April 27, 1963 - August 09, 2009

  Caught up in a Whirlwind

2 Kings 2:11-12

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, "My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!" And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.


I keep replaying the crash scene over and over in my mind trying to make sense of this, but it doesn’t work. The car had made more than 200 passes down the salt with eight different drivers, seven of them posted speeds over 240 MPH.  Except for 1997 when Jeff crashed, (just a slightly bruised elbow), primarily due to soft salt, the car has never given a hint of a handling problem. Since the rebuild, it was like it was on rails. This was a most unusual and violent crash! The car had made a 235 MPH pass three hours prior. On the last run, it was going straight and fast, about 235 MPH a couple of hundred yards short of the five mile marker, a little wiggle and it was over. On the run, he was leaning on a stiff crosswind, which is not unusual, but something strange happened. It appears that the crosswind abruptly changed direction.  

This passion was our family thing. You can check out the updates at www.bryantauto.com then to Bryant Racing.  


Photo by Thomas “Pork Pie” Graf – October 2008

Tom Dunlap: Barry Bryant loved racing and history

Barry Bryant was always in motion, revved up about something.

I've hiked with him on walking tours promoted by the Shasta Historical Society and had trouble keeping up. He walked with a sure-footed gait in the woods, at ease with Mother Nature.

He knew the names of tiny flowers growing in secluded niches, and he could relate tales and events that happened in that neck of the woods 100 years ago.

So when confronted with the news of Barry's death on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, I was overcome with a feeling of great loss. At the same time, I was overcome with a feeling of great comfort for him, knowing that he was doing what he truly loved to do. Given the choice, there's little doubt Barry would have wanted to leave us in any other way.

Perhaps you've driven by Bryant's Automotive on Churn Creek Road, just north of Cypress Avenue, and seen the Tom Thumb Special parked on the premises. Sleek and slender, it was a beauty built for speed. All the Bryant drivers had pushed it beyond 200 mph.

So on that fateful day, with Barry at the wheel, it was just another run until something went terribly wrong.

Barry's dad, Tom Bryant, has a knack for motors. He can fix the sick ones and make the strong ones even stronger. He and his wife, Margaret, were blessed with a daughter, Sandy, and three sons: Jeff, Dan and the youngest, Barry.

As for that Tom Thumb Special, it was just the latest addition to a long list of fast cars the family has owned, built or driven.

Like all racing cars, it evolved year-by-year, trophy-by-trophy. That's what racing is all about. As time went by, Barry grew into all of this, adding his skills and ideas to the mix. And from it, like the rest of the family, he took his joy.

Racing was more his passion than his pastime. As a member of this racing family, the Tom Thumb Special was more than just a car. To see the family tree of racing achievements, go to www.bryantauto.com.

Last May, I took a picture of Barry with an old military metal canteen punctured by bear teeth. He was holding an engine valve assembly from a WWII Navy bomber that had crashed in the Sacramento River Canyon in 1943. Barry wandered rugged terrain until he found the remains. He tracked down information on the ill-fated plane and its occupants, after which he spelled it out in detail for the upcoming 2010 edition of "The Covered Wagon," the annual publication of the Shasta Historical Society. He brought the incident back to life and clarified the facts. Barry liked to do that sort of thing. He was a teacher, philosopher, photographer, fisherman, mentor, miner, mechanic, geologist and a joker. And for those lucky enough to know him, he was a friend.

Barry had a mind for the future, yet he was an expert on the past. I think he had visited every mineshaft for miles around. He could tell you when it was dug and what it was worth. And he probably had a picture of it. He loved to seek out gold rush-era water ditches. And if you wondered where the Ruggles Brothers did their robbery, he could take you there.

Rest assured Barry is still revved up and among us. His story will be told at campfires and car races for countless years to come. And you know he's sped through life as if it were a race. Listen now and you can hear him cheering! After all, he beat us to the finish line. 

Tom Dunlap grew up in Shasta County, attended Redding schools and Chico State University. A former R-S photographer, he lives in Redding with his wife, Fran, and two pesky cats. You can contact him at 245-9055 or tomscolumn@sbcglobal.net


Barry receives his “Red Cap” August 2002 – Record D/Gas Competition Coupe 228.843 MPH




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Last Updated: 09/09/2010