JRM Employee Austin Barnhill Adds Chili Bowl Challenge to New Path

Ron Lemasters | 1/12/2022

Chili Bowl News

Barnhill, a part-time mechanic at JRM, is at the 36th annual Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, driving an open-wheel car among some of the nation's best drivers.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 12, 2022) -- Austin Barnhill, a part-time mechanic at JR Motorsports, is on the national stage this week at the 36th annual Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Okla., driving an open-wheel car among some of the nation's best drivers.

Barnhill, 21, from Wilmington, N.C., is driving the No. 08B Dave Mac-Dalby Motorsports Spike with sponsorship from Scotts Hill Hardware & Supply in his first attempt at the annual classic, which serves as the opening event of the new racing season.

A rookie, Barnhill will face some of the nation's best open-wheel drivers in his attempt to make the prestigious A-Feature on the tiny dirt track inside the Tulsa Expo Center, including World of Outlaws superstar Sammy Swindell, defending Chili Bowl champion Kyle Larson, the NASCAR Cup Series champion from Hendrick Motorsports and his teammate, 2020 Cup Series titlist Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports.

Barnhill, who will turn 22 next month, does whatever needs doing on the shop floor at JRM on a part-time basis, owing to the travel schedule he has with his burgeoning racing career.

"I'm part-time, with all the travel involved," he said from Tulsa. "I just bounce around and do whatever job needs to be done. I do suspension stuff, brake-related mostly."

Barnhill also helps with the title-winning Outlaw kart driven by Wyatt Miller, son of Kelley Earnhardt Miller and L.W. Miller, at Millbridge Speedway near the JRM campus.

He has a long history as a racing driver, starting in go-karts at the age of 5 and transitioning to open-wheel micro midgets. He spent the second half of last season making the transition to the full-on midget cars with the team he'll drive for this weekend. His current plan is to race the full season with the Dave Mac-Dalby Motorsports crew, mostly in the Midwest in USAC or POWRi events.

The differences between a micro midget and the full-on version are fairly steep, with the full-on version utilizing power steering along with more power. That was a consideration in his decision to move up to the bigger cars, Barnhill said.

"This is new for me," he said. "Some guys go from a micro midget to a full-on midget and never miss a beat. The micro I ran didn't have power steering, so I had to drive it very hard. Obviously, the full midgets have power steering so I felt like since I was so new at it, I dropped the micros to focus on the full midget stuff. My goal right now is to just be as competitive as possible, whether that's POWRi or USAC."

Taking on the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals is a big step, Barnhill said.

"It's my third time here at the Chili Bowl, but my first time as a driver," Barnhill said. "My dad and I came out here in 2018 and 2019 to watch. My emotions are kind of everywhere. I'm excited, because it's something I always wanted to do. I'm kind of nervous going into it as a driver, trying not to psych myself out because I know I have the racing experience, just not in this form. I have enough experience in other forms of racing to know I can do it. I just have to get more seat time and make more laps."

The pomp and circumstance surrounding the event is top-notch, and Barnhill admitted that was a draw for him.

‘I love the history of it," he said. "The Swindells and the guys who have come through the Chili Bowl, Cup drivers who are still racing it now. I like the prestige of it. There are higher-paying races out there, but the prestige, knowing you have to beat 400 other guys is what makes it so hard. It's cool too because it's all week. After your prelim night, you can sit in the stands and diagnose the track or see what mistakes some of the other guys are making are and try to learn from that. You have a few days to relax and take the time to learn."

He'll be learning on the fly tomorrow tonight in his preliminary program, one that will set the stage for what he hopes to be an eventful Saturday in Oklahoma.

"The goal for my prelim night would be to make the A-Feature," he said. "That's going to be a challenge, but I can see that happening if things go my way. If you make it to the prelim main event, that translates to the D- or E-Feature on Saturday. I would be satisfied with that.

"On Saturday, I just want to make it as far as I can. Obviously, I want to make the A-Feature, but I'm being realistic. I just want to get as far as I can get, and keep my nose clean, not get into any trouble and learn as much as I can in as many laps as I can."

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