights spanning five decades that put him at the top of his sport.
And even though he admitted to occasionally being emotional since making his decision, Barton agreed that the following anonymous proverb probably sums up his feelings best:
''Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.''