Bakersfield, CA — Nick Bartels is young, fast and ready to break into Victory Lane on the Western Allstars DIRTcar Late Model Series.
The 21-year-old, third-generation talent from El Segundo, Calif., would certainly love to realize that milestone moment this Saturday night (Aug. 15) when the West Coast’s high-profile full-fender tour makes its lone appearance of 2009 at Bakersfield Speedway.
Racing at the one-third-mile oval where he launched his dirt-track career in 2005 behind the wheel of a Hobby Stock, Bartels could cement his rising-star status with a triumph in a 30-lap A-Main that offers an increased $2,500 top prize thanks to sponsorship from Cow-Boy Bail Bonds.
“It would be cool to get my first (Western Allstars) win at the track I started racing at,” said Bartels, whose home outside Los Angeles is roughly a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Bakersfield. “I love racing at Bakersfield because it probably has more exciting racing than anywhere, and I definitely feel like I have the speed (to win) if I can just put 30 consistent laps together.
“But the problem is, it’s one of the most unfriendly tracks for me. I always seem to have some sort of bad luck there, so I’m looking forward to finishing the race more than anything.”
The grandson of 69-year-old Bill Bartels and son of 50-year-old Ron Bartels – both familiar faces in Western Allstars competition – Nick has already visited Bakersfield twice this season for unsanctioned events and was involved in a tangle each night. His misfortune there is a frustrating blight on his otherwise fine 2009 campaign, which includes two top-five and seven top-10 finishes in the eight Western Allstars A-Mains contested to date. He’s finished as high as second (on May 9 at California’s Santa Maria Speedway) and no worse than 11th in a series race, putting him fourth in the points standings behind leader Bobby Hogge IV of Salinas, Calif., and former Western Allstars champions Chris Shannon of Merced, Calif., and Mike Johnson of Lompoc, Calif.
In addition, Bartels leads the new-for-‘09 UMP DIRTcar Racing Pacific Region points standings, which combine drivers’ finishes in Western Allstars and Northwest I-5 DIRTcar Late Model Tour events. Bartels made a haul of nearly 20 hours north to enter three Northwest I-5 shows in Oregon surrounding the Independence Day holiday, giving him extra UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned starts that have helped push him to the top of the regional points race.
“I know that realistically, with my skill level right now, it’s going to be tough for me to beat Hogge, Shannon and Johnson (in the Western Allstars points battle) because they’re great drivers and they’re so consistent,” said Bartels, who is in his fourth season of dirt Late Model racing. “At the beginning of the season my goal was to be in the top five in the points, so if I could end up fourth behind them I’ll be real happy.”
The UMP DIRTcar Racing Pacific Region title, meanwhile, is well within Bartels’s grasp.
“I want to win that regional deal – that’s why we ran more races (in Oregon),” said Bartels, whose best Northeast I-5 Tour finish was a sixth on July 4 at Willamette Speedway in Lebanon, Ore. “Hopefully we can win it for something else to put on my resume.”
Attracting attention is important for Bartels, who has big dreams of making a living in the dirt Late Model world. He’s currently a student – earlier this year he graduated from El Camino Community College in Torrance, Calif., and in the fall will begin taking business classes at California State University, Dominguez Hills – but hopes to concentrate fully on racing after finishing his studies in 2011.
“College is my backup plan right now,” said Bartels, who is using DIRTcar Racing Western Region Super Late Model action as a springboard to national prominence. “I want to take a shot at racing fulltime while I’m young. Hopefully I can make some contacts so after I’m done with school I can make a move back East (closer to the heart of such dirt Late Model circuits as the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and UMP DIRTcar) and see if I can make it.”
Bartels has already turned some heads during his short dirt Late Model career, authoring many impressive runs while learning the ins-and-outs of the division driving battle-tested equipment previously campaigned by his father and grandfather. He races out of the expansive racing stable owned by his grandfather, who operates a huge Harley-Davidson dealership in Marina del Rey, Calif., but hasn’t simply been gifted shiny new cars. In fact, when Nick, who has become known as ‘Kid Harley,’ debuts a 2009 Victory Circle dirt Late Model next month, it will mark the first time in his career that he’s driven a brand-new machine.
“I’ve always run hand-me-downs from my dad and grandpa,” said Bartels, whose primary car this season is a 2006 Rayburn chassis. “I feel like I’ve been getting faster and closer (to a win) running my older car, so I feel like I’ll be better still when I get in the new car.
“I’m real excited to run the new car. I’ve spent all my money getting enough parts to put it together and it’s almost a ‘roller’ now.”
Bartels does feel fortunate to have access to a vast reservoir of racing knowledge possessed by his grandfather and father, as well as his grandfather’s fulltime mechanic, Chris Laney, and former wingless Sprint Car champion Mike Kirby of Torrance, Calif., Laney’s brother-in-law who is now a dirt Late Model driver racing out of Bill Bartels’s shop.
“My dad and my grandpa have taught me everything I know – from working on the cars to driving the right way so you make friends, not enemies, on the track,” said Bartels, whose personal dirt Late Model win list includes four victories at Perris (Calif.) Auto Speedway and a DIRTcar Racing-sanctioned triumph in the 2008 Southwestern Dirt Racing Association (SWDRA) series opener at Canyon Speedway Park in Peoria, Ariz. “And it’s great to have Chris (Laney) around to help me when I have questions and to have a guy like Mike Kirby – who has so much racing experience – with his stuff at our shop.”
Of course, with more experience comes higher expectations for Bartels.
“Last year I was happy to get a top 10 in a Western Allstars race, but this year I’m going out there expecting to go for a top five,” said Bartels, who led the spring WAS event at Santa Maria until a late-race scrape with a lapped car that damaged his car’s rear spoiler and a charging Hogge kept him from reaching Victory Lane. “The biggest difference this year is that I can jump out there and be confident from the start of the night and I’m getting better at passing cars.”
Bartels will try to overtake all the dirt Late Models in front of him on Saturday night (Aug. 15) at Bakersfield Speedway, which has hosted more Western Allstars events than any other track during the tour’s existence (2006-present).
“We’re excited to make some more history with the Western Allstars DIRTcar Late Model Series at Bakersfield Speedway,” said DIRTcar Racing Western Region director Chris Morgan. “Bakersfield has played an important role in the growth of the Western Allstars and Saturday night’s special event will continue to bring the tour to the forefront of Super Late Model racing on the West Coast.”
Saturday’s program has been dubbed ‘Dick Shepherd Night,’ with speedway officials planning special activities to celebrate the career of Bakersfield’s own racing legend. Shepherd will be on hand to meet fans and sign autographs.
Bakersfield’s gates will open at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, with racing scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. General admission is $15 and $5 for kids 6-12, with children 5-and-under admitted free of charge.
For more information visit www.bakersfieldspeedway.com or call 661-393-3373.
Bakersfield’s Western Allstars DIRTcar Late Model Series event is part of a big weekend for DIRTcar Late Model racing on the West Coast. The Northwest I-5 DIRTcar Late Model Tour will return to action on Fri., Aug. 14, at Sunset Speedway Park in Banks, Ore., and on Sat., Aug. 15, the DIRTcar Racing-sanctioned SWDRA tour visits Canyon Speedway Park in Peoria, Ariz.
Additional info on all of the series, sanctioning and member tracks of DIRTcar Racing is available at www.DIRTcar.com.
2009 Western Allstars DIRTcar Late Model Series Points Standings (as of July 18):
1. Bobby Hogge IV 1241
2. Chris Shannon 1185
3. Mike Johnson 1152
4. Nick Bartels 1130
5. Rob Sanders 1128
6. Ron Bartels 1070
7. Matt Michelli 1013
8. Andy Obertello 840
9. Ken Michelli 828
10. Johnny Malcolm 795
2009 UMP DIRTcar Racing Super Late Model Pacific Region Points Standings – as of Aug. 10 (rank/driver/points/races counted):
1. Nick Bartels 595 11
2. Chris Shannon 519 8
3. Bobby Hogge IV 497 8
4. Mike Johnson 485 8
5. Rob Sanders 439 8
6. Matt Michelli 433 10
7. Rob Mayea 400 8
8. Ron Bartels 394 8
9. Clay Daly 377 8
10. Andy Obertello 325 6