Drag Illustrated Issue 173, December 2021 - Page 82

LYLE BARNETT

“ We ’ re finally starting to talk about talent and success and wins , and that may be because of the fire and the crash I had in 2015 , but now they stand side-by-side , in my opinion , as opposed to my fire and my crash being kind of the talked about thing .”

BARNETT PAUSED at the question , pondering what his year would have been like had he not pulled off a shocking win in Dallas and following it up weeks later with another Pro Mod victory at the finale in Las Vegas . Up to that point , the year had been challenging and , at times , frustrating . After joining with Elite Motorsports and Modern Racing in the offseason , Barnett was thrilled to make his NHRA Pro Mod debut in a ProCharger-powered Camaro . He ran well at the opener in Gainesville , qualifying fourth and winning his first round in competition , but there was a litany of struggles after that , including not qualifying at the four-wide race in Charlotte .

The team raced once more in Norwalk , where Barnett qualified 15th and lost in the second round , but decided to take a step back and not race the rest of the summer .
They returned in Indy , winning a round and qualifying seventh , but struggled again at the fall Charlotte race , qualifying 15th and losing in the opening round .
It was at that point the team nearly pulled the plug on the season . Barnett also isn ’ t sure if that would have been enough to consider his rookie season a success .
But as the debate of sitting out the rest of the season came up , things drastically changed . As Barnett was eating in the Elite Motorsports Pro Stock pits , Jake Hairston came up to him and asked if he would be interested in driving their turbocharged Pro Mod , the same one Erica Enders drove to the NHRA Pro Mod speed record in 2019 . Hairston ’ s dad , Jim , showed similar interest and Barnett was all ears . “ I ’ m like , ‘ Dude , at this point , anything .’ It was anything to change the direction this wind ’ s blowing ,” Barnett says .
In less than two weeks , the car was back at Justin Elkes ’ Modern Racing shop and everything was re-certified and ready to compete at the Texas Motorplex for the Texas NHRA FallNationals . Elkes found a consistent tuneup , with Barnett qualifying 12th with a 5.844 at 251.86 in the turbocharged Camaro . Then , something magical took place during eliminations .
Barnett knocked off Khalid Al-Balooshi in the opening round of eliminations and then beat Mike Salinas on a holeshot to move to his first semifinal berth . He was a lethal . 007 on the starting line there to defeat fellow Pro Mod rookie J . R . Gray and then added another holeshot in the final round , as his run of 5.894 stood up against Justin Bond ’ s 5.829 thanks to a . 040 reaction time .
In the span of one day of eliminations , the season was a rousing success , a tribute to the work of a team that searched for any solution to find a winning combination . As they all joined Barnett on the top end to celebrate an incredible moment , Barnett was understandably overcome with emotion . It was the culmination of the last six years , all the work and all the trying times . Receiving the Wally was unlike anything Barnett had ever experienced .
“ When I pulled the ‘ chutes in Dallas and saw my win light blinking on

“ WHEN I PULLED THE ‘ CHUTES IN DALLAS AND SAW MY WIN LIGHT BLINKING ON THE WALL , I IMMEDIATELY STARTED CRYING . HONESTLY , WHEN IT WAS TIME FOR ME TO TURN OFF THE RACETRACK , I COULD BARELY SEE , I WAS CRYING SO HARD ,” BARNETT SAYS . “ I SWING THE DOOR OPEN , AND I JUST HUNG MY HEAD FOR A SECOND .

Sure , just months before Barnett called his debut in the class a lifelong dream come true , but as he puts it , he ’ s not a good loser .
“ I feel like it would ’ ve felt incomplete ,” Barnett says . “ I would ’ ve been like , ‘ You wussy . You gave up .’ I ’ m obviously now very glad that we did not call it a season after Charlotte . But I don ’ t know , man . I don ’ t know , looking at 2022 , what it would look like for me . I know that it would be a hell of a lot harder to find sponsorships , somebody that didn ’ t run but half of the season and bowed out after Charlotte and didn ’ t run the last three races .
“ We all depend on each other to keep this thing rolling , and it takes some of us going to races that we maybe know we don ’ t have a chance at winning , or we ’ re out of contention for the championship . It takes us showing up anyway to prove that we belong in the big show .
“ So I don ’ t really know how I would ’ ve handled it ,” Barnett continues . “ I think I have a pretty good idea , and I would be just a sour grape sitting over in the corner because it would not have been the year that I thought maybe we should have had . It would ’ ve been a really long and rough offseason had we not kept our nose down and on just a whim switched combinations and then went out there and had the success that we had .”
Barnett admits he felt defeated after the struggles at the fall race in Charlotte , which made it a stark contrast to the elation he experienced months earlier when he debuted in the class . the wall , I immediately started crying . Honestly , when it was time for me to turn off the racetrack , I could barely see , I was crying so hard ,” Barnett says . “ I swing the door open , and I just hung my head for a second . Here ’ s the NHRA with my Wally and my medal that they hang around your neck and I ’ m sobbing , man . But I gathered my stuff up long enough there to be handed the Wally , and Amanda [ Busick , FS1 reporter ] starts the interview , and I lost it again .
“ At that moment , the full circle effect hit me , like , dude , we came from the ashes and you ’ re standing in a top end interview with Amanda Busick on FOX talking about your first Wally . It ’ s something that can ’ t be described . It can only be felt .”
Barnett was soon met by his crew , his father , close friends like Stevie “ Fast ” Jackson , team owner Richard Freeman , and the floodgates of emotion opened again . So much went through Barnett ’ s mind in those few minutes , with much of it centered on his road to recovery from the harrowing crash at South Georgia Motorsports Park .
“ My dad tells me all the time he sat there at the hospital in Augusta wondering if he would ever see me alive again . For us to share that moment and then with the rest of my crew , it was just special , man ,” Barnett says . “ You could have ended my drag racing career right there , and I would ’ ve been OK with it . The single word that comes to mind is just thankful , man .
82 | Drag Illustrated | DragIllustrated . com Issue 173