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.
“It proved how precious life is and how quickly it can change.”
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.