Bootie Barker a surprising Netflix star and NASCAR's most interesting crew chief

Bootie Barker is one of the most interesting crew chiefs in NASCAR

Bootie Barker is unique among crew chiefs in the garage because he can often be seen reading a book.

The crew chief for 23XI Racing's Bubba Wallace, if he has a moment in the garage, might not take a quick look at data. Instead, he'll pull out a book and sit by the hauler with his head buried in the words.

"Reading a book has given me a bad rap in a way," Barker told FOX Sports during a break in the garage area a few weeks ago at Daytona. "I do all the things that crew chiefs usually do.
"But where most people get an idle moment or they're waiting for the next thing, they pick up their phones. Most of the time, I don't do that. I might read a half a page, but it's really something to just keep my mind calm until the next thing."
The other obvious thing is that Barker uses a wheelchair. Barker, who has worked in NASCAR for more than 25 years (he served as a shock specialist on Jeff Gordon's teams in 1999-2000), shuns talk about being an inspiration. Even with his increased notoriety for his role in the Netflix docuseries "NASCAR: Full Speed," he said at Daytona that he had not noticed any comments or feedback from people talking about his working in NASCAR while facing some adversity.
"I've kind of kept to myself," said the 53-year-old Barker, who was paralyzed in a car accident at age 17. "I haven't even watched the whole thing yet. I don't pay a lot of attention to the noise."

In other words, don't expect the intense-but-likeable Barker to be the Guenther Steiner of NASCAR when it comes to those who capitalize on the notoriety of having the cameras around. Steiner, the former Haas F1 team principal, achieved some star power thanks to "Drive To Survive," as did other team administrators and technical directors.

When talking about the show at Daytona, Barker frankly said he didn't really want to have the microphones and the cameras focused on him. He let the cameras follow him around because his team owner, Denny Hamlin, wanted the team to open its doors as much as possible and he also has a soft spot for television folks because his wife works in the industry.

"I just wanted to make sure I didn't do anything to embarrass the company because I might get out of hand or something," Barker said with a little bit nervous laugh.

He certainly didn't do that.

"Bootie is awesome," Hamlin said. "I get to know Bootie a little bit more through the documentary. Bootie is great, for sure."

When Wallace heard that Barker could be the unknown star of the series, he laughed.

"I'm sure he'll love that," Wallace said. "He is not the camera person, but he'll always pick up the slack. When I don't do it, he'll pick it up."

Barker became Wallace's crew chief with eight races left in 2021, Wallace's first season at 23XI Racing. Mike Wheeler wasn't getting the best results and needed to focus on his next role as competition director, and Barker was at the shop working on cars.

There was a little surprise in the industry that Barker came back as a crew chief. He had been one from 2001-2017 and it seemed that maybe he didn't want to return to the grinding role.

"There was second thoughts for sure," Barker said. "You give up a lot of your life, you know? So my wife and I talked about it a lot. When Denny came to me, he said, ‘Right now, we needed some help for the company.'
"I thought I could help them. It's a group effort. I knew Bubba. I liked Bubba. I thought I could help, too. I'm still doing it now. But I didn't plan on this."

Barker seems happy with the decision.

"It's enjoyable," Barker said. "Working here is great. Very nice place. Great people. Great driver
"Best of everything I've ever had. ... I've worked with some great people. But the totality of talent and resources we have here is a world different than what I've had before. And Bubba is the best driver I've ever had. By far."

He realized that Wallace was his best driver about a third of the way through their second season working together. Barker, who won four races as an Xfinity crew chief for Scott Wimmer in 2002, earned his first Cup victory with Wallace in what was Barker's 484th career start as a Cup crew chief.

"He was better than I thought to begin with," Barker said. "But his level of improvement was crazy good."

An engineer with a degree from Old Dominion University, Barker said he gets bored easily and loves the challenge racing provides. He started working at race shops shortly after college.

"I've got to make a living," Barker said about why he's a crew chief. "It's not all about the money. But if I was going to do this, I quickly realized that there were others doing the job above me that I didn't think were as good as me.
"I will admit that. If I was going to do this [racing thing], which I enjoy, I might as well do that. Now that I'm a crew chief, I do enjoy the juice it gives you. It's a lot of pressure."
Fans got to see the juice when Wallace lost the race at Texas and when challenged by the Netflix show producers about an earlier statement that he doesn't get too high or low on the finish, a frustrated Barker quipped, "I guess I lied to your ass."

The other thing that got a good deal of attention from the Netflix series was a bourbon collection at his home as they showed him having a drink after a race.

"They didn't see half of it," Barker said. "A lot of people commented on that. The reason I have such a collection is I don't drink very much of it. I drink a wee bit, but I'm more of a collector."

A collector of good liquor and good words. What's the best book Barker has read lately? He said it was "Gates Of Fire." How he describes it lets you know all you need to know about Barker.

"It's about some Spartans whopping some ass," Barker said.

Bob Pockrass