Jeremy Barnes driving the Mazda RX-7 GTO at Mazda Raceway.

Jeremy Barnes, 48, is Mazda North American Operations’ director of public relations and brand experience. Married with no children, Barnes owns a 1960 Healey Bugeye Sprite, a 1967 Jaguar E-type coupe and a Spec Miata he races with NASA SoCal. He has raced a Honda CRX, Volkswagen Sirocco, a Chevrolet Camaro, Mazda RX-7s, a Mazda6, a Mazda RX-8, Spec Miatas, a Mazda2 and Mazda’s RX-7 IMSA GTO in historic racing.

Jeremy Barnes (right) working with a journalist at the MX-5 Cup media day.
Jeremy Barnes (right) working with a journalist at the MX-5 Cup media day.

Q: What racecars have you owned?

A: The first racecar I owned was a 1984 Mazda RX-7, running in Spec7. I couldn’t afford a trailer or tow vehicle at the time, so had to drive it from Los Angeles, where I lived for work, down to San Diego and out to El Centro to race it. I parked it in a beach parking lot one day, and it was towed because I didn’t have the money to renew the registration … yeah, those were the good and the bad days!

My next racecar was another RX-7 I fitted a street-ported 13B in, and ran it in SCCA Radial Sedan, a bit of a catchall class like a NASA PT class. I had a blast with it, and won a bunch of races, set a bunch of lap records and won a regional championship. I sold the car, plus spares and a trailer, to a friend — and yes, he’s still a friend! — for $5,000. He sold the car and trailer two years later for … yup, $5,000. Ah, the value of a used racecar.

I rented and begged and borrowed cars for a while, and now I am the proud parent of a 1990 Spec Miata. Best racecar ever — fun, fast, competitive, cheap and … did I mention, fun?

 

Q: How many racecars have you had to write off after a crash?

A: I’ve written two racecars off, one Spec7, in about 1992 or so, and one RX-7 that ran in RS. I broke an axle and piled into a tire wall at Firebird Raceway in Phoenix.

 

Q: What’s the key to coming back, mentally, after you total a racecar?

A: I suppose it depends who you are, and what caused the crash. In my case, I’m a pretty positive and upbeat person, and I have a really strong sense of confidence in myself. With the Spec7 I wrote off, I simply ran out of talent. I was able to face that situation though, understand what I did wrong, and was able to put it behind me and move on.

With the RS car, that was easier, because I managed to determine that a broken axle shaft inside the axle housing caused the car to snap sideways and slam into a tire wall. Once I got it home and figured out that it was a mechanical, rather than operator, failure, it was easy to move on from there.

 

Q: You drove the Mazda GTO RX-7 at the Goodwood Festival last year. Tell us what that was like.

A: Let’s just say I’m a very lucky boy. Goodwood is a total bucket-list thing, and whether you get to drive it or just go to watch, you have to go! Imagine the entire Monterey experience in a space the size of Mazda Raceway – auctions, races, new cars, old cars, bikes, planes, auctions and everything else car-wise, and you have Goodwood. Trust me, just go.

What’s the car like to drive? This is a long story, but you did ask. First off, it’s hot. And heavy. And loud. And all in a very, very good way.

To start the car when it’s cold is a bit of a production. The ECU is a bit primitive, so you have to teach it what closed and wide-open throttle looks like each time you turn the master-switch on. It goes like this: switch master on, hold throttle wide open, turn ignition on and off three times, turn ignition back to on position and hold throttle wide open for a 15-count, release throttle for another 15-count, apply slight throttle and press the starter button. It usually barks right to life if it’s warm, but takes a bit of cranking if it’s cold or hasn’t been run in a while.

Once you’re underway, make sure to get the tires thoroughly warm. With the short wheelbase, it’ll swap ends on you in the blink of an eye on cold tires, and with very limited steering lock, it’s all-but impossible to catch it. Once the tires are warm, you can start pushing, and the grip levels are huge.

It’s a dog-ring gearbox, so you just lift about halfway off the throttle to change up through the gears, no clutch. With first gear offset to the left, second through fifth are in what would usually be the standard 1-4 H-pattern, meaning it’s hard to miss the gears you use most. I don’t use first on the track, because all it does is spin the rear wheels. I use the clutch on the way down the box — I never skip gears — mostly as a matter of timing. You still have to match revs to get it in gear though.

This is no shrinking violet of a racecar. Either you’re in charge, or it is. The car doesn’t really mind being told what to do, but it’s equally happy telling you what it’s going to do next.

All in, it’s an incredible car to drive. I was a corner worker in the ’80s and ’90s, and remember watching this car race at Del Mar (Calif.). It is one of the reasons I’m such a fan today, and one of the reasons I started racing back in the late ’90s. It’s a pleasure and an honor to drive it every time the opportunity comes up.

 

Q: You’ve raced the 25 Hours of Thunderhill 12 times. What is the most valuable piece of advice you can give a new team that will be taking on that race?

A: It’s simply the best single race weekend of the year. There’s just something about racing at night, and there’s something about the magic of endurance racing. In sprint racing, it’s all about absolute lap times, and about doing everything flat-out and right now. In endurance racing, you have a responsibility to turn over the car to your teammate with brakes, tires and everything else still in great condition.

I’m incredibly lucky to have run the 25 with a giant, near-pro outfit like Robert Davis Racing, where we run four or five cars and have 60-plus crewmembers, and with smaller teams where we had six people, including the crew and drivers! I will say, the camaraderie of a group of like-minded people can’t be beaten, and it’s a lot easier to do stuff like the 25 — when it’s cold, raining, snowing, foggy and just generally miserable — with the right number of people.

My one word of advice for a 25-hour newbie is this: preparation. You can’t do too much. You can’t start too early. That said, you can absolutely be too cocky, and your results will be colored by the amount of effort you put in.

 

Q: Your car number is 14. Is there any meaning or personal significance to that?

A: As a corner worker, I always found it easier to remember the brightly colored cars, and I always appreciated the cars with numbers that were easy to jot down if I needed to remember them. So, with the number 14 being made up of a bunch of straight lines, that would have been what I’d have considered an easy-to-jot-down number

My racecars have always been yellow too, to cover that bit about racecars being a reflection of their owners. Not that I’m yellow, but, well, OK, next question?

Oh, and Roger Mandeville, one of my Mazda heroes, always had yellow racecars with blue numbers — although his number was always 38 — and he was one of the pioneers of Mazda racing in the US in the 1970s.

Jeremy Barnes’ No. 14 Spec Miata.
Jeremy Barnes’ No. 14 Spec Miata.
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Image courtesy of Al Merion Padron