Barnhill with Bounty, ready for Sportsmen Spectacular 35 Fridayadmin
Mr. Perfect: Barnhill Yet to Lose at 5 Flags in 2019,
Eyes 35-Lap Sportsmen Spectacular Paycheck
By Chuck Corder
Winning streaks can be funny things.
Do you enjoy the highs or are you haunted by the pursuit of perfection? Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, and all that stuff.
Mark Barnhill seems unbothered by all of it. The Theodore, Ala., Sportsmen driver is a perfect three-for-three at Five Flags Speedway this season. He stacks wins like chips at a card table and his even-keeled demeanor is a true poker face despite facing a $250 bounty.
Barnhill freely admits to needing to work on his No. 3 machine “a little more.”
“It gets it done, I guess,” he added.
Barnhill hope it gets it done come Friday at Five Flags when The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen race for 35 laps.
The “Sportsmen Spectacular” will be the longest feature the class will run until the 52nd annual Snowball Derby in December. With the extended race, and that $250 bounty on Barnhill’s head, comes a larger payday — one of the few droughts Barnhill has experienced at Pensacola’s high banks.
“I haven’t won a big-money race over there, other than the Derby,” said Barnhill, who won his Derby in 2017. “I’m just gonna try to save my tires.”
The Faith Chapel Outlaw Stocks, WCIparts.com Pro Trucks, and Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks will share the billing with the Sportsmen. Gates open at 5 p.m. and admission is $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, military, and students; and free for children ages 11-and-under.
Tire management will be Priority No. 1 for the Sportsmen. Second-year Sportsmen driver Tommie Blocker
“There’s a method to the madness, but I’m still trying to figure that out,” Blocker, of Irvington, Ala., said.
“It has been fun. It’s something new. To have a car, and actually get to work on all four corners. It’s a learning experience, and I know there’s a whole lot more to learn. We’re swinging it for it.”
Blocker, who raced just a handful of Sportsmen features last season, sits third in the points standings behind only Barnhill at the top and fellow Alabama driver B.J. Leytham.
A feature win and a slew of podium finishes highlighted a successful, albeit brief, run in the Pure Stocks. Blocker thought it was only natural to test his mettle at the next class up.
“I spent a big portion of last year just putting it back together,” said Blocker, who bought the car from the father-son duo of Stan and Jason Smith. “I just wanted to get the basic idea of what I was doing out there before I decided to run a full schedule. I had the mindset to run both tracks, get seat time, and get caught up to the rest of the guys. I believed that helped me tremendously.”
The 53-year-old credits the Smiths, along with close friend and fellow Sportsmen driver Jimbo Walker for assisting him through the growing pains of driving in a new class.
Blocker struggled last year to figure out the setup to fit my driving style. He took their sage advice, sprinkled his own experiences, and came away with a recipe he hopes will put him in Victory Lane on Friday night.
“Mark is tough, tough. BJ’s gonna be there. There are a lotta cars to contend with,” Blocker said. “I’ve had some close finishes with (Barnhill). He’s definitely got a handle on his machine, that’s for sure. He’s calm, cool, and collected just like the rest of them. Experience is definitely on their side.
“If I had a strategy, it’s to be there at the end and to, hopefully, have my car come into its own in the later part of the race and apply pressure to Barnhill at the end.”
Barnhill might be the pre-race favorite Friday, but he will have his hands full.
“I’m used to being on the podium. But (Leytham), (Blocker), (Jason Huffmaster) — all those guys are on my heels every week,” Barnhill said. “Anybody can take the win. It’s stressful sometimes, but you’ve just gotta go out there and race.”