Confidence leads Bryan Barber from second to first in championship season at Alaska Raceway Park

Bryan Barber started racing late models at Alaska Raceway Park in 2020. That year, he finished second in the division standings.

He finished second in the standings again in 2021 … and again in 2022.

Barber admits it took some time to get used to late models. Learning how to drive wasn‘t too hard, but figuring out how to set the car up was much more difficult.

“I wasn‘t worried about driving; I can figure that out pretty quickly. It’s just the setup,” Barber said. “It‘s a little more sensitive on the setup. Every time I change something it‘d go haywire on me. So once I learned that, that‘s when the car started getting faster.”

Barber seemed to have it all figured out this season at Alaska Raceway Park, a NASCAR Home Track in Palmer, Alaska. He won four of five features on the way to a commanding win in the track‘s late model division.

The No. 88 car won by 20 points over the second-place finisher.

“I learned a lot. I got faster every week,” Barber said. “I was more focused on being more consistent from week to week instead of, like, worried about the win. That way I wasn‘t overthinking and putting too much pressure on myself. Because of me just being able to focus on my time and my consistency it allowed me to win all of my main events except for one… I was pretty happy about that.”

The championship was Barber‘s fourth since he started racing when he was 15. He won three titles racing Legends cars on dirt.

Barber began racing in 2006, and he raced Legends on dirt for eight years before moving to ARP in 2017. He spent three years in the track‘s Legends class until he was presented with the chance to buy a late model.

He made the switch because he was ready for a new challenge.

“Don‘t get me wrong, some of the Legends cars drivers are really good, but I needed something a little more challenging, something completely new that I had never done before,” he said.

Barber does all the setup and work in the shop himself with his grandfather, Dave Petrie, serving as his crew chief. His grandmother, Linda Petrie, and his girlfriend also go to the track with him every week and provide help in the pits.

His grandparents were the people who got Barber racing from the start. The Petries have long been race supporters and fans, and Dave Petrie raced snow machines until Barber was a young kid.

Barber was also headed toward racing on snow, but said, “My grandma felt it was safer to put me in a roll cage, so they bought me my first race car, and the three of us have been doing it ever since.”

Getting to work with his grandparents each week is a big part of what keeps Barber racing.

“I‘d have to say, honestly, it‘s probably the adrenaline that really keeps me in it. I really enjoy that thrill of going really fast and being able to pass cars,” he said. “But, ultimately, I think the thing that keeps me in it is me and my grandparents are, like, this team. They support me as much as they do, so it keeps me motivated to want to keep pursuing it and get better.

“All my wins are for them, so that‘s what I do. I just kind of focus on doing it because it‘s a team effort, and I don‘t want to change that. I don‘t know what I‘d do if we stopped racing or were without them.”

Barber had this year‘s title basically locked up before the final race of the season. All he needed to do was start and finish the final race. That made championship night much easier than any he‘d ever had before.

“I used to be really bad on always overthinking points, and when I had confidence in my abilities I stopped doing that,” he said. “The last three years… I put a lot of pressure on myself in the last race of the year trying to get enough points to win the championship. That‘s when my mistakes would happen on the last few laps to where I wouldn‘t get that championship.

“This year I felt confident… It doesn‘t matter if I win, get second, third, fifth. As long as I finish I get the championship. That‘s what made my night was just the fact that I knew I had that locked down.”

Getting to celebrate a championship made all those second-place finishes worth it.

“It absolutely does,” he said. “I put everything I had into learning the late model class, how to drive it, how to set it up. To finally pull it off, I think the day that I won it I was more calm. I didn‘t believe it fully yet… Then the next day I was, like, in shock that I won, and I was just like, ‘OK, now I‘ve got to get myself together and focus on next year.\"”

Barber has already begun trying to get parts together to prepare his car for next season. He said he wanted to get preparations done early, and he‘s a little excited to defend his title.

There‘s one thing he‘ll take into 2024 that he gained this summer — confidence.

“I had a lot more confidence going into this year,” Barber said. “I‘m just now to the point to where I understand the car. I have confidence in my driving ability, knowing that I can compete and win races. Me being confident in myself, in my crew, I just don‘t put that pressure on myself and I just go out there and do what I do best, and that‘s just go out there and perform and put on a good race, and walk away with wins.”