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Reel Racing: Stanton Barrett Chats Hollywood Stunt Work and Motorsports Career (Part 1)

Stanton Barrett has enjoyed careers of more than 30 years in both auto racing and as a Hollywood stuntman, putting his prowess behind the wheel to use in both industries.

Barrett has made 230 starts across NASCAR’s top three series over the past three decades, mostly in Xfinity competition, and has added some appearances in the ARCA Menards Series, NTT IndyCar Series and endurance racing for good measure.

As a stuntman in the film industry, he has worked on films like Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy, The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III, Blade and 2 Fast 2 Furious. In the past decade, he’s been a part of productions that included The Town, 21 and 22 Jump Street, Olympus Has Fallen, Deepwater Horizon, Mudbound, Logan, Captain Marvel and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. One of his most recent credits is the 2020 Russell Crowe vehicle Unhinged.

Barrett has also doubled for the likes of Hugh Jackman (Logan),  Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), Brad Pitt (Killing Them Softly), Christoph Waltz (The Green Hornet), James Franco in several films and even Eminem in 8 Mile. He also doubled for Leonardo DiCaprio, Jared Leto and Josh Brolin in the early years of their respective careers.

Below is an edited portion of our February interview with Barrett. More will follow in a second part on Thursday, April 8.

Adam Cheek, Frontstretch: Your dad, Stan, raced in NASCAR a little bit and also did some stunt work. Is that how you were drawn to both industries early on?

Stanton Barrett: Yeah. I grew up around it, with my dad originally being a stuntman and a stunt coordinator and that was the industry. My mom was in the ski industry, being a World Cup skier and all that, and my dad was on the film side, so I grew up around a bunch of athletes. [Actor, stuntman and frequent Burt Reynolds collaborator] Hal Needham was a mentor of my dad’s, and just growing up around Hal and a gentleman named Mickey Gilbert, who’s a famous stuntman as well, was just part of what we did.

[…] My dad was teaching us how to box and fall and tumble and do tricks and crash things when we were little fellas, so we were exposed to being on movie sets. I wasn’t exposed to a lot being on movie sets when I was young because we lived about five hours from [Los Angeles] back then the way the roads were, but occasionally went down and visited when I was young and…before I got into first grade, I remember taking a few trips down to LA, but we always had Burt Reynolds come up and visit and Paul Newman and John Wayne, all kinds of people. So it was pretty fun. And we didn’t know any better, we just thought they were cool, like any of my dad’s other friends around.

Cheek: What was it like knowing those stars, despite not really being aware of their celebrity status at the time?

Barrett: Well, when you’re a kid, you don’t realize who people are. I never thought anybody was any different than the person waiting on us at a restaurant … whoever it was, whoever we met, I always felt everybody was equal. And that was the upbringing of my grandfather, my dad, my mom: just everybody’s people, they do their thing and [to] respect everybody. So it was just how we grew up.

I learned to swim in Burt Reynolds’ pool, [I] have a picture of me jumping into his arms when I was a kid and things like that, so that was normal. And those kinds of people coming around the house was normal a lot, so we just thought they were like everybody else. And that’s kind of bad in one essence, as you get older, you realize that, well, maybe everybody is not the same, and you get into a lot of weird dynamics. [It’s] a lot better just to think, well, “everybody’s the same, and we all do our thing,” and that’s great, whatever it is.

It was funny, I spent a lot of time with Paul Newman, he was my godfather … shared a lot of moments and [he’s] a gentlemen who’s inspired me in my life and built a lot of character. My dad, Hal and Paul were great examples to grow up around. So I have a lot of great memories with with a lot of people.

Cheek: I was combing through your IMDb page and filmography, and noticed that you’ve doubled for James Franco four times and worked with him a fifth time on This is the End. Do you form close relationships with the people you work with frequently like that?

Barrett: You do. I mean, you become friends with with a lot of guys. I was good friends with Luke Perry, [we] always stayed in touch and he passed away [in 2019] and James … it’s kind of weird, they’re your film family. Same with racing, and you see them at the racetrack and you see them all the time, but when you’re not racing during the season we try to stay in touch.

It’s similar with film sometimes. You have momentum and you spent a lot of times doing multiple films together, and all of a sudden you get busy on something else and then on something else and you might not see people for five, 10 years, and when you see them again it’s like you’re old friends, you never left; but we go our separate ways, because as the industry gets busy and people move around and you’re not tied to any one project, you’re all independent contractors basically. So it is, and there’s quite a few people you become close with, and it’s fun.

Going back to what you asked me earlier, what I guess one of the cool things was [that] I got to work with my dad on a film with Paul [Newman]. And we spent two months in Montreal and that was really fun … I got to double Paul and they put the wigs on and everything. [It] was just fun that I had the opportunity: my dad doubled him and I actually got to double him – my godfather – and just moments like that are kind of special or sentimental to me.

Cheek: On that racing note, your most recent race was at the Daytona road course with Spire Motorsports last year. How did that deal come together?

Barrett: They called me because the driver, sponsor didn’t work out for that race. They wanted to move it to another race and it was just a few days before the race. So to find somebody that was approved to run Cup is not easy, and there’s only a handful of drivers that are approved. And being at that track too for that particular race, they would only allow one driver to run one series, so it opened up a lot of seats.

They had to pick which one they were in, you couldn’t run trucks and Xfinity, or Xfinity guys couldn’t go run Cup, or vice versa. So that’s how it came along, and it was fun. It was a little hectic because I had to do a lot. I had to redo our baseline testing which we have to do every two years for your baseline brain testing, and I almost didn’t get it all done, but it happened in a real quick time.

Cheek: And it was the Cup Series’ first time at that track layout. Did you do any iRacing or anything like that to get used to the track?

Barrett: I didn’t have time. I really don’t have an iRacing setup … I’ve gotten one since then. I knew the track since I ran the [IMSA] 24 Hours [of Daytona] there. That was quite some time ago, but I knew the track pretty well. I think I drove the car six hours total when I drove the 24 hours, and we were really fast down there and had fun too. There are different dynamics of the cars though, and I did an interview with Pat Patterson, I’m doing pre-race stuff for him explaining tracks to people and I thought there would be some similarities.

But with the with Cup cars being so heavy, narrow tread width, braking is different, the grip is much different. It was a new learning curve anyways, plus I hadn’t been in a Cup car to know what the dynamics were of setups and things. And what you could get away with, understanding the fine line of too much and too little and small margins there. So that long of a track, there’s no rush, there’s gonna be cautions, you have the segments, so [you’re] not gonna go a lap down.

And it took time to learn the track. We were really loose. Unfortunately, right off the bat of the race, I had a bleeder valve malfunction and it was leaking brake fluid. I didn’t have real good brakes from the start and oil was leaking, then I lost my brakes and had to come in and we lost a bunch of laps fixing that. But it allowed us to make some changes [to] the setup because we were so loose … it was a handful, but then we had a battery problem during the lightning, rain delay, and couldn’t get going [and] we lost more laps. But we made some changes to where we were running really competitive times with some top-20 cars. So it’s a fun race.

[The 2021 Cup race weekend at the Daytona road course] to watch was super fun. Everybody got setup information from the last race, so … the whole field was more competitive and the racing was really good, and there was less mistakes. Cars were set up good and people knew the track and it’s a fun place to go. Hopefully I’ll get to go back there next year.

Cheek: Driving IMSA cars, Cup cars, XFINITY, NASCAR trucks, IndyCar and everything in between, what were the biggest differences that you noticed through the years?

Barrett: The cars have changed so much from when I started in 1991 to today. I really enjoyed driving before they got into the COT [Car of Tomorrow] style. There was a different downforce dynamic, we had more power tracks – you’re really driving, the car was different, you weren’t wide open at a lot of these tracks like they are now, and that was really fun. I do enjoy these cars because it’s a different downforce, different side force, you can get away with a lot. You can save them when you couldn’t have before – once you got too lose, the car was going around.

But NASCAR’s implemented some really great rules aero-wise that makes for good racing, and I think keeps cars together more and [has] less carnage, spinning out and stuff. Like you can get them pretty sideways now and save them, so it’s fun. I haven’t been in cars a lot in the last six years, I’ve always raced one time or so, but they’re different. And I prefer the old car, [but] the new car is much safer, which is awesome for the sport. The IndyCars were super fun, I love the street races and running the ovals were pretty fun, but I prefer the street races in any car.

Al Unser Jr. was our rookie driving coach when I ran a few IndyCar races, and the advice that he gave us probably the best explanation to understand all cars. He goes, “a race car’s a race car. It’s tight, it’s loose, it has grip, it doesn’t have grip. You just have to understand that and drive the car for that, and they’re all racecars. Some people adapt to some quicker than others, or [they] never can figure it out.” But overall, he said they’re either loose or tight. And that’s the way a racecar is. So it’s been fun to be able to drive so many different varieties of series and in race cars.

Cheek: And do you have any upcoming plans with NASCAR, or any other racing series, at the moment?

Barrett: Not right now. I’ve been talking to some teams; I’m working on maybe putting a program together in NASCAR. Now, my time’s a little bit more manageable. I really kind of took a break, had my career really in racing already. I’ve been looking to maybe go back full-time, talking to some people working on some deals, maybe go [to] truck or Xfinity. I will race some this year. I’m sure I’ll get in a Cup race and an Xfinity race.

I do have part of the Nashville Music City Grand Prix in Nashville for the IndyCar weekend, and I believe I’ll run a Trans-Am car there. I ran Trans-Am a couple races a couple years ago, and I think we have a deal to run two cars there in one of the feeders here, one of the series during that weekend, so that’ll be fun. I know I’ll get into some cars this year. [The] road course at Mid-Ohio, we built a really good road course car with Andy Hillenburg, so I’m gonna run the Mid-Ohio ARCA race. And then, who knows, we’ll see. I’d like to go to [Circuit of the Americas] in one of the NASCAR series, but it’s all sponsor-dependent or if somebody has a problem and can’t get approved or whatever, I get calls last minute.

Cheek: Looking back over your career, how do you reflect on nearly 30 years at various levels of NASCAR?

Barrett: Done a lot of racing. A lot of hard work, a lot of dedication. I mean, it was fun, I’ve had a lot of bad luck, should have won a couple races and that can change a career significantly. Just sometimes things don’t work out. I think, overall, I’ve put a ton of effort and work into my career, and I can’t complain. I had a great career, I did it for a long time and made good money doing it.

[I] supported myself, met great people and had amazing experiences, and learned [things] to help me with other business … I own teams, I did a lot of marketing, I handled a lot of marketing programs, put a lot of deals together. So overall, it’s been a huge benefit for me in life generally. I mean, it was a great career, like I said, I’ve been really fortunate to drive a lot of different cars. And it always could be better. But I think I did well with opportunities I had, I can say made a career out of it.

Cheek: On a similar note, how do you reflect on having been in the movie industry for three decades now?

Barrett: I’ve been lucky [laughs]. I’m lucky to be alive on some of the stuff I’ve done. Looking back at all of the stunts and just moments [where] anything could go wrong, I’ve done some really big things and dangerous stuff, but you also rely on your experience and your abilities and expertise and that’s why you’re there.

So I don’t think I would do some of the things I’ve done in the past, but I’ve just been blessed and I’ve also worked really hard at it. I’m very fortunate to have had so many people trust me and have the opportunities to have done and worked with so many different coordinators and on great films. I’ve been able to produce and direct and write and second-unit direct and I feel like I’ve had a successful career. Hopefully [I’m] respected amongst most of my peers, and I could say I’ve had a complete career in the film industry, and it’s not over yet. I can’t complain, [I’m] just very excited to keep creating and coming up with [ideas]. I’m a very creative person anyways, so it’s fun to be on set and help make creative come to life and alter it to make it work. Or figure out how to do things that people write that are impossible, but you figure it out and it becomes possible … or figure out how to tell the story in a dramatic way.

Those are all real exciting things and I don’t plan on stopping making films probably until I can’t walk. Maybe not all the stunts, it definitely takes a toll on the body, but it’s fun: those are my friends, being on set’s fun, the challenges are fun, so it’s something that I enjoy doing hopefully do all my life, but looking towards more directing. Stunt coordinating is fun, second-unit directing and letting other guys do the stunts, [but] I still enjoy hitting the ground and letting you know you’re still alive [and] feel some pain, other than normal pain from injuries. But I’ve had a great career and if it was over tomorrow, I think I’ve done well and had success and worked really hard to accomplish it. I had a great opportunity with my dad exposing me to the industry, of course, but I think I made the most of it.

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