On the morning of his first testing session driving a Pro Mod for Elite Motorsports, Lyle Barnett admitted to being a little queasy due to nerves.
By the end of the second day, though, the team already knew they had a driver capable of making waves in the NHRA Pro Mod scene in 2021.
In fact, tuner Justin Elkes knew it almost immediately.
“When he did his first burnout, I said, ‘We’ve got a driver.’ He made nine runs and he was exceptional in every run,” Elkes said.
Barnett impressed in every way imaginable during last week’s two-day test session, from that first burnout to his final time slip — a sterling run of 5.678 seconds at 253.09 mph in the Elite Motorsports ProCharger-equipped, Rick Jones-built late model Chevy Camaro.
“It was such an unbelievable feeling,” Barnett said.
Barnett surely ran the gamut of emotions, from the massive nerves leading up to the first pass to the surreal exhilaration after an extremely successful first foray into the class.
Along the way, he put together his first 60-foot pass of less than a second, his first 200 mph pass, his first full pull to the quarter-mile in a Pro Mod and, of course, his first 250 mph run.
Barnett knocked out a lot of impressive firsts, showing the poise, precision and talent of a racer who is seemingly ready to thrive in his rookie NHRA Pro Mod season in 2021.
But with so much on the line during the initial test session and Barnett also wanting to make a good first impression, he was quick to admit his nerves were racing.
“That morning, I was ready to vomit,” Barnett said with a laugh. “This is a big deal and I want to prove I’m capable of filling the seat and make everybody here feel like they made the right decision.”
From the first burnout, Elkes and the rest of the team knew they had their guy.
Barnett impressed on that first burnout, making a quick 60-foot e pass. He went to the 330 on the next pass, going 3.91 to the eighth-mile while not under power.
That was already the quickest he had been to the eighth-mile, and he made a couple more passes that first day, eventually letting out at 1000-foot. By then, he was already going 5.80 at 215 mph coasting to the quarter-mile, which had Barnett all sorts of excited.
“It was a huge relief and a huge weight lifted off my shoulders just after making the first 60-foot hit,” Barnett said. “It was a very successful way to start and I think it puts us way ahead of schedule. For a first outing, it really couldn’t have gone any better. Justin was really pleased with the progress we made and we’re all learning in different areas.”
By the next day, Barnett was making full quarter-mile passes, posting at least a couple of runs in the 5.60s. It was a massive jump forward for Barnett, but he proved to be more than capable of the task.
He went 5.689 at 253.37 before finishing the session with the massive blast of 5.678 at 253.09. It was a lot to take in over the course of just a few days, but Barnett welcomed it, fully admitting there is still plenty left to learn.
“The car drives so well, you don’t really feel how fast you’re going,” Barnett said. “But just running to 1,000-feet, it’s apparent you’re hauling ass. There’s a lot to think about and things to try to understand, learning about where you are on the racetrack. It’s something I hav etc continue to learn. I’ve never been over 200 (mph) before this, so getting comfortable and learning how to drive it is going to take some seat time.”
That may be the case, but Elkes lauded Barnett’s ability and attention to detail. He shut off at precisely the exact moments when he was supposed to, showing a natural ability to read the track, which can only bode well for the future.
“You could tell there just a natural ability to feel a car, reacting to what the car needs without me having to tell him,” Elkes said. “I’ve worked with a lot of drivers and for someone that green in this class to respond how he did, that tells me there’s a lot of natural talent there. It’s super exciting.”
Barnett will test again in January as part of Elite’s annual multi-day team test session before racing at the U.S. Street Nationals in Bradenton. From there, he’ll compete at the CTech World Doorslammer Nationals in Orlando before making his NHRA Pro Mod debut a week later.
Along the way, he’s eager to continue learning and thankful to be part of a first-class organization.
“It’s been just a dream come true just to be given an opportunity,” Barnett said. “I really can’t thank the whole Elite crew enough. Erica (Enders) and Alex (Laughlin) were keeping tabs and checking in and (team owner) Richard (Freeman) was calling. It’s just neat they care so much and have taken us in, and Justin is just a mastermind. It’s unbelievable how talented his whole crew is. I probably won’t wipe this smile off my face for a while.”