Goodbye, Barry

Barry and the Morgan

I learned this week that Barry Rowe has passed away. I’m sure the fact that he’s gone will hit me like a ton of bricks in a little while; my mind is still in denial about the whole thing and cannot yet accept it.

Goodbyes are never easy. A goodbye whose chance to be has all but passed is even harder.

I’ll put it in very simple terms: Barry is one of those people who had an outsized influence on who I am today. He was instrumental not only in my developing love of autocross and motorsport, but also in my participation in organizing events and running clubs. I would not be Solo Director for the Detroit Region SCCA if he hadn’t encouraged me back in my college days to chair autocross events, chair road rallies, and participate on the Champaign County Sports Car Club (CCSCC) Board.

The best way I can think of to honor his memory is to share some of the memories that come to mind, in no particular order.

The TVR guy

I first met Barry at the CCSCC autocrosses out at Rantoul. At the time, we has running his British Racing Green TVR 2500M, a car that I had no idea existed before I saw it.

That TVR 2500M was not his only example of the marque. He had two TVR 280i convertibles in his garage when I first met him, another example of a car that I had never seen before and haven’t seen out in the wild since.

Barry was also involved in the national TVR club, if I recall correctly. I think the club’s website was maintained by him, at least during the late 2000s and early 2010s.

British car things

Barry was where I first learned that British car jokes are a thing. I was so naive at the time, I assumed that all classic cars were just as reliable and usable as their modern descendants, just older. So to hear people make fun of how terrible old British cars were was news to me.

One of the things he’d say over and over again, especially as he was running his 2500M, was that you could set a watch to the amount of time that would pass before the gearbox on his car needed a rebuilt. (I think it was 21 months of use, so not even two years could pass without a major service of some kind!)

Also memorable: that 2500M is the only car that I know of that managed to weep oil from the radio. (The line for the oil pressure gauge ran behind the radio, and once sprung a leak, leading to the confusing moment of electrical components appearing to leak oil!)

As the first diehard British car guy I had met, I didn’t realize at the time that his eccentric choice in cars and a penchant for the interesting but terribly impractical would slowly rub off on me. It would be years before I became a Little British Car (LBC) car guy myself, with the acquisition of a Morgan Plus 4.

My safety steward of choice

For the CCSCC autocrosses that I chaired, there was one constant: I always picked Barry to be my safety steward.

Others may have complained about his pickiness when it comes to course approval, but I never had any trouble with him. It’s probably because the two of us had very similar ideas on what constituted a safe course, so I never had to butt heads with him on the courses for my events.

Pen and paper, please

There was one place where we did butt heads.

Tom Ingles and I were pushing CCSCC to modernize. There was thing brand spanking new computer program that had just been developed called AXWare, and Tom and I were adamant that computerized timing and results were the way to go.

At the time, we had a JA Circuits system where the timing crew would write each run time, read straight off the JA Circuits timing box, onto custom printed index cards, one card for each competitor. At the end of the day, we’d have fun runs, not necessarily because they were in demand by the entrants, but so that we’d have time for the timing crew to pull out calculators and manually tabulate the final results of the event.

Barry, at first, wanted nothing to do with AXWare. He didn’t trust the idea of registering people straight onto a computer, and he was worried about what would happen to timing if the old timing box display was replaced with a laptop and no provision for manually reading off and recording a time.

Ultimately, a compromise was struck. We’d use the existing index cards for registration, and then input those details into the computer when we ran the event. If something failed, we’d fall back on the index cards.

Suffice to say, we never had to fall back on the index cards after a year of figuring out how best to use and run computer timing.

I think the next year after the introduction of AXWare, we dropped the index cards entirely, instead registering people directly in the computer as they walked up to registration.

My oldest autocross t-shirt

It’s bright neon yellow, and has the words “Labor Pain” written across the top, with a 1976 Honda Civic graphic on the chest. It’s from 2007, and it’s by far the oldest autocross t-shirt I own.

My girlfriend asked me about it one day.

Why was it called Labor Pain, she asked. Autocrossers love puns, I replied. The event took place on Labor Day weekend, you see.

What is the car on the front, she asked. It’s a Honda Civic from the 70s, I replied. Why a Honda Civic? Well, Barry was tired of hearing competitors complain that none of the CCSCC autocross t-shirts ever had Hondas on them, so he finally put a Honda on the t-shirts for his event.

Naturally, to troll them, it wasn’t a modern Honda that he printed on the shirt, but an ancient one — a Honda that Barry himself had owned and autocrossed decades ago.

I’ve still got the shirt. May it continue to confuse lay people for many years to come.

Garage Mahal

When I think Barry, I think of Garage Mahal.

Garage Mahal was a squat cube of a building behind a house in Urbana. The first floor had floor space for four cars, with the prerequisite lift on one side of the floor plan. The building was a two story building, with an upstairs office filled with books and memorabilia, a beer tap, and a mini-fridge.

The first floor was painted an off-white on the walls, with a light epoxy gray on the floors. The only burst of color was perhaps the red lift that was next to the garage door.

But go upstairs, and the ambiance changed dramatically. Warm woods, lit by warmly colored light bulbs, waist-high bookshelves ringing the sides of the room, overflowing with picture books and technical documentation about British cars and other classic machinery, with a long desk along the wall facing the windows. Back wall with the fridge and beer tap, with some signs hanging above. And in the middle of the room, a set of couches and chairs.

Board meetings would rotate between board member’s residences, and when it was time for Barry to host, it was here in the office that we’d meet. Discussing club matters while lounging on the couch, trying to keep up with the discussion as the club secretary furiously scribbling down notes on a clipboard… I’m suddenly nostalgic for those days that seem so very far away from the Serious Business that is today’s regional SCCA Board of Directors meeting.

The Morgan

I’m simply going to cut-and-paste here what I wrote for Curbside Classic when I did the Car of a Lifetime post for the Morgan Plus 4.

He was interested in my Morgan, but he was hemming and hawing on whether or not he could really bring the Morgan home. He had a C4 Corvette and a Cadillac XLR in his fleet that were his reliable runners while his TVRs remained as the needy vintage drivers. Could he really spare the cash and the time to bring home another needy car?

I told Barry that this car had his name on it. He wanted some time to think it through. No problem, I said.

It didn’t take long for him to come back to me and say he wanted the car. He had been talking with his wife, and the conversation was quick and decisive. If Barry wasn’t going to get a Morgan now, then when? And this car was comparatively affordable.

It was during that phone call that I learned just how deep the Morgan connection was to Barry’s life. He and his wife honeymooned in Europe, and they took a tour of the Morgan factory. Their daughter was named Morgan, and it wasn’t a coincidence. And yet, Barry has had many TVRs but not a single Morgan.

But here was a Morgan. And I was offering it to Barry for a very low friend price. How could he pass it up? His wife wouldn’t let him pass this opportunity by.

So we made arrangements for delivery. I personally trailered the car down to his Garage Mahal at my own expense just so I could see him and hang out with him again for a brief while. Barry set about selling his Corvette and his Cadillac to keep the books relatively balanced.

Barry was as happy as a clam when I pulled up to his Garage Mahal with the Morgan in tow. He and a friend were restoring a Model A Ford in the garage at that moment, but as soon as the Ford was done, the Morgan would be next.

Perfect, I said. After all, the skills needed to restore that 30s Ford are exactly the same skills needed to restore this 60s Morgan!

Emails unanswered

Barry did in fact keep me informed of his adventures with the Morgan.

They were very long emails written with a lot of love and care. I always felt like I needed to respond in kind with a long email of my own, but as tends to be the case, I’d put it off and then eventually forget to respond.

The last email I got from him was this September. It was short and sweet, and contained a surprise at the end.

I’m driving the Morgan every day it doesn’t rain. Love it! This winter I plan rewooding the body tub. I painted the fenders and they are alright. Good enough for who it’s for. (Me ).

I had a recurrence of my oral cancer after 3.5 years. Had surgery and now I get both Chemo and radiation. But it should take care of it. I love following you on Facebook.

Regards, barry

The email was titled “I thought you might like this…” and had this as an attachment:

Young me shooting pictures at a Parkland College Scholarship autocross.

I didn’t know at the time that Barry was on borrowed time. I assumed that because he made plans for the winter to work on the Morgan that he’d be okay. I’ll just stop by and say hi when I go back home for the holidays, I told myself.

Well, so much for that.

I should have responded to his email and said hi. I should have let him know how much he impacted my life.

Closing remarks

Scrolling through your Facebook page, reading the comments of others left upon news of your passing, I’m struck by the fact that a lot of people remember you as a friend and as a teacher.

And as such, so do I. I never attended a school where you taught, yet you still taught me so much outside of the school setting where you are perhaps remembered best by most of society.

I only wonder if the people you’ve left behind know how many other people’s lives you’ve touched. The wave of grief, which I kept at bay when I started writing, is finally breaking through the dam.

Thank you for taking me under your wing back when I was just a kid with no idea of what he was doing. The National competitor, autocross organizer, safety steward, and club board member in me simply would not be here without you.