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“Brothers”

by Sheila Somers

Published in Shorttrack Magazine - July/August 2005 issue
 

“Brotherhood” is not always a kind word in today’s society, though the #29 Brotherhood is truly synonymous with the Webster’s Dictionary intended definition.

Webster’s defines the word as, “A group or society of men united by a common interest.” Barry Gray’s Pro Stock #29 race team at Monadnock Speedway strongly portrays that brother bond. Fondly referred to as “The Bridesmaids” because of their numerous second-place finishes, this team of six talented and accomplished racecar specialists does whatever it takes to support its main man, driver Barry Gray, and to win races. The six are about being a winning team. Per their motto, prominently posted at their race shop, “There is no I in team.”
This saga commenced some seventeen years ago when Barry Gray and longtime friend Leon Chartier were on a mission to buy a washing machine for Barry’s wife, Jamie. Instead they came home with a racecar.

“She wasn’t thrilled, but now you couldn’t keep her away from the track,” says Gray.
Neither Gray nor Chartier raced. Gray was into auto sales and service and Chartier was a welder, and not even a racecar welder. Yet it was agreed upon right from the get-go that Gray’s role was driver and Charter’s, owner. Thus birthed the #29 team (Gray was age 29 at the time).
“It has been fun watching the team mature,” observes Chartier. Matures it has, with over 70 wins and ten second-place points finishes over the years, beginning in the old Street Stock Division, then to the Late Models (with two championship seasons) and on to the current ProStock. And although Chartier is humble, his teammates proudly offer that he was True Value Mechanic of the Year in 1998.

Chartier was quick to move the subject to a July 4, 1998 memorial race when Gray passed all three first-place cars, Pete Fiandaca, Roger Raymond and Bob Goodenough on the last lap and won the race. Excitement and admiration filled his voice.

Just how does a group of guys like this six come together and remain successfully united for so many years? It’s that “Brother” thing. Crew Chief Gary Moore came to help out the team “for just a few weeks,” back in 1999. That was a championship season. He brought with him experience as crew chief with driver Chris Kopek and gelled with Gray and the team. “I can look at the car out on the track and know what it is doing, but I wait for Barry’s input before making a call,” he says. His strategy is to make the car right, with no breakdowns and all top-three finishes. “As a team, we all have the same goal of winning,” he declares.

Each teammate has a piece of the work during Gray’s track time, whether it is practice, qualifying or a feature race. Chartier is the timekeeper and mechanic. Moore calls cautions from the stands behind the starter. Alan Barthelette, with the team for fourteen years, is on turn-one with a radio and answers any questions from Gray. He also observes the tires from track-level view. Barthelette likes to work from the high-banked corners at Monadnock, a particularly difficult and fast quarter-mile track requiring hard work on the part of any good race team. He also is the refueler and has maintained the tranny and rearend through three championships. “All these guys are my brothers and like brothers we overlap each other without ‘second-thinking’ it.” Barthelette says.

Then there is the youngest team member at age seventeen. Ryan Rivet is the tire guy. Rivet is in his own second season of racing Enduros. “It has helped me to develop the good eye-hand coordination you need in racing,” he says of his tire duties. “I have gained a lot of racing knowledge from Barry like how to handle certain situations or specific setups. There is also the team relationship that can’t be taught. You need to experience it.” There is that “Brotherhood” thing again.

Ron Rivet is the spotter. When Gray is on the track, Ron is at the start/finish line. “Barry and I have been doing this for so long (ten years) that Barry quite often knows what I am going to say when I key the mike,” he explains. “I feel responsible for Barry when he is out there. What we do, we do as a team. When we win; we win as a team. That is probably why we have stayed together so long.”

The character of the team is Walter Puchalski. “I’m just there for the hot dogs,” he blatantly states, but he also keeps the brake temperatures, changes the oil, and checks the exhaust system, brakes and fuel. The hot dogs are a benefit for Walter. At their race shop, you may find Puchalski in the driver’s seat holding weights. He needs the weight to equal Gray’s driving weight while the car is measured and balanced (he jokingly claims, Barry is a porker,”). The bantering is continuous between the longtime friends-the brothers-until they reach the track.
As the #29 hauler pulls into Monadnock at midday Saturday, Barry Gray, “The Driver,” a positive and competitive racecar driver and a favorite of many racing fans, is manning the transporter. The team goes about the weekly race preparations. Barry Gray, “The Team-mate,” is helping to move the 29 from its temporary home in the transporter, rolling tires to the tire truck, etc. Says Gray, “Races are won and lost in the pits.” For the moment, the team is focused on the race day. Barry pulls his own weight in the “#29 Brotherhood.”

Barry Gray, The Racecar Driver,” says, “Every time I get into the car I feel I have a good chance to win.” Is there another competitor whom he would like to win if he could not? “Hell no. It’s me or nothing,” he admits. Is that self-centered? Well, Gray is competitive and loves to win. The drive to succeed is a natural high for him. There are races that, above all, give Gray that high, like a 100-lap race when he blew a motor, borrowed one from Kirk Alexander and made the feature finishing second-to Alexander. Gray said he just couldn’t pass Kirk for first-place. Or consider when in 1999 his Pro Stock got wrecked in the heat. The entire team, along with a group of friends, united by a common interest, pitched in to get the #29 into the feature. The track officials even made them put the roof back on in order to race. They came in sixth.
In 2003 in the third race of the season Gray was seriously injured on the track, suffering a crushed vertebrae fracture. He chuckles as he offers that the most memorable thing about it was his doctor’s name, Dr. Hacker. The hospital receptionist was happy at his discharge, relieved of the huge onslaught of concerned calls from Gray’s loyal followers, friends and fans. Gray came back and doesn’t feel he ever missed a beat.

“Joy is winning and fear is not being competitive,” he declares. Gray will quit when he can no longer be competitive. That will not be any day soon. Is it still fun? “Absolutely,” he says.
The #29 Brotherhood is much much more than a winning race team. They have a passion too give their all, to be the very best they can be and to share this with their extended family, the #29 Brotherhood.

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