1 Barry Kettering
Barry Kettering with one of his sprint cars. (Bob Gates Collection photo)

Upper Midwest Sprint Car Ace Barry Kettering

His name didn’t often appear in the racing periodicals and he limited his activity to the tracks around his home. But those who witnessed Barry Kettering’s prowess on race tracks throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada still recall him with awe.

A fan favorite, Kettering was the ultimate weekend warrior.

He succeeded in business, eventually becoming the vice president of Norelco Dictation Systems, which was based in Minneapolis.

However, on the weekends he didn’t trade his business suit for golf shirts or tennis shorts, but instead donned a fire suit and a helmet, as he had done since he was 17 years old. Racing was his genuine passion. It was never far from his thoughts, plans and dreams.

Born on Christmas Day 1934, Barry Noel Kettering loved to drive fast on the roads and highways as a teenager, but not fast enough to avoid the law. His mother once told him, “Barry, you’ve got enough speeding tickets to wallpaper your whole bedroom.”

He transferred that passion for speed from the highway to the track, racing modifieds at Thunder Bay Speedway in Ontario. He went through a handful of rides before building a ’34 Ford coupe in 1957. The car carried him to three consecutive Thunder Bay track championships.

In 1960, now married, Kettering migrated with his wife, Renee, to the states. After a short stay in Rice Lake, Wis., the couple put down roots in Minneapolis, where Kettering operated a service station.

To improve his racing success, he replaced the ’34 coupe with a Crosley-bodied, ’49 Ford frame and won consistently with it on the proliferation of short tracks that dotted the upper-Midwest — Raceway Park, Twin City Speedway, Cedar Lake, Fairmont and North Star Speedway.

He progressed through the modifieds and supermodifieds, to the machines he seemed destined to drive — sprint cars.

His winning increased astronomically. At Princeton, a smooth, dirt quarter-mile, he won six track titles. At North Star, he earned three track championships. He ventured back into Canada at one point to claim the Mid-Canada championship. He won so many sprint car features that the exact total has been lost to history.

Kettering seldom ventured far from home with his racing. He didn’t want to. He simply loved racing sprint cars. He didn’t need to make a living from them, develop a career in them or use them as a stepping-stone to other racing levels.

Barry Kettering raced modifieds early in his career. (Bob Gates Collection photo)

When he did venture out into other arenas, he had no problem running with the likes of Jan Opperman, Ray Lee Goodman or Rollie Beale. On one trip to North Dakota’s Nodak Speedway, he started last in the 22-car, 30-lap feature and won. He ran with IMCA at Tampa’s winter racing series and won there. He ran the infamous Little 500 at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway three times. On his third try he was vying for the win toward the end of the grueling event, when a failed brake line dropped him to eighth. Kettering could get it done anywhere he strapped into a race car.

As if his driving activities weren’t enough to keep him immersed in the sport he loved, he founded the Midwest Sprint Ass’n with Ron Larson in 1973.

He served as the club’s president, dealing with the typical racer’s complaints with his easy smile and kind, professional demeanor. He became an outstanding representative for not only MSA, but for racing in general, doing much to alter the image of the racers as roughnecks with grease-caked fingernails.

Being the club founder and its president didn’t prevent Kettering from running hard against the MSA members he served. In fact, in the club’s first years, he won a third of its features and claimed consecutive MSA championships in 1973, ’74 and ’75.  

It was while in pursuit of a fourth title in 1976 that the sport Kettering loved claimed his life. At Fairmont (Minn.) Raceway, his car touched wheels with another and went airborne. The crash looked survivable. It wasn’t. A seat-belt bracket failed.

Kettering is remembered for his rare talent, unselfish devotion to the sport and his unflagging dedication to its perpetuation.


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