I know nothing about NASCAR but when journalist Eric Benson suggested I interview a driver for this blog I agreed it would be fascinating to discover what someone who skirts death every day thinks about the topic. I excitedly shot out an email to the swashbuckling young NASCAR superstar Joey Logano and got the following reply from Team Penske:
“While I appreciate the time for writing me, I would have to tell you that we will pass on this opportunity. Most drivers, including Joey, do not want to talk about death because it is always a possibility in our sport.”
Clearly, death is taboo for racecar drivers, which made me even more interested in speaking to one. After several more dead-ends I was led to Stanton Barrett, a NASCAR driver, Hollywood stuntman and more recently, movie and commercial producer. Barrett is the son of driver and Paul Newman stunt double Stan Barrett, who unofficially broke the Land Speed Record in 1979 when he drove the Budweiser Rocket at 739.666 miles per hour across a dry California lakebed. Not to be outdone, Stanton’s mother is a former World Cup slalom skier. Basically, a set of genes spiked with athleticism and daredevilishness, but what about deathlessness?
Other Great Reads: How to deal with grief after an accidental death
Describe to me the feeling of racing an automobile at 190 miles per hour around a track?
You are driving on the edge. You are pushing the envelope every lap, every inch of that track. There is no resting point. You’re constantly watching other cars, drafting, side-drafting, figuring out how to get past the other guys. You’re constantly adapting to variables. You’re trying to maximize everything. You take it as far into that corner as you can go. Where the edge is is always changing, and you’re always trying to find it, always challenging it, taking it down, taking it within one foot of that edge. It’s not about a rush, the rush you get is the competition. It’s more exhilarating that you are moving at speeds that are challenging yourself and your equipment.
Does death pop into one’s head at all when driving?
You don’t think about death in the car. When people do stupid things, like take someone out on purpose or drive over their limits you kind of think about it, but it doesn’t affect you. You have a different approach to life. You are doing something that kills a lot of people, it’s risky. I don’t like listening to ambulances at the track, I don’t like talking about death at the track and I don’t like walking around the intensive care center. You are around these people every week, you are racing them and they are your family network. If someone dies at the racetrack and you are there it is not a good feeling. It casts a very negative mood on everything. And of course you are about to jump in a car and do the same thing. If we can avoid thinking about death we do. But if your friend dies you’re going to care. You tell someone before the race, ‘Buckle in, good luck,’ and next thing you know they are not there at the end of the race. That’s not something to be taken lightly.
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Has your daredevilishness changed over time?
I was jumping off my house when I was 6 years old. When I was 8 I was skiing extreme terrain where if I made a mistake I would die. I started racing motocross at 9. I started doing stunts in movies at 15. I raced pretty much fulltime for about 20 years. My approach to life is about respecting life and living everyday like it’s your last and not taking anything for granted. People always complain about this or that, they go to bed at night mad at somebody. I don’t have time for that. When I wake up in the morning I don’t know if it could be my last morning waking up. In general, I think people are so worried about dying or getting hurt that they forget to live life. Well, what’s the point of living if you can’t live? We’re all going to die sometime. I would rather live as full and vast a life as I can than worry about death. But as you get older you do think about the risks you take more. Now, although I still race a bit, I am primarily directing and producing commercials and films (Barcode Entertainment and Media). I am more cautious.
Many people I interview complain that the commercialization of the funeral industry and other factors have made Americans increasingly ill-equipped at handling death, do you believe that to be the case?
I prefer not to go to funerals and I think a lot of racers would say that. People pay their respects in different ways. In no way do they not take it serious or mourn or care any less because they don’t have some hoopla or some mourning periods. In my opinion, how long you mourn for doesn’t matter so much, you got to get on with your life. Do something to make a difference, do something to help their legend live on, don’t just sulk and sorrow. Getting on with life, celebrating life, that is the best way to deal with death in my opinion. Though everyone has their own way and I don’t really judge or care to judge anyone else’s way.
If you could design your last day on earth what would it be like?
I don’t know, I don’t really like to think about it. There’s no good way to go. I would prefer not some of the bad ways, some long terminal disease. I don’t worry about it, that’s for sure. It’s going to happen quicker than you know it. I worry about living every day I got, and trying to make the most of it. Hopefully it won’t hurt anyone else or be too painful for myself.
Do you believe in reincarnation?
I grew up in a Christian home, I believe in salvation and heaven. I don’t believe in reincarnation. I believe in Christ and salvation and that he died on the cross for our sins and asked for our forgiveness and God has created us and we’re imperfect. I believe that if you have faith in him then there is a better place after this. I think that is one thing that has really helped me take the chances I have and risk my life in the ways that I have and go to the extremes that I have. I give it my all and the worst that happens, I die and go to a better place. In that regard I have always had a little bit of comfort.