Longtime Stars and Stripes motor sports editor and automobile columnist Randy Barnett died Saturday at his home in Clarksville, Ind., from a fall he took there Dec. 12 as a result of Parkinson’s disease. He was 79.
Barnett, who retired in 1991, spent most of his quarter-century at Stars and Stripes covering European motor racing and critiquing new cars in his weekly Car Corner page.
“He introduced me to my first race at Hochenheim (Germany),” recalled former Stars and Stripes photographer Regis Bossu. “He was internationally recognized. ... The man was respected and loved. ... He was always congenial. He was the ‘old class’ of American character.”
In his heyday at Stripes, Barnett provided readers in-depth interviews with the giants of Formula One, ranging from Sir Stirling Moss and Nikki Lauda to Ayrton Senna. A 20-plus-year member of the International Racing Press Association, he covered the Formula One and Rally World Championship tours on a regular basis, reporting from stops as near as Silverstone, England; Spa, Belgium; Hockenheim, Germany; Monza, Netherlands, and Monaco to others as far away as Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Long Beach, Calif.
Readers came to depend on Barnett’s expertise and insight as he chronicled the transformation of Formula One racing from the upmarket traveling circus it resembled in the 1970s into the multibillion-dollar monolith it became by the 1990s. They also came to rely on his weekly Racing Roundup column to keep them informed of local and Europe-wide events on the racing calendar and provide summaries of recent news in the racing world.
An avid motorcyclist, Barnett felt fortunate that his newspaper career paralleled the domination by American riders of the 500cc division of the world road motorcycling circuit during the 1980s. Barnett relished in bringing the exploits of four-time motorcycle GP world champion Eddie Lawson and three-time winner Kenny Roberts, both of California, and two-time king Freddie Spencer of Louisiana to the attention of Stripes’ readers.
In his role as Stars and Stripes’ automotive tester and critic, Barnett reviewed models from Europe, Japan and the United States. For Americans purchasing European or Japanese models, Barnett provided observations to help them determine the best buys in what for many was an entirely new market. He also produced in-depth features about such subjects as the pitfalls and possibilities of converting European-specification vehicles to U.S. requirements.
Barnett, a native of Sterling, Ill., who served in the U.S. Army of Occupation in Berlin during the immediate postwar years, attended Iowa’s Coe College and began his newspaper career in the Midwest in 1950. He arrived at Stripes as a copy editor in 1966 after stints with newspapers in Tucson, Ariz., and Southern California.
Barnett is survived by his wife, Teresa, of Clarksville; a son, Rodney, of Johnson City, Tenn.; two daughters, Lesley of Mankato, Minn., and Helene of Sandhausen, Germany, and eight grandchildren.