When fans rolled into the third-mile Seekonk Speedway oval on Saturday night, a stout lineup of Modifieds on the newly-formed Modified Touring Series sat waiting for them in the pit area. Names like Woody Pitkat, Rowan Pennink and Eric Goodale, star standouts on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, were set to match up against the likes of Les Hinckley and Jon McKennedy, two of the most well-respected Tour-Type drivers in New England.
When Saturday’s 125 lap feature got underway, Tommy Barrett worked the outside of Todd Annarummo and took the lead on lap eight behind the wheel of his No. 9. At that point, with 117 laps to go in a race where the caution laps didn’t count, everyone was thinking it wasn’t going to be easy for the 22-year-old. With the likes of Goodale and McKennedy challenging him in the late stages of the race, Barrett never flinched.
Barrett ended up capturing the checkered flag in Saturday’s 125 lap feature event, but the victory was not just any other for the Millis, Mass. driver. The win ended a streak of struggles that dated back to the 2015 season for him. Barrett had one of the top rides on the prestigious Whelen Modified Tour at the time. In 2014, he sat behind the wheel of the Chris Our prepared No. 22, competing in 13 races and finishing inside the top five in three of them while leading 33 laps.
Luckily for Barrett, the five DNF’s were the low points on the season, but there were other high points that made him forget those struggles. In August of that season, in the annual Whelen Modified Tour appearance at Bristol Motor Speedway, Barrett captured glory by winning the 150 lap feature event. After starting 14th, Barrett made his way to the front of the field and beat some of the series best — including Bobby Santos and Ron Silk — to capture his first career victory as a rookie on one of the toughest modified divisions in all of the country.
Barrett finished that season with two top 10 finishes and a 12th in the final three races and rolled into 2015 hoping to take the Our Motorsports machine towards championship glory. With a year under his belt and plenty of victories in the Valenti Modified Racing Series over the years, Barrett seemed primed to make a run at some of NASCAR’s best. In the 2015 season-opening Icebreaker at Thompson, Barrett started 13th and finished 19th, which was a difficult start for him, but they knew they had speed and they would be okay as the stretch run of the season came.
The 22-year-old never got to show his talent for the rest of that season because of a mistake on his part. On April 17, Barrett was arrested in Connecticut for driving under the influence. Immediately when team owner Chris Our got wind of the arrest and learned some of the details, he placed a team suspension on him for the next series event, the Spring Sizzler at Stafford. Our replaced Barrett with Keith Rocco, who went out and finished 12th behind the wheel of the Canto Paving No. 22.
At that point, Our had no choice but to replace Barrett for the remainder of the season behind the wheel of the No. 22. Our has been known for keeping his team respected, just like any other car owner would like to do. When NASCAR started investigating the situation, they said that Barrett wouldn’t be able to compete in any NASCAR sanctioned events before a formal review had been conducted.
Just a few weeks after the announcement from NASCAR, they made another statement that said that Barrett would not be able to compete in any events and had been indefinitely placed on probation from NASCAR for “actions detrimental to stock car racing,” which is a phrase used by NASCAR a lot. What it basically meant in that situation was Barrett did something wrong and needed to be punished.
So from there, Barrett fell off the map on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and to this day, he has not returned to the seat of a car in the series. However, he has been behind the wheel of modifieds in competition since the incident just over two years ago.
In June of 2015, it was reported that Tommy Barrett would be returning to competition at Seekonk Speedway for the annual $10,000 to win Open Wheel Wednesday event. Barrett won the race in 2014, but wasn’t able to follow that up by winning once again that season.
And since that day, Barrett has gone through some other tough times off the track. Longtime supporter of his and well-respected Whelen Modified Tour car owner Mario Fiore passed away last year. Barrett and Fiore had worked together in Barrett’s days on the Valenti Modified Racing Series, where Barrett became known for saving tires and making a late charge to the front of races to take down the win. Barrett was clearly one of the top modified talents in New England at that time and seemed to have himself lined up to take a top seat like Our’s on the Whelen Modified Tour for years to come.
After Fiore passed, Barrett was able to make a tribute to him during the 2016 season while running his family-owned car and changing the number to 44 in his memory. Barrett briefly saw glory with the car by taking it to Victory Lane in one of the two qualifying races for the Tri Track Open Modified Series event at New London-Waterford Speedbowl last fall, which Barrett mentioned at the time was special for him and was in Mario’s memory.
All of this put aside and into the rear-view mirror, Tommy came into the 2017 racing season with a new incentive to get the job done on the Modified Touring Series, a new series owned and operated by Gary Knight of New Hampshire. Barrett and girlfriend had a baby over the offseason and his four-month old child attended Saturday night’s Seekonk MTS 125, his first ever race. Years from now, Barrett and his family will have the opportunity to use the photos from Saturday night and smile.
Barrett started from the outside pole position, took the lead from pole sitter Todd Annarummo on lap eight and never looked back behind the wheel of his black No. 9. Barrett was saving his tires, like the master he is, just hoping to have something while others came towards him on fresh rubber at the end of the race. Staying out and electing not to pit for a tire when many others did proved to be the right decision.
In the final laps, Barrett was clicking off lap times just as he did at the beginning of the race, showing how much he saved his tires and how much the American Racer compound worked at the third-mile oval for the new series. Saturday night’s victory wasn’t just one night that Barrett will remember forever.
It was two years of struggles, frustrations and sadness that came together into one night of success. The success has put Barrett back on the map in the modified community. Don’t be surprised if a return to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is somewhere in his future.