Little Robbie Starnes carrying on a family tradition

By Phil Whipple, Staff Writer.
Photo By: Debra Hix – Hix Photography

DAYTON, Texas — You don’t have to look very far to find a common theme within the talent-filled pit areas at dirt tracks across the great state of Texas. You’ll find a passion for racing, a love of the American automobile in side-by-side competition, and perhaps most importantly, it’s all about family.

You’ll find second and even third-generation drivers and mechanics carrying on with what their fathers, uncles and other family members started before them. One fine example of a young driver with a rich family history in the sport is Dayton, Texas, native ‘Little’ Robbie Starnes, son of the iconic oval king.

“Our first race this year was at I-37 Speedway on April 6, and we finished third,” Starnes said. “From there we went to Many, Louisiana, to run the LA Late Model Series. Since we run a GM 602 Crate Engine, we were kind of down of power on that deal. It was still a good experience for us.”

Starnes drives the No. 25 First Class Septic/Seventy Seven, Inc./Erb Racing Chevrolet on the Southern Texas Late Model Series (STLMS), and is proudly carrying on a family tradition of winning races.

Starnes, 37, enjoys competing on the STLMS, and says the 2018 season did a lot to develop his skills.

“I really love running that series,” he added. “If it wasn’t for Kody Hardage, I probably wouldn’t have raced at all last year, or at least not as many races as I did. Last year was kind of my rookie season, at least in a full-time effort. Back when I was 18, my part-time Modified program just didn’t work out.”

It always takes a driver some time to figure out where he belongs, and to mature behind the wheel.

“I never drove a full year, and never really grasped the basics and developed my own style,” Starnes explained. “I felt like I got that done last year, so this year I’m more confident and ready to progress.”   

The elder Starnes began his illustrious career over 40 years ago. He traveled all over the country and made quite a mark, winning several big-money races in dirt Late Model racing. Little Robbie’s cousin, Keith, 41, is the crew chief for Katy native Colton Horner and his Modern Motorsports SLM program.

“My uncle started racing back in 1977, and I’ve been around the sport all of my life,” Keith explains. “I used to go to the races with him all the time. In 1993, I got out of school and hit the road with Robbie. He had an impressive career, he won the Fall Classic at Whynot Speedway that paid $15,000 to win.

“He also won several $10,000-to-win races, and ran second once in ‘The Dream’ at Eldora. He ran third in the ‘Show Me,’ and ran up front in a lot of other big races. He came close to winning the Crown Jewels, so I feel he was one of the very best. Little Robbie and I have a proud tradition to continue.”

Hardage has run the STLM S since its inception in 2012. He has a great deal of respect for Starnes.

“When I saw a registration form come in from a “Little” Robbie Starnes, I had no idea what to expect,” Hardage said. “I always get a little nervous with rookies, because while you need them to grow the sport, you also have to make sure they don’t run off the guys you already have.”

In recent years, there’s been a big influx of young talent in the sport. Some, like Starnes, have a gift.

“I watched hot laps and saw the car control Little Robbie had right out of the box,” Hardage added. “He started next to me in the heat race. I gave him a little room, because I still didn’t quite know what to expect. When the green flag waved, he drove right out of my life.

“Little Robbie went on to win that night in his first race with the series and first in a Late Model. I was more than impressed.”

Hardage kept a close eye on the red-hot rookie throughout the season, and got to know this amazing racing family a little closer.

“Throughout 2018, I got to spend a little time with the entire Starnes group at the track. I could tell those guys were having a fun year spending time as a family at the track racing together. Robbie has a lot of pride in the way his son drives. I’ve seen that pride with my own eyes.”

Starnes earned two wins (at I-37 & Texana Speedway) and the Rookie-of-the-Year title in 2018.

“To come in to Late Models and be a consistent front-runner is a pretty big statement about his talent,” Hardage added. “I think the worst finish he had was a seventh-place run at Devil’s Bowl. Those guys worked hard all year to stay up front, and had a legitimate shot at the points title.”

For 2019, Starnes and his family-based team will share more wins and laughs along the dusty trail.

“I’m just lucky to have such a great family dedicated to helping me race,” he said. “My father does a ton for me, my younger brother, Rhett, and my cousin Keith both help us out all the time. I have to thank my friends Mark and Tyler Erb, as well. They’ve all been such a huge help to me.

“I’m ready to get out there and win a few more races to reward them and continue this family legacy.”

Photo By: Debra Hix – Hix Photography