Jaywalking: Winning formula
Auto racer Paul Barnard of Montague, a 30-year stock-car racing veteran in the Pioneer Valley, won his first race in May and has with brother Brian built 25 competitve cars, many of them winners, with their Bernard Race Car Team.
Paul Barnard has been around the sport of auto racing for 30 years, but earlier this season, the Montague resident did something he had never done before. He won.
Barnard guided his No. 24 1985 Monte Carlo across the finish line in first place to win the 25-lap race in the Thunder Stock Division at Monadnock Speedway on May 10, marking his first career victory.
Before you get the wrong idea, Barnard’s story is nothing like that of infamous thoroughbred Zippy Chippy, the most famous horse to never win a race. In fact, Barnard has a very successful career of building winning stock cars, and together with brother Brian, the Barnard Race Team has thrived for more than a decade. So successful was he at building stock cars that he decided to stop racing for a while because he was keeping busy building cars. But there was always a fire burning deep inside him to get back in the driver’s seat and take a shot at winning a race.
“During the time I wasn’t driving, it stayed in my head that I wanted to win a feature event,” Barnard said. “I’m around all these guys that tell stories of when they won their first race, or when they won a big race and it was always in the back of my head that I wanted to be in that conversation. I never really put a lot of stock into it until the last couple of years. I said, ‘Jeez, I’m not getting any younger and I have the opportunity to build a car again.’ So we did it.”
Barnard made his return to racing last season when he drove about two-thirds of the schedule at Monadnock. During that time, he never won a race but came back again this year intent upon racing the full schedule. He hoped the victory would come this season, but didn’t think it would happen so soon. May 10 was only the second week of the season, and Barnard said at that point of the schedule he was still just trying to get a feel for his car.
“You’re still trying to work bugs out of the car and see what is working and what isn’t,” he explained. “But that night it just felt like it was on the rails where ever the car went.”
Barnard said he moved into first place around lap 10 of the 25-lap event, with each lap consisting of a quarter-mile. He remained there for the duration of the race, although there was plenty of suspense, especially due to the numerous cautions that occurred to slow things down. The restarts also provided the other drivers a great opportunity to pass him.
“You would get going, run a few laps, and then you’d have a caution,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘Man, let’s get this thing going because I’m doing pretty well.’”
Despite the cautions, Barnard remained in front, and as he came off the final turn to head for the finish line, he finally began to celebrate.
“I remember when I was coming off turn four and the flag man was waving the checkered flag and I knew at that point that I was going to win and it sounds cliche but it was like a whole weight was being lifted off my shoulders,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘I’m finally going to do this, it’s finally happening.’
“In the past, I’ve almost won, but then something would go wrong, something would break, it just didn’t work out,” he continued. “But this race it seemed like no matter what I did was the right thing. The first feeling I had was, ‘Holy cow, I’ve never had this feeling before. There is nobody in front of me. I just won the race.’”
Barnard celebrated with family and friends following the race, and the race announcer came down to the track and gave Barnard the mic to address the crowd. The only downside to winning the race that night was that Barnard’s wife of nearly 20 years, Elaine, was not in attendance because she had not been feeling well. She did see that he won on social media and came running out of the house to congratulate him.
He has not won another race since but is having a wonderful season at Monadnock. At this past weekend’s race, Barnard finished third overall, helping him solidify his third-place status in the season standings. With a dozen to 14 regulars in the Thunderstock Division, Barnard said he is pleased where he currently sits.
“We’ve been running pretty good,” he said. “We’ve been a top-five car every week. There are some really good drivers in the division, and it’s hard to get in that top three, so I’m pretty happy with what we’ve done.”
It’s no surprise that Barnard, a native of Hatfield, ended up in the local racing scene after his father, Frank, competed in the sport, racing at both Stafford Speedway in Connecticut and Riverside Speedway in Agawam. Paul first got into the sport when he was 16 and he had the chance to drive a car during a demolition derby at the Three County Fair Grounds in Northampton.
Soon after that, Barnard began racing at Riverside and at Monadnock. He and brother Brian Barnard decided to build their own car because they could not afford to buy one. At that time, the division was called Strictly Stocks, and Paul Barnard said you could literally go to a junk yard, get stock parts, build a car and start racing. The two learned all they know about building cars from a hands-on approach, and after building their own cars, they began getting inquiries from other drivers impressed with Barnard Brothers rigs. They began building and servicing cars of other drivers, and the money they made from that helped them pay to race their own cars. That led to other opportunities.
“When I was driving early on, I was OK, I didn’t have any spectacular luck and I didn’t win any races, but it got our name out there,” Barnard said. “Other people were driving our cars and doing really good with them, and other guys were saying, ‘I want one.’”
Barnard said that soon the brothers were successfully asking other drivers to drive the cars they were building. One of those men was Ernie Tarca, who had trouble with his own car and was contemplating quitting the sport until Brian Barnard approached him and asked him to drive one of the Barnard cars. Tarca wound up winning the Truck Division Championship at Riverside Speedway in 1999 and put the Barnard Race Car Team on the map.
“We really started making a name for ourselves,” Paul Barnard said.
Unfortunately, that was Riverside’s final year. The closing of that track led to the Barnard boys uncertainty about what to do. They raced for a bit in Stafford, Conn., before finally moving to Monadnock. Since then, the two have continued to build cars and Paul believes they’ve built 25 cars over the years.
Although many of the cars have long since been scraped due to the racing wear and tear, many still remain on the track. One of those cars belongs to Marty and Tyler Leary, who bought the car from Barnard about three years ago. Tyler Leary is a youngster racing in the Super Stock Division, and two weeks ago he drove his No. 11X across the finish line, another win for a Barnard car.
Hopefully it will not be the last. Barnard is still gunning for the season title in the Thunder Stock Division and hopes to drive the No. 24 Monte Carlo across the finish line in first place once again. As for the number on the side of his car. NASCAR fans may think it’s paying homage to driver Jeff Gordon, but Barnard said it’s just a coincidence. The number was actually his jersey number in high school.
“I tell people I’ve had the No. 24 longer than Gordon,” Barnard joked.
Barnard said he does not have a favorite NASCAR driver, he only hopes for an exciting race. It’s no surprise, given the mentality of Barnard when he gets behind the wheel himself. It sounds like the perfect credo for anyone competing in the sport.
“When you get on the track and you’re racing around trying to figure out how to pass people, it’s a challenge,” he said. “You’re trying to beat the guy next to you and you want to drive to the front, do it cleanly, respect the other guy and earn his respect. Racing is a tough deal. You get some guys out there that are hammerheads. But you want to be the good guy. Do it the right way. That’s what gets me going. I’m trying to pass cars and go by them and when I do, it feels really good. And if a guy gets by me, you’ve just got to shake his hand, tip your hat, whatever you want to say. He did the right thing to get by you. That’s why I love to race.”
And now Barnard can sit around the garage and tell stories about the night he got his first win. It was a long time coming, but to listen to him describe it, it sounded well worth the wait.
Thinking about getting into racing yourself? I was curious how much it costs.
Barnard estimates that building a car costs around $12,000 or $13,000. Tires, which drivers hope will last about three weeks at Monadnock, cost about $600-$700 for four, and fuel is $12 per gallon.
Winning a race pretty much covers the cost to compete. But for those who don’t win ... it can get costly.
Finally, I got an e-mail last week regarding Olivia and Jack Vecellio of Conway who each competed in the Needham All-Star Track Meet on July 2. Olivia, age 12, and Jack, age 10, each won three events. Olivia won the shot put (22 feet, 7 1/ 4 inches), the javelin (53-7), and the softball throw (103-1), which is a novely event at the meet. Jack won the 80-meter hurdles (14.31 seconds), the high jump (4 feet) and the javelin (60-9). Jack also won the USA Track & Field New England Championship in the 80-meter hurdles on June 21 in a time of 15.79 seconds.
Stars in the making.
Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org