As the victory lane ceremonies wound down for the Valenti Modified Racing Series Thursday at Thompson Speedway for Tommy Barrett Jr. and his family owned racing team, the catcalls still echoed from a smattering of fans still lingering outside the track’s beer stand.
“Tommy Barrett is a freaking idiot …” could be heard loud and clear from one fan behind the grandstands, while Barrett and crew remained just on the other side of thestands reveling in victory.
Barrett used a last lap pass of Todd Szegedy – that included roughing Szegedy up in turn two – to win the Valenti Modified Racing Series feature Thursday at Thompson.
And afterward the venom flowed, from competitors, from crew members and from fans. The feeling of anger of watching Barrett win the way he did seemed to hang over the Valenti Modified Racing Series pit area following the show like a thick fog that just appeared out of nowhere.
And yet, there stood Barrett, after the race, sporting the grin of a winner, though with a hint of devilish delight hiding behind it. The delight in knowing that he had just put on show that would be remembered and had likely angered so many.
“I did what I had to do,” Barrett said.
It rang as cold and calculating as Ivan Drago telling Rocky Balboa, “I must break you.” in Rocky IV.
Every racing series, every racing division, every race track is better off for having a driver that revels in wearing the black hat.
And Modified racing right now is better off for Barrett’s desire to celebrate being the villain.
When Barrett arrived in 2010 at Stafford Motor Speedway as a 15-year dominator in the SK Modified Light division, he proved a man of few words in most of his post-race winner’s speeches, but the confidence was never something he hid.
Was he surprised to walk into a track at 15-years old and dominate? He’d say back then he wasn’t. He expected to win when he and his team showed up and he did just that.
And that confidence carried right over to his seasons in 2012 and 2013 on the Valenti Modified Racing Series and it’s the same confidence he wears proudly in his role now as a full-time rookie on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour with Our Motorsports.
It’s a confidence that some would rather term arrogance, or cockiness or just plain super-inflated ego.
And yet, with Barrett, it seems the more people characterize his confidence as an overabundant arrogance, the more he celebrates and embraces that confidence himself.
On the track Barrett has built a reputation for using strategic tire saving management plans early in events to set up for banzai runs through the field late in races. He made the strategy his calling card over the last two years on the Valenti Modified Racing Series. And when the plan is used, it often means drama as the banzai run grows nearer and nearer to the front, especially with Barrett.
It’s said that being closest to the edge of disaster in a racecar is when that car will operate at its best. And when Barrett turns it on, he typically takes it right to that edge. Moves on the track that border at times as reckless bravado are the one’s that Barrett, since his days running an SK Light Modified at Stafford, sometimes makes look way to easy.
There’s no denying he has a gift for cutting through a field in a racecar. Though, the way he does it turns many people off.
But in the end, that’s not really a bad thing for Modified Racing. Villains are as integral to motorsports as superstars.
In a strange way, the reality is, the Valenti Modified Racing Series is better off with Barrett running part-time and celebrating his villain status than he was running full-time with the division.
The recipe of Barrett as a part-timer in the division – picking and choosing races to go chase wins with no worry about points – should be perfect if getting more fans in the grandstands – and getting those fans engaged – is a desire for the series. This much is certain, if fans know Barrett is in the event, they’re probably more apt to want to go see what happens than if he isn’t going to be there.
Many forget, before Dale Earnhardt Sr. was beloved at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series level, he was hated by many around the sport for being a brash, arrogant driver who seemed to take too many chances on the racetrack.
And right now Modified racing in general needs a villain. It’s not going to be Ryan Preece, and it’s not going to be Doug Coby or Todd Szegedy or Matt Hirschman or Justin Bonsignore or Rowan Pennink. And Ted Christopher and Donny Lia have seen their times as “The Most Hated” come and go.
It’s time for Barrett to carry the torch of the villain, and he seems to be one glad to do it. Modified racing is better off for that, no matter the hate that erupts.