Digging Deep With Denise: Visiting With Art Barry

“Digging Deep With Denise” is a semi-regular question and answer feature with local racers and racing personalities produced by RaceDayCT’s Denise DuPont

Art Barry (Photo: Jim DuPont/RaceDayCT)

Art Barry – You cannot replace the members of the racing family

Art Barry of Preston took over his dad’s race car when he was 16 years old, which started his racing career. His skill at designing and building race cars led him to establish the SPAFCO race chassis fabrication business. Barry has owned, designed and fabricated cars for about 68 years. He has had a lot of notable drivers that have sat behind the wheel of the famous No. 21 Modified. The list includes Mike McLaughlin, Mike Stefanik, Jeff Fuller, Rick Fuller, Mike Ewanitsko, Reggie Ruggiero and former NASCAR Cup Series drivers Brett Bodine and Greg Sacks. Even though Art planned to retire at the end of the 2016 race season, his grandson, Tyler Barry’s Modified career is just starting which brought Art out of retirement. Art Barry was inducted into the New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame in 2007 and the NEAR Hall of Fame in 2009.

What made you get interested in racing?

“My dad used to race and I kind of followed his footsteps. I enjoyed racing and it was just a lot of fun. My father started racing in Waterford when the track first opened up. He quit early though because my mother would not let him drive. I bought my father’s first car and that was where it all started.”  (The New London-Waterford Speedbowl opened for business on April 15, 1951. Art Barry began his racing career there in 1952 as a 16-year old, taking over a car formally owned by his father.

Which type of racing do you like the best?

“I raced at Waterford for a while until I could not stand the way that they treated people. I then came up to Thompson Speedway and joined NASCAR. I have been a part of NASCAR ever since. ”

Would you say racing is your hobby?

“It is my hobby now but it is sure like a job. You only get out of it what you put in it. If you want to work hard, it is rewarding. If you don’t, let it sit in the garage.”

Out of all the tracks that you have been too, which one is most challenging and fun?

“Martinsville for sure. We won there three times and it was very challenging. Bobby Santos Sr., and Brett Bodine were my drivers that won there. It was Brett’s last race in a Modified and he won it in the No. 21. He was a real good modified driver.” (Brett Bodine won twice in 1986 at Martinsville in the Miller Classic 500 and the Pontiac 150)

Most memorable racing experience?

“That is hard to decide on, but Mike Stefanik was good, really good. And whenever we raced we learned something new from him. When we won the two championships with him that was pretty rewarding. I also had a lot of fun with George Summers. I took him out of Seekonk and got him into NASCAR Modified racing. We had a lot of fun together. Bobby Santos Sr., was one of my first drivers and we hit it off well. We were really close friends, we were like family.”

What are the challenges car builders have now with the modifieds?

“The trouble is now that racing is all about money. No matter how good you are if you do not have money you cannot run with the lead field. I think for years I was able to compete with the best Modified teams as far as the cars and we did not have that big money. And we still managed to do pretty good. But now it takes so much money that you cannot do it on your own anymore. It helps if you can find a sponsor but they are becoming hard to get. ”

Do you think you should have starting in the racing world earlier?

“No, because the hours that you put in these cars is just unbelievable. My wife knew when she married me, she was going to go racing or else she was staying home. She used to go all the time but after a while she did not like it because we were gone a lot from home.”

When you watched Ken as a child in the garage were you already planning his career?

“I do not think that I was planning his career, but he was taking things apart on his own. It was fun but you had to make sure that you checked everything he touched. My oldest daughter, Denise, was with me everywhere that I went so that was fun. We miss her.”

If you had to do this all over again would you?

“Oh absolutely. The people that I have met and dealt with in racing, you cannot replace them. They are like a big family and when you need them they are always there to help.”

If you had to do anything different what would you do differently?

“I do not know if I would have done anything differently. I just wish that I had more money to do it all. But if I were to have done anything, I would go back to school for the education. Racing I love it, but today you have to have an education further than high school level.”

Thoughts on seeing your grandson driving now in a Modified?

“I think that he is doing a great job. For me it is rewarding. I have had so many good drivers and to put him (Tyler Barry) in the car and see him do as good as he is doing I am pretty proud of him. He has nothing right now but to get better. He is always thinking of somebody else to help them. He always has a smile or a joke especially when things are down. I am really happy with him. And Kenny works hard between the business and Tyler racing. I am proud of him. If it were not for Tyler, we would not be racing. I almost gave it up (racing) but he (Tyler) came along. I have a car, so we will eventually show our presence and win. He puts the gleam in my eyes which is the same sparkle I see in his when he drives the No. 21.”

What challenges do you see Tyler moving up the Modified ranks?

“He has to earn respect. That is number one. He needs to earn respect from the other drivers and I think that he can do because he has the right personality. He is a smart kid and he is not afraid to work. When he works, he puts his whole heart into it.  I am just happy to have him drive the No. 21 modified. I do not expect him to win right now, but I think that he will a little down the road.”


  1. The great ones are always the most HUMBLE ONES do you notice that , The Big Races He has WON !!
    hardly even mentions them …. WOW >>> need more MEN like this ….. RESPECT for you ART !!!! You are a GIANT in MOD HISTORY !!!!! Built the MOST BEAUTIFUL MODS I have ever SEEN ,,, THE WELDS would just blow you away , Especially if you ever tried to lay a ROW OF DIMES….

  2. Well put art it is all about $$$$$$$ to race today and not just talant.

  3. Viva Race Fan says

    The man has seen alot. Great guy if you get a chance say hi he has great stories. A good friend and very talented family.

  4. Simply put Art is a living legend. Art’s cars are always meticulously maintained and it’s very noticeable that he prides himself on that. At Monadnock back in 2013 his car finished 2nd or 3rd I believe at the MRS race there with Jon Mckennedy behind the wheel. I witnessed Art without hesitation climb on the ground underneath his car to pull the transmission during tech.Great ole’ work ethic that doesn’t go unnoticed by passers by.

  5. ” But if I were to have done anything, I would go back to school for the education. Racing I love it, but today you have to have an education further than high school level.”

    How often do we see that statement? This is a racing site where race accomplishments are often a proxy for accomplishments in life but that’s usually a fantasy. It’s good to read an icon in the sport with a long resume indirectly encourage younger people in the racing community that their education should always be the priority.

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