Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, January 17, 2018, 7:48 p.m.
It was just about a year ago that Barrie Jarman was born. Amazingly, he is now nineteen years old.
Barrie is the hero of two novels I’ve written in the past year. He was born in a sleepless night. I was almost finished with a manuscript called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I am almost finished with it now. When I dreamed up Barrie, I sat aside Mickey Statler and his daughter Marcia, Dylan Wannamacher, Milo Hirley and Rashawn Ling, not to mention the newly elected President of the United States, Martin Gaynes; his attorney general, Nathan Beale; and the Consortium, a nationwide conspiracy whose leaders are named Bentsen Lilley and Patrick Trintignant.
From time to time, during twenty years driving and flying to and from the great race tracks of the land, occasionally, high-ranking officials said to me that, since I obviously hated the sport, I ought to find another way to make a living, but Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated were what I did for love. In that sleepless night, I thought long and hard about how different the racers of today are from the ones who populated the sport when I first got started, and Barrie became my personal invention of what stock car racing needs now.
Barrie, who couldn’t do anything with his daddy and whose daddy couldn’t do anything with him, showed up at his Uncle Charlie’s house in an old Ford pickup towing a yellow Mustang he was racing on the South Carolina dirt tracks. The old Mustang had a decal of a marijuana leaf where the taillights were on highway cars, and Charlie Jarman, an old racing hand, noticed three things right off: Barrie was rough around the edges, was smart as a whip, and could drive the hell out of a stock car. Charlie got two Ford officials to watch him race on a Georgia short track, and they saw enough to find him a ride in the second-string series of FASCAR, which is the governing body of big-time stock car racing in the novel. In the sequel, Barrie gets a ride in the big time at the age of nineteen.
A three-sport high school star who turned down a baseball scholarship, Barrie speaks his mind, which does not endear him to the high-ranking officials of FASCAR. He falls in love with a beautiful young African American nursing student, Angela Hughston, who is the sister of Barrie’s best and damned-near only friend, a driver in the Truck Series. He mostly cleans up his act but still goes his own way enough to make the head of FASCAR consider him a tremendous pain in the ass.
Telling Barrie’s stories was the most fun I’ve ever had writing fiction. Writing through the eyes of Uncle Charlie taught me how to be funny, whereas, in my first five novels, I was only amusing. Both novels are short. Both are funny. Both are fun. I thought the novels would take the racing world by storm as much as Barrie did in them. Few racing fans are in the Book of the Month Club (if such a club even exists anymore), and, inside the sport, I believe the novels might have been as “too hot to handle” as Barrie.
I expect I’ll write another novel about Barrie, but I’m going to set him aside for now. I’m finally about to put Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell on the market, and the novel after that is likely going to be about baseball. I’m still waiting for the literary world to catch up with Barrie.
Many readers think I just changed the names and based Barrie, Charlie, Angela, her brother Errol, Jerry McCarley, Frank Maglie, Cade Rawlings, Jay Higbe, and other characters on real people. Several readers have suggested that Barrie is really Tim Richmond, and I never once thought of Richmond while I was writing the novels. They apparently thought I was rewriting Days of Thunder, and my first reaction was, Really? Surely it’s better than that. Barrie drew more inspiration from the kids playing high school sports around here. I was trying to make him a throwback and a modern kid at the same time.
Now, as NASCAR tries to find young drivers to save the sport from the absence of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, and Danica Patrick, I think it could do a lot worse than Barrie Jarman.
Even though Barrie is fiction, that’s the truth.
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If you live in these parts, signed copies of Cowboys Come Home, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated are available in uptown Clinton at L&L Office Supply and Emma Jane’s Gifts.