A seemingly season long divide between the Valenti Modified Racing Series and the camp of 17-year old series competitor Tommy Barrett Jr. has climaxed with one final 2012 feud over the division’s Rookie of the Year title.
Barrett, competing in his first full season with the series in 2012, had three victories and finished sixth in the final standings. Barrett’s camp was under the assumption that the finish locked up the Rookie of the Year title for the young driver from Millis, Mass.
Not so fast Valenti Modified Racing Series officials said. The Rookie of the Year title in 2012 will not go to Barrett but rather will be awarded to driver Mark Bakaj of Lebanon, who finished ninth in the season standings.
The news that Barrett did not win the title set off a litany of angry postings on Facebook by former NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour team owner Mario Fiore, who said he serves as an advisor for Barrett.
“Hopefully if everything comes together with all parties, Tommy Barrett will compete for a “legitimate” [Whelen Modified Tour] Sunoco Rookie Award in 2013 & not one run decided by “vindictive mf’n a-holes”” Fiore posted on Facebook on Tuesday.
Valenti Modified Racing Series operations manager Chris Rock said Barrett never filed paperwork to be a part of the Rookie of the Year program and even if he had, he wasn’t eligible to win the award in 2012.
“The rulebook clearly states, a driver cannot have participated in more than six Modified Racing Series events during any prior season,” Rock said of the eligibility standards for the award. “Last year he participated in seven. He was ineligible to begin with.”
Barrett drove in five main events in 2011 on the Valenti Modified Racing Series. He also participated in heat races in two more events, but failed to qualify for those races. According to Rock, attempting to qualify for an event by running in a heat race constitutes participation in an event when it comes to the standards for the Rookie of the Year award. On that basis, Barrett participated in seven events in 2011, making him ineligible to run for the Rookie of the Year award in 2012.
Rock said series owner Jack Bateman explained that situation to Barrett’s father Monday by phone after continued online attacks from the Barrett camp directed at series officials in the past few days concerning the award. Rock said Barrett applied to be eligible for the Rookie of the Year award in 2011 but not this year.
“He did not fill out a rookie application [this year],” Rock said. “We would have thrown it out anyway because he wasn’t eligible. Mark Bakaj was the only rookie application I received.
“What Mario is doing to the series is not kosher and it’s not acceptable. That is poor sportsmanship for that racing team all the way around.”
Attempts to reach Barrett were unsuccessful. Mike Calinoff, whose company 140Buzz represents Barrett, said the driver had no comment on the situation.
Fiore said that on numerous occasions during the season Valenti Modified Racing Series press releases listed Barrett as a Rookie of the Year Award candidate.
Rock said that no matter what the rules of eligibility were, there’s no rule that the award even goes to the highest finishing rookie in the standings. She also said that the rules state: “The member needs to be in good standing at all times.” to qualify and that Barrett was penalized for his actions multiple times during the season and was actually on probation at the end of the season.
Fiore has repeatedly argued in Facebook postings that series officials mandated that Barrett run a yellow stripe on his rear bumper through the 2012 season, signifying his rookie status. Rock said that while Barrett ran the stripe this year, nobody from the series told him he had to have it on his car.
“Nobody made him run a rookie stripe,” Rock said. “[Series official] John Spence Sr. told him he should do that because it was his first full year of racing with us and it would look good, but no officials told that team he had to have that on his car.”
Barrett’s issues with series officials began early in the season when he was penalized in multiple events for aggressive driving. After another instance of aggressive driving at Lee USA Speedway in Lee, N.H. on June 29, Barrett was suspended for two events.
On Aug. 31 Barrett won his first series event in the Shark Cycle 80 at Stafford Motor Speedway and followed that up with a victory in the next series event at the Waterford Speedbowl on Sept. 8.
But on Sept. 14 at Stafford, Barrett parked his car on the track during an event after he was black flagged for leaking fluid while making a run toward the front of the field late in the race. Asked by a track announcer about being penalized Barrett said over the track public address system of the Valenti Modified Racing Series: “They’re just ridiculous. They’re just the worst series.” He apologized for making the remark the next day but stood by his statement that the series officials unfairly targeted him with the penalty.
He went on to win in the season ending event at Lee on Oct. 20.
“Do I think he’s talented?” Rock said. “Yes I do. But what comes in the whole package I think is a bad mix. And I feel bad for him. He’s polite and good when he’s by himself, but when he’s with his dad and Mario, he is rude, cocky and nasty.
“He’s somebody that we don’t want in the series. Not that I don’t want him, I don’t want the whole package. I think that the whole package is a bad deal. I feel sorry for him. I think he’s very talented. That’s how Jack and I both feel about it. I just think that Mario is overstepping his bounds. He has nothing to do with the series. He’s a has-been. I feel sorry him that he’s a has-been and he’s trying to relive his own racing career that never happened and trying to get him a ride. That’s not going to make it look good with all these nasty comments and all this stuff that he’s doing.”
Jon McKennedy won the Valenti Modified Racing Series championship this year, edging second place Rowan Pennink, who also competes full-time on the Whelen Modified Tour. Norm Wrenn was third in the standings, Chris Pasteryak fourth and Lou Mechalides fifth. Fiore said Barrett, who spent two years competing in the SK Light Modified division at Stafford Speedway, is a bigger star than anybody else running the Modified Racing Series regularly.
Fiore, who last competed as a team owner on the Whelen Modified Tour in 2001, said Rock and Bateman have a vendetta against Barrett and his team.
“He doesn’t even want to race with them people,” Fiore said. “They mistreated him from day one. He’s a bigger star than anybody they’ve got in that field and I’ll tell them all to their faces. He puts people in the grandstands, the other ones don’t. They should have nipped this in bud months ago.
“I got a phone call from an MRS official that told me that the whole thing smells. Every official is on board with Tommy Barrett as Rookie of the Year. As you can see, some of them have stepped away. They know that it’s not right. They know Chris Rock has a vendetta against Tommy. That’s their sandbox, they can do whatever they want. It’s not a big deal but I’d like those people to be exposed as total frauds. And that’s exactly what they are, they are frauds. … They’re nobody’s. We’re looking to go race where the kid gets paid, makes money. Those people are zero’s. That’s a stepping block. He stomped on those people in one year.”
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