Newer NASCAR fans might not be familiar with Stanton Barrett, but they absolutely should be. Not only has he competed in over 200 races in the top three national series, but he’s also worked as a stuntman on some of the highest-grossing movies, including Spider-Man, Jurassic Park III, Batman & Robin, Logan, and most recently John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. He even directed a movie, Navy Seals vs. Zombies, in 2015, which he advertised on his race car in a handful of NASCAR Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck series races.
Barrett grew up in Hollywood and NASCAR — his dad, Stan Barrett, was a stunt double for Burt Reynolds in many Hal Needham-directed films. When Reynolds and Needham started a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1980s, the elder Barrett was the original No. 33 driver before they put Harry Gant in the car. The team was named Mach 1 Racing after Stan Barrett, in collaboration with Needham, attempted to break the sound barrier in the Budweiser Rocket.
Stanton Barrett raced the No. 52 for Rick Ware Racing at Talladega Superspeedway and the No. 42 for MBM Motorsports at Watkins Glen International so far this year, and is supposed to run the Xfinity race at Road America. Frontstretch caught up with him prior to the Watkins Glen race.
Michael Massie, Frontstretch: What led to you doing this race?
Stanton Barrett: I always try to go to the road courses. I always enjoy the road racing — a better shot of running well at the road courses in lesser equipment, if you want to call it that. And I love the atmosphere of Watkins Glen, the race, the city, the wineries, the lake. I always try to make it here if we can. And then a friend of mine bought [Horseheads Brewing], and they’re about to reopen it, which is really cool. I went there yesterday, and it’s a pretty great place. So he wanted to sponsor the car this weekend.
Massie: Any more races this year?
Barrett: Yeah, I think so. Road America, I think for sure, and we’ll see about the [Charlotte Motor Speedway] ROVAL in Cup car or Xfinity.
Massie: So you’re just going for the road courses.
Barrett: Yeah, I like to run Talladega [Superspeedway]. Superspeedways are fun, and you can run well there if you have somewhat of a decent engine.
Massie: You were in the Cup race at Talladega this year.
Barrett: Yeah, we did. We had a good race when they were in packs or they were running the high line. I was massively off horsepower, so as soon as they moved to the bottom, I could be right behind them and not lose the draft. So whenever they were running in packs, we worked ourselves up to I think 16th. I was pushing Denny Hamlin up through the pack, and then they got single-file. It’s not fun when you have no horsepower, but maybe we’ll go back to Talladega and something else. At least hit the road courses. You never know about the other ones … at ovals, it’s a different ballgame. It takes a lot more to be competitive there.
Massie: You’ve been racing kind of off and on since the 1990s. What’s the biggest difference coming to the track now and racing these cars?
Barrett: The biggest difference, it just takes a minute to figure out what the rules are. The cars haven’t changed a lot. The engineering has changed and what the teams do at the shop has changed and the technology there. But as far as setup stuff, you’re still kind of dealing with the same thing. The car is a car. If you’re in the car every week, you know what the limits of the cars are.
It takes a good bit of practice to or a portion of the race to figure out how loose you can run them or how on the edge you can run a car, where that limit is and how much you can get away with. So I think that’s the biggest difference. I know all the tracks are still the same. Sometimes tires change, but you get in, you feel the grip right away. The fine tuning of the Cup cars and knowing what you can get away with, what the limit is, that takes a little bit more time if you’re not in the car every week.
Massie: What’s going on with you on the movie side? What are you working on right now?
Barrett: A lot of TV stuff right now. I did, John Wick  was the last movie in theaters. And then other than that, NCIS: New Orleans, The Purge, some other things I’m doing next week for a TV series. Between movies and TV series, I’ll be pretty busy.
Massie: I actually just saw John Wick 3. What did you contribute to that one?
Barrett: So I did all the riding, me and another guy, Joe Dryden, were mainly the two lead bad guys on the motorcycles trying to kill [John Wick] with the swords. And then another scene with the horse, he and I were the main guys in that. [Keanu Reeves] yanked me off the motorcycle in another scene … and then, I hit him with a car. We were on that for a couple months shooting different stuff, but primarily the motorcycle scenes in that. I’m supposed to flip a car this week. Last week, I did some driving stuff for a [TV] series in Pittsburgh. It varies — whatever you get hired to do.
Massie: Any interaction with Keanu Reeves there other than hitting him with a car?
Barrett: We had to work with him a lot, especially with the horse thing. The coordinator set up a special rig to have the horses and all the stuff you have to do with the animal rights association. We rehearsed a lot with Keanu riding the horse and us riding the bikes next to him and rehearsing all the fight moves. And also getting the horses adapted to motorcycles being close by and being around them while they are moving. … We rehearsed a couple weeks for that particular horse scene. … [Reeves and I] worked really close. He does all his fighting. He has a double too that is outstanding, but Keanu is very active. Anything that he can do, he jumps in and does it. He’s a hard-working guy and he treats everybody super great, so it’s fun to work closely with him.
Massie: Do you have a favorite stunt out of the ones you’ve done?
Barrett: Some of the car flips are pretty cool. I did one for my brother — he’s directing a TV series called Fast Lane that I did a really really cool, fast car flip. Destroyed the car, dirt and everything just flying. Even simple stuff is fun because it’s about making it look good, trying to figure out. Jurassic Park [III] was a lot of fun. I did a lot of great stuff on that. I won a Red Bull Taurus Stunt Award for that. Batman was pretty fun. It was like the third or fourth one — tons of motorcycle stuff in it. A lot of good stunts in that one.
The period piece movies are fun, like Jurassic Park, the war movies like Gods and Generals, things like that. Because you get immersed in the scenes and settings, it feels real. You kind of get to live history in a movie. It’s not, but they make everything feel so real.
Massie: How does the thrill of doing stunts in movies compare to racing these cars in NASCAR?
Barrett: It’s totally different. Racing’s a competitive thing, and the thrill of racing for me is pushing your equipment as hard as you can — the technology, the setups, just racing against competitors. You’re racing against competitors, but you’re racing against yourself, the track. So it’s a whole different dynamic.
Stunts are more figuring, engineering and understanding how to make things work. You’re always being dealt variables that aren’t always ideal or is it possible or not. … I think pressure to perform is on the line in stunts because you don’t have a lot of leeway to screw up. The production needs you to do your job and do it right the first time or over and over so they can move on. There’s a lot of production costs in a production, so a lot is put on your plate. Keeping people safe too.
Massie: In 2003, you jumped in the No. 60 car for Roush Fenway Racing right after Greg Biffle won the championship. But sponsorship dried up about halfway through the year. Do you view that as a ‘What if?’ or a missed opportunity?
Barrett: Yeah, it’s a bummer, but what do you do if you don’t? We never got to test because the sponsor wasn’t paying, so Roush kept it going. It worked out well, which is good. We had some really good runs. We had shots to win some races.
We had a lot of top 10 finishes, had really good cars and really bad luck, too. There’s a reason for it, I don’t know why. I’ve had some other really decent rides, too, but that was definitely — even though we weren’t testing or doing the full program like [Roush] has, but that was still the best car, the best engines that I’ve ever been. It just didn’t work out.
Massie: What’s your dad up to these days?
Barrett: He’s cruising. I bought a cabin next to him in Idaho, so I get to see him quite a bit. He’s actually working with my brother in New York on Blue Bloods. My brother’s a producer/director/executive producer there. … Whenever we have something we can work him on, it’s fun. Otherwise, I spend time and visit him in Idaho, ride mountain bikes, and I think he spends a lot of time mowing my lawn and working on my cabin next door.
He shouldn’t be. He should be chilling out. But he likes to stay busy.
Massie: He was pretty tight with Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds. He was their first driver in NASCAR. Do you have any stories growing up around those guys?
Barrett: I mean, yeah, quite a lot. That’s where I grew up around them, you know? Hal, my dad and Mickey Gilbert were the primary guys I worked for when I was younger in stunts. Hal was a great, great guy and a good friend. I learned how to swim in Burt Reynolds’ pool. He was over at the house a lot. My dad and him were really good friends. So yeah, I mean it was just normal though. Paul Newman would hang out at the house, or John Wayne would come over. It’s like ah, just normal dudes to me. We were pretty young then. But yeah a lot of good memories of my dad and Hal, a lot of good stories and stunts they did. … And then my dad did the rocket car with Hal.
And then Paul Newman helped with it and got Budweiser involved. So they were all good friends who just helped each other do things. … A lot of good guys gone.
Massie: So you realized later on how big of a deal Burt Reynolds was?
Barrett: I mean, I knew, but that was the industry I grew up in. So I wasn’t, my dad doubled him in majority of his films — Cooper, Bandit, all kinds of stuff. … You knew they were big stars, but you just thought they were the same as … my dad and mom taught me everyone’s equal. Those guys, especially Paul and Hal, they were pretty great guys, super humble.
Massie: So they worked on Stroker Ace, a NASCAR movie. What do you think the best racing-related movie is?
Barrett: I don’t know. None of them have really great racing. There’s fun ones. Most of the comedy ones are fun. Stroker Ace was, crack up, just way off the wall. But I think the F1 one … about Niki Lauda [Rush], I think story-wise and everything, that was probably one of my favorites, still the racing footage wasn’t great. But it was okay. Looking at it from a racer’s standpoint and a stuntman and a director, I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t know why those guys don’t just have me help them make the racing look good.’ I mean that’s what I do: direct and do stunts and race cars. But I like the story of that, it’s really cool.
Massie: You started your NASCAR career driving for Junie Donlavey on the Cup side. What was he like?
Barrett: He was great. Old-school character. That was kind of a transition, too, for them because they were getting into a lot of new technology of springs and how setups work. And they were very stuck in their older ways. But it was fun. My dad actually raced for Junie as well. So it was fun being able to race for the same guy and have that history.
He was just a good old boy who loved racing and he treated everyone great. It was fun to be around him, but he’s been gone for a while and out of racing quite some time, too. I’d call him a little bit after that when he got out of racing and check on him. He was just a character.
Massie: Last question I got for you, what are your goals going forward, like in NASCAR or film?
Barrett: I don’t know. Film, it is what it is. It’d be fun to direct another movie and do some stuff, but it just takes a lot of time out. I have my wine company and a chocolate company I’m partners in, so they’re kind of taking focus. I would like to run some more races; it’d be fun. Maybe next year, I can get in a position where we can run a handful of races if we can get in the right situation.
Otherwise, it’s just not fun to go to the track and do mediocre or deal with having stuff that doesn’t really run great … the road courses, superspeedways would be really nice. Sponsorship’s really tough nowadays. … I don’t know, it’s just it would be fun to race some races in NASCAR. It’d be fun to drive an IndyCar again if it was good equipment, but we’ll see. I just got to focus on business stuff right now, and if some racing opportunities come along that are good, I’ll definitely jump on board.