Jaylen Hardbarger finding even more success in Year 2 at Salina Highbanks Speedway

·4 min read

Last year, his first full season racing, Jaylen Hardbarger performed well. He finished with two wins, six top fives, and eight top 10s in 13 races, and he ended up 43rd in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Division IV national points standings.

It was a good season, but this year, he has been much, much better.

Racing at Salina Highbanks Speedway, a NASCAR-sanctioned dirt oval in Pryor, Oklahoma, Hardbarger has five wins and 10 top fives in 12 starts in the track’s S&J Plumbing Pure Stocks division. He is also currently ranked No. 1 in the national Division IV points standings.

Hardbarger didn‘t know about his place in the national points until Friday, but he knew he was having a good season.

RELATED: Salina Highbanks’ complete 2022 schedule

“We‘ve had a lot of good luck this year,” Hardbarger said. “We‘ve found a lot of good speed with the car. Just been really grateful and thankful for what we‘ve got. We‘ve been doing really well this year and just hope to continue that.”

The 18-year-old driver raced a couple times in 2020 before competing for a full season last year. Even though he is new to being behind the wheel himself, Hardbarger has been around the track his whole life.

“My family has always done it,” he said. “My grandpa, my uncle and everybody has always raced, and I was always in the shop as a kid. It‘s always something I wanted to do.”

Jaylen Hardbarger
Jaylen Hardbarger

Hardbarger‘s family still helps him with the car. He also works closely with fellow Salina driver Logan Brown, who is from the same hometown of Hulbert, Oklahoma, and competes in the track’s Dawson Roofing Super Stocks division.

“He doesn‘t live too far from us, so we‘re constantly helping each other with each other‘s stuff. Whatever the other needs done, he‘ll help me and I‘ll help him,” Hardbarger said of Brown. “And of course my dad. My dad is always there whenever we need him.”

Having family he can turn to in racing “helps out tremendously,” Hardbarger said.

“They help me out a lot. I can call them with anything and they‘ll help me out the best they can,” he added. “Just having that background and them having the knowledge that they do is amazing. If I‘m not for sure about something, I can call them or ask them, and they‘ll try to point me in the right direction, tell me if it‘s going to work or not going to work.”

The biggest difference from Year 1 to Year 2 for Hardbarger has been simple: more time in the car.

Practice and seat time has helped him learn more about track conditions and how the dirt changes, something that can only be learned with time.

“That‘s the main thing right there is experience,” Hardbarger said. “It‘s a lot of mental work… Just to know you can do it and also putting in a lot of time in the shop and just kind of feel out the car and know what it‘s going to do, know track conditions, know where you need to be when you need to be there.”

Hardbarger came into the season with a goal of winning a track championship at Salina, and he currently has the points lead by a wide, 125-point margin.

He thought he might try to shoot for the national points, but now that he sees a national championship is in reach, his goals have grown. He plans to continue going for that title.

“Now that we‘re leading the national points, obviously, we‘re going to try to win that, and shoot for the championship and maybe get a few more wins at a couple other tracks this year,” he said.

The team will try to venture off to some other tracks in the south and Midwest on weekends when Salina isn‘t racing — not just to try to get more points, but also to perfect their setup at new places.

Finding success away from Salina is what Hardbarger believes will be the key for him the rest of the season.

“Getting the car to work at different places is the main thing,” he said. “We kind of struggled with that here lately. Last year anyways, we‘d go to different places and we just wouldn‘t get the setup just right, and that would put us behind the eight ball all night.

“Then of course God, just him helping me and keeping me safe and helping our season.”

NASCAR racing will return to Salina Speedway on Saturday with six of the track’s divisions competing. Racing will begin at 7 p.m. CT.