This year’s drag racing season is for sure very special for one of Canada’s most recognized, innovative and liked drag racing proponents….
2015 will mark the 50th year of activity in our sport for Canadian living legend Barry Paton and much like the “energizer bunny” this wily veteran just keeps on ticking.
For Paton who is affectionally known as “the Captain” amongst his peers – this “Golden Anniversary” season was preceded by a very long list of remarkable experiences and accomplishments. And the reality is that to properly summarize and capture those 50 years of activity would likely require a book of the magnitude and thickness of Leo Tolstoy’s “War & Peace”.
Barry’s long spanning career and life has included two main and reoccurring themes. Right along side his participation and interest in drag racing was his passion for aviation that was equally impressive. After first flying military aircraft for the Royal Canadian Air Force, Barry went on to be an airline pilot for both Canadian Airlines and Air Canada before retiring. During his aviation days, and while living in both Western Canada and then the Maritimes, Barry’s involvement in drag racing commenced and evolved in unison.
Barry Paton’s racing roots date back to what really was the near dawn of drag racing for Canada and included a myriad of very cool and creative cars. After making his first laps ever down a drag strip in Manitoba (Keystone Dragway) with a street driven ’58 Plymouth Fury in 1965 – he was hooked. Barry’s first actual drag car was a 327 CID ’65 Pontiac I/Stocker. He next toyed with a (B/SP) 1967 Corvette in Modified eliminator (from 1967-69) before moving to 396 CID Super Stock 1969 Chevy Nova which he ran for a number of seasons and with which he really gained his first glimpse of fame.
“Some of my fondest early memories came driving that Chevy Nova,” Barry reflected. “In 1977 I won the Super Stock title for the circuit we had in the Maritimes – and I think that’s what really sent me on my way in this sport.”
In 1978 Barry stepped into another category (Modified eliminator) running a B/EA Camaro. That car was in fact a former “Fighting Irish” Funny Car convert that had a totally unique 369 CID big block Chevy engine.
1982 saw Barry enter the BB/FC class with a Chevy Vega that was formally raced by Ken Veney. In 1986 Barry’s first venture into alcohol Funny Car racing was to come when he acquired the former Paul Smith “Entertainer” Pontiac Firebird. That car was morphed into a few versions (between 1984-1989) and proved to be the catapult for the very long and creditable career in TAFC class racing to come.
“In that Firebird I won my first event ever down in Warner Robbins Georgia and had my career quick 6.03 secs run,” Barry confirmed. “That came before I stopped driving myself in 1990.”
After 1990 Barry surrendered the cockpit to his older son Todd and at the same time stepped up the racing program again when he purchased the “first in the fives” Olds Cutlass from Bob Newberry. After that he, his wife Lynne and sons Todd and Tony ran that car extensively and successfully.
With the influx and support of some very high profile and supporting sponsors the family team soon became true powerhouses within the TAFC class while running a variety of S&W built Oldsmobile and Pontiac bodied cars. During a period from the mid to late 1990’s they racked an extremely high number of national and divisional event wins in both NHRA and IHRA racing. They in fact won the IHRA A/FC World Championship title twice – in both 1993 and 1995.
But despite that solid run of success in Top Alcohol — the team changed direction big time in 1999 when they made the ultimate switch — to Nitro. They purchased a Chevy Camaro fuel burner from Jim Sickles (a former Chuck Etchells car) and headed down that new and higher profile route.
“Right or wrong – we felt we needed to graduate up,” Barry recalled. “We had won some big races in NHRA Top Alcohol (Indy – Gainesville – Pomona) so we wanted to move on. Collectively we felt this was the best move for us and in hindsight my only regret was that we didn’t do it sooner.”
Barry Paton’s team, influenced by a number of factors, including avid and long time ongoing support from sponsors Alex Crosby and John Hoey and then the IHRA’s arrival into Canada with a national event at Grand Bend, resulted in a switch to Top Fuel dragsters in 2002. Since then and up to now they have run three different cars in the TF class — a pair of McKinney chassis’ prior to their present day DSR car.
“Alex and John have supported our team dream for a very long time,” Barry emphasized. “They provided both the moral and financial support that got us to where we are today.”
While the appearances for the Paton Racing dragster are somewhat infrequent compared to some other teams on the circuit — they continue to run their program strategically and competitively. And all that comes despite some major hurdles that come with the harsh reality of trying to run a Top Fuel car out of Canada namely: geographical distance, frequent border crossings and the current devalued Canadian currency.
“It’s probably true that for racing in Top Fuel – that’s an uphill battle,” Barry admitted. “But people tell me I’m stubborn and tenacious. I also admit that I’m a frustrated engineer too. The technical part in drag racing is all I think about pretty much every day.”
While Barry doesn’t really emphasize it — his team is also providing a very important component for nurturing the future of drag racing overall.
His race team is now a well known and preferred place for new and upcoming drivers to both upgrade their licence and experience Top Fuel racing for the first time. That impressive list of drivers is and has been truly international too – with racers from Canada, USA and Europe all taking advantage of the team’s race car leasing opportunity.
But the biggest question posed for Barry (who was inducted into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2002) is: Why after 50 years is there continuance?
“That reason is hard to really nail down,” Barry added. “I don’t go golfing and I don’t fish — instead trying to make cars go fast has always been the driving force in my life. Even at my age — all that keeps me inspired. I don’t think my desire has ever been as high as it is right now.”
And I know I speak for all Canadian drag racing fans when I say — great news Barry — and we are thankful for just that. Congratulations on 50 years and counting!
Post and Photos by: Bruce Biegler