Beer Money & Lyle Barnett — Full Speed Ahead
Lyle Barnett knows what drives his passion to race: “Winning, period. There are influencers and there are racers out there. Win, lose or draw they’re happy to be there. I’m not OK with that. We’re there to win.”
Barnett is an increasingly successful NHRA driver. He recently achieved one of the biggest wins in drag racing, capturing an NHRA U.S. Nationals Pro Mod victory in September at the Indianapolis Raceway Park.
But, even with that level of success, he may still be best known as the charismatic driver of Beer Money, a ratty looking Mustang* that became a reality show winner and drag-strip brawler in small-tire, no-prep racing. And all of this has come after an accident that nearly ended his life.
Lyle Barnett prepares Beer Money to tackle the strip.
The longest 28 seconds
In September 2015 at 24 years old, Barnett was prepared to go faster than he had ever gone at the South Georgia Motorsports Park.
“Our goal going down there was to go 190-plus and potentially go 4-0,” recounts Barnett.
But in the finals, an injector let go. That set went lean, burned through the back of the head via one of the oil passages and turned into a “flame thrower” that sent flames into Barnett’s face and helmet. He let go of the steering wheel as he tried to bat at the flames. The car nosed into the wall, exploding a fuel cell and raising the interior to an estimated 1,500°F (816°C).
Moments later, with his seatbelt melted off, Barnett managed to open his door and roll out. Track safety workers used fire extinguishers on him to put out the flames. And then he lost consciousness for two weeks.
Barnett’s burns were most severe where he was under-protected: his face, head and hands. He says his lung damage was also extreme, the “equivalent of smoking 730,000 cigarettes in 28 seconds,” the length of time he was engulfed in flames.
But incredibly, Barnett didn’t just survive, he kept looking forward. He returned to racing with a bang in February 2017 by etching his name into the history books as the driver of the first leaf-spring car under 4.20 in the 1/8th mile.
“I’ll be honest,” said Barnett, “there’s not a whole lot of negative that came from the accident. The two months in ICU and 20-plus surgeries; there’s a lot that I went through for a couple years there. But that was one of the most humbling experiences ever. It proved how precious life is and how quickly it can change.”
Outlaw drag racing is dangerous, even on a racetrack.
“Small tire, no prep is what I run with now,” said Barnett. “It’s really the evolution of street racing, one of those black-market deals that you don’t really talk about, and if you don’t know about it, you don’t know.”
“No prep” means that the racetrack surface is not prepared with traction compounds as it is for most drag racing, keeping it more like a normal street. The result is, no-prep drivers often run on less-consistent courses and without top-level safety gear.
“Outlaw drag racing doesn’t follow a racing body,” said Barnett. “Safety tech was not really a thing and my accident changed that. I’ve said all along, if I saved one life, I’ve done my job.”
Since his accident, Barnett has been speaking out for reforms to make safety “more proactive and less reactive.”
“You’ve got to have on good stuff,” he said.
Lyle Barnett drives Beer Money, a ratty looking drag-strip brawler, to frequent victories in the small-tire, no-prep class.
The perfect tune
Beer Money churns out 1,700 hp.
“In general, we make more horsepower than we can use,” explained Barnett. “As long as the tire doesn’t spin, you can basically go as fast as you want to go.”
Managing that power requires driving skill and, in part, a tuning aspect, whether through timing, boost or traction control. Barnett has a secret tuning weapon in his longtime friend, Pete Harrell of Harrell Engine and Dyno.
“When I first started racing, Pete was an arch nemesis of mine,” said Barnett. “He was a tuner and part-time driver and they used to kick my ass all the time, and I would’ve sworn they were cheating. As they say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. So, in 2015 I joined Pete.
“Pete was the engine builder and tuner for Beer Money on the show. I provide him feedback on what the car is doing. We work well together.”
In 2017, Barnett was fan-voted onto season one of Horsepower Wars, a reality TV show centered on outlaw street racing. Each season is a shootout between four teams of six gearheads who have 10 days and $10,000 to build a street-racing car. The winning team gets $10,000 cash and keeps the car they built.
Beer Money was assembled from a 1989 Mustang and a stock block LS engine by team leader Eric Yost, Harrell, Barnett and fabricators Jason Smith and Chris Bailey.
“It cost about four weeks of my life and probably shaved about another 10 off,” joked Barnett.
The sweet taste of victory: Lyle Barnett and the Beer Money crew celebrate a win.
While Horsepower Wars was being shot, Barnett was interviewed by Netflix for Fastest Car. The show pits tricked-out sleeper cars against exotic supercars, like a 2011 Pontiac* minivan versus a Porsche* GT3.*
“I didn’t necessarily have any sleepers and I definitely didn’t have a super car,” explained Barnett. “So, I had to tell them I didn’t really have anything that fit. But I told them, ‘If we win this show, I’ll have the perfect car.’”
They won the show, and Barnett and Beer Money were on Fastest Car the following season. The reach of that show propelled Barnett’s fame as a builder and driver.
“That’s where I really got my following from,” said Barnett. “That’s where Beer Money got most of its fame.”
Picking up others
Barnett uses his star power to raise money for families with kids in the JMS Burn Center at the Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Ga. where he was treated.
“There’s nothing negative I could ever say about my experience, except of the crash itself,” he said. “A lot of good has come out of it. For example, we’ve helped a lot of kids that have spent their Christmas holiday in the burn center.”
He sees parents who take extended leaves or quit their jobs to be with their kids while they receive treatment and the financial toll that it takes on them. Barnett helps as much as he can, sometimes as a motivational speaker at fundraisers for kids in the burn center.
“It’s nice to be able to provide for those families,” said Barnett.
The AMSOIL decision
Barnett is a true believer in AMSOIL. He was introduced to AMSOIL through Harrell, who was an AMSOIL Dealer when he and Barnett started working together.
“He used everything from Break-in Oil to MP and Racing Oil,” said Barnett. “I have tried other brands, but always come back to AMSOIL. You can have great results elsewhere in the engine, but if bearing life isn’t good, then it’s time to make a change. Bearing life is just imperative.
“We strictly base the decision to use AMSOIL on what we see in the engines after 25 to 30 runs. That is why we stayed with AMSOIL and why we have never turned back.”
Barnett still has goals to chase down.
“I don’t think I’m done climbing,” he said. “I have aspirations to go to top-fuel racing. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I may have the opportunity to at least license and see if I can catch a ride.”
But, for now Barnett plans to continue with Beer Money as the flagship of his program.
“Some people may think that’s sad, but I love that thing and it does pretty well. It may look like a pile of junk, but I love it.”