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Returning Afghanistan veteran gets huge surprise from racing friends

May 6, 2013

When his orders came to deploy to Afghanistan in June of last year, Steve Barrett of Prescott, Conn., set aside his biggest project; rebuilding the stock race car he'd run for years but wrecked in April 2012. After 10 months overseas, Barrett returned last month, and on Saturday his friends and family welcomed him back to his home track with a little ceremony — and a new Super Stock race car, built for him in secret.

Barrett, a staff sergeant and inspector in the National Guard’s 1109th Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group, had no idea what was in store when officials at the Waterford Speedbowl asked him to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. What he didn't know was that while he was deployed at Bagram Air Force Base, his friends had formed "Racers for a Soldier," holding fundraisers and organizing a team of dozens to rebuild a chassis from scratch, with a donated rebuilding of his old 350 cu. in. V-8, new roll cage and paint — eventually spending about 1,000 hours on the project.

After the pledge, Barrett was brought to the edge of the track, where he was presented with a few gifts, and then told to turn around as his new car thundered up, wearing his racing #14.

“When we unveiled the car, it was just amazing to see his reaction,” his wife Teresa Barrett told The Bulletin of Norwich, Conn. “I was fine. I didn’t start crying until he started crying, and then I lost it.”

Barrett — who had missed racing enough in Afghanistan to buy a remote-control car and run it for practice — was awestruck. "It’s going to take awhile to settle in. I’m very, very appreciative of an awful lot of people apparently," Barrett told The Hartford Courant. He wasted no time in putting on a new firesuit and doing some laps immediately after the unveiling; after some extra practice to get acclimated to his new wheels, Barrett ran the 50-lap feature race Saturday night, finishing 11th and looking like he won it all.

Top photos: Waterford Speedbowl via Facebook