Annabeth Barnes knows exactly what she wants. She wants to make it to the top level of NASCAR. She'd like to be the first woman to win the Daytona 500. Her family is fully behind her and is willing to sell their home to make it happen.
Annabeth lives in Hiddenite, a tiny town in western North Carolina. She's known in certain racing circles for her skills behind the wheel.
She started off in kart racing and when she was 11 years old she was featured in a documentary, Racing Dreams. That film followed three children in the World Karting Association’s National Series — a race that is often referred to as the Little League for professional racing. (You can see the video below.)
Annabeth Barnes was fourteen when she entered her first stock car race. She wasn't old enough to get her license, yet she was competing against grown men.
She would try to keep things in perspective, telling herself: "I am a kid, I am just starting out, and I am going to have my bumps, and things that go wrong, that’s just normal."
But when she didn't win right away, she put pressure on herself. "When I finally got the win the world went away from my shoulders. I felt like “Finally!” I was taking my victory lap and I cried, I felt so free from that pressure finally."
It's All In The Family
Annabeth is supported by her mother Tina and her dad Darren. Tina works in a factory cutting cloth for furniture. "A factory job is not what I grew up wanting to do, but it's what I made my living doing. It's a blue collar job, but it's provided for me and my family and I'm not going to knock it."
Annabeth Barnes bought a new car last year, a sleek black one emblazoned with #12. The car took every penny that Tina Barnes made last year.
Darren Barnes is a mechanic and can do just about everything himself. The day I visited the family in Hiddenite, NC, Darren was custom-fitting the seat for Annabeth.
Big Time Racing Takes Big Time Money
Annabeth Barnes knows that as much as she appreciates her parents' help and support, this year is critical. She needs to get a national sponsor in order to get to the next level. "There's people who come in, women and males alike, who are coming up in racing who can go higher than me, who are younger than me, just because they have a lot of money," she says. "Money is huge. People say in racing 'The more money you have the faster you're gonna go,' which is completely true."
The family has been very creative with their finances. Darren holds down several jobs. For example, he figured out that they were spending a ton of money designing and printing the decals that go on Annabeth's car, so he taught himself graphic design and bought a used decal printer. He's become so good at it that he makes money doing graphic design and printing for local clients on the side. The money he makes is funneled into Annabeth's career.
Tina Barnes says that the family has made it a priority to support Annabeth. Her daughter has a dream and she wants to do everything in her power to help her fulfill that dream. "You see a kid that has the talent, no matter if it be my kid or what kid, there's a lot of sacrifices if they chase that dream. And you almost feel like that if you don't help them try to succeed you're giving up on them. And I don't want to give up on my kids."
Tina is considering selling the family home to generate funds for racing.
In the past the family lived in tiny cramped quarters in the trailer that hauls the car. Darren Barnes says he really hopes that it doesn't come to that. He knows too well just how far their current income will go.
Annabeth understands her passion creates sacrifices for her family. "Its kind of scary for me to think that maybe I'm not going get to where I'm supposed to go because of people who I personally think don't really deserve it because they have more money than me. And that would be the only reason they get there is because they have more money. Because I can race against people who can buy good equipment and still not be good racers. But they're going to make it to the next level because they can pay for it. And I can't pull a million dollars out of my pocket and buy myself a ride."
Annabeth Barnes raced this weekend for the first time in the 2014 season. She was in 6th place at lap 82 (with only 20 to go) when a spring came loose, but, she had to stop. Still, she believes that this will be her year. "Me and my dad kind of have this thing of like 'no fear.' I have a tattoo that says no fear, so does my dad. And when I show people my tattoo they're like 'Oh, no fear you're not scared of anything, blah blah blah. And I'm like 'No.' It means I'm scared of everything, I'm scared out of my mind. But I'm going to do it any way. I love something so much, it doesn't matter how scary it is. This is what I love to do and I'm not going to let fear of anything hold me back."
The family does have local sponsors, including lead sponsor Scott McCorkle’s Liberty Buick-GMC. Whether they can get a national sponsor remains to be seen.
Annabeth Barnes says that she will try to keep her mind on what she can control. "I can’t find the words to even express it. I know when I am racing, I am just happy and that’s where I want to be, and when I am at the race track I just I feel better. I feel because of racing. I am being who I am supposed to be. I am at peace with my soul because I am there."
Annabeth conducted this interview from behind the wheel of a race car:
This is a video of Annabeth Barnes at eleven years old in the documentary Racing Dreams: