Keith Barton was like hundreds of other workers in motorsports during the recession: Hard at work one day and unemployed the next.
Barton, 38, of Mooresville, took a year off when the Charlotte motorsports operation he worked for went out of business. But he couldn't get cars out of his blood. How could he?
Barton raced go-karts as a boy in West Hampton, N.Y., built four-cylinder mini-stock cars with his father-in-law and later joined top motorsports teams as a painter, mechanic, fabricator and body shop manager through 15 years in the Charlotte-Lake Norman region.
So it was little surprise when he decided to go out on his own. He opened Skin and Bones Soda-Media Sand Blasting & Fabrication on Denver Industrial Park Road, off N.C. 16 in eastern Lincoln County.
Barton opened the business to blast paint off racecar chassis for motorsports teams. He got work from two teams initially and has built that end of the business to a half-dozen teams.
He's also making a name restoring classic cars to their original look and condition.
Barton started restoring cars when a client had him blast paint off an Austin Healey BJ8.
"I said I could paint it, too, and do all the metal restoration work," Barton said.
Other work soon followed, including two other cars that Barton and his two-man crew continue to work painstakingly on - a 1935 Ford "Woody" station wagon and client Bill Browning's 1962 Porsche 356 Cabriolet. Another client is bringing in a 1966 Impala, Barton said.
Browning, a Charlotte collector and dealer of vintage cars, said he bought the Porsche on e-Bay in poor condition.
Barton "is making a rust bucket solid," Browning told me at the shop Feb. 11 when he visited to check on the car's progress.
"The plan is to get the car to where we want it to sell," Browning said. "And if we can't sell it, we have a helluva car."
"We're restoring it to its originality," Barton said.
Hundreds of hours are involved in bringing such rusty old cars back to life, he said. Barton declined to say how much each of the cars he's working on will cost his clients, but he said his hourly rate is less than other restorers charge.
And then there's his racing résumé.
Barton worked for driver Bill Elliott's racing enterprise in Hickory in the mid-1990s. Later he worked with driver Ricky Rudd's team in Mooresville's Lakeside Business Park and PPI Motorsports and driver Scott Pruett's No. 32 Tide car in Hickory.
He also was body shop manager for Roush Racing's two Craftsman Truck teams and three Busch teams in Lakeside Business Park.
And he was a tire carrier for the car that driver Ricky Craven rode to victory in the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville, Va., in 2001.
His last of about a dozen jobs in racing was in the body shop at Hall of Fame Racing from November 2005 until it closed in late 2008.
"I sat on the couch for nearly a year, trying to figure out what I wanted to do," Barton said.
He did contract work for four months at Gibbs Racing in Huntersville before deciding to launch his business. He called on his racing contacts for cars to "blast," or remove paint from vehicles.
The work keeps him tied to what he's always loved, he said.
"I don't think you ever stop missing racing," Barton said. "It's all I've ever done."