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Barbers find their groove at KRA

Don Barber, right, and his son, Nate, spend most Thursday nights at the KRA Speedway in Willmar. Don races the blue Street Stock, shown here, while Nate throttles the higher-horsepower Midwest Modifieds. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

WILLMAR -- Like many men in the stock car pits, cars are both a vocation and an avocation.

Don Barber buys wrecked cars by day and tries not to wreck at night.

He's a regular at the KRA Speedway where he and Ryan Buer of Atwater were tied for first in Street Stock points going into Thursday's round of races.

Don and his son, Nate, a Midwest Modified racer, are pitted on either side of Modified giant Craig "Christy" Christiansen.

They're all part of the New London "Racing Mafia," competitors and friends, most making a living related to the piston engine.

Don owns Don's Auto on State Highway 23 at South Long Lake Road. He used to travel all over the country buying wrecks and hauling them back to Kandiyohi County on a semi.

"I spent 17 or 18 years out on the road looking at cars," he said. "That got me the experience. Now I do all my buying on the Internet. There's a live auction every day. It's crazy."

He straightens the frames and does the body work and then sends them out to be painted.

At one time he sold 800 rejuvenated cars a year, he said, but he's cut back to about 200.

That allows time for racing. Nate started while in high school at New London-Spicer. He raced Hobby Stock, cut back while in college, and then inherited a Midwest Modified from his dad.

Don started racing about 10 years ago, too, but dropped out and only resumed a full-time schedule at KRA this season.

The father tried racing the bigger Midwest ride but rolled it two laps into his first heat race. That was enough. He suggested his son take it over.

Nate's blue and yellow 17B is sixth in track points. He has fifth- and sixth-place feature finishes despite starting at the back. The 27-year-old driver, a bookkeeper at Nelson International, is spending the summer working on a master's degree in Business Administration through Southwest Minnesota State.

Don's blue Streeter won the main two weeks ago and also had two fourths. He numbered it 77.

"It's the year I graduated (from NLS)," he said. "Seemed like a good idea for a number."

The father and son, who share pitmen Brian Sweere and Jerry Smith, prefer to stay close to home. But Don finished 11th at the Wissota 100 in Huron, S.D., last summer and will head to Alexandria on Saturday, which, like Willmar, is also having a $500 special.

Thursday's extra payout swelled the Street Stock draw to three heats.

When another local driver pointed out that some "pretty heavy hitters in the class" had showed up attracted by the added purse, Don shot back with a chuckle: "Well, what do you think we are? You've got to think that way at least."

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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