Women In Motorsport – Stephanie Barnes

Scrappy and me at Mosport in 2019. I didn’t stop grinning for months. (Photo: Valerie Barnes)

Vintage Class – 1972 Volvo 142E



Born in Calgary, 1962. Lived in Calgary until 1967, then moved with my family to Vancouver Island. It was also a very good year. Moved back to Calgary aged 18 because there were no decent job or business prospects on the Island. 1981 was also a very good year.

Pets: Charolais cattle, cats, ducks and chickens. Always chickens. I used to breed fancy show birds and compete in breeder fairs. My mum thought it was cute that I would wash and then blow-dry my chickens in the bathroom sink. My father thought I was crazy.

I have been owned by a fantastic series of Maine Coons since 1984. There have been dogs and chickens also, but I am always in the company of fluffy, crazy, gentle giants.

Career Information

Work started when I was 9 years old. I grew up on an old fruit farm in Victoria. The farm was called “Ferndale” and it consisted of a magnificent old mansion surrounded by an orchard, stables and gardens. Scenic bus tours would stop and let tourists photograph our house. Eventually, the bus drivers started letting tourists off the buses so they could get better photographs, and that lead to tourists walking all over the grounds, through the gardens and orchard, sometimes into the house… When they started picking fruit, I recognized a business opportunity: I built the World’s Ugliest Fruit Stand, and sold little paper bags full of overpriced fruit to the tourists. They stopped picking fruit off the trees, and I made a stupid amount of money. I have been an entrepreneur ever since. MOST of my businesses have been legal. ALL my businesses since becoming an adult have been legal, just so you know…

How Did You Become Interested in Motorsport?

On September 12 1976, I found myself watching Wide World of Sports. Niki Lauda was making his first appearance after his horrendous crash and burn at Nürburgring. I was transfixed by the sight of this man, his head covered in bandages and clearly in terrible pain, slide back into the same kind of car that had tried to kill him only 6 weeks prior. What kind of passion could drive someone to that kind of dedication?!? At that very moment, Niki Lauda became my first, my best, hero. I decided that I had to be a race car driver.

It took a long time to get there, but I never lost sight of what I wanted to do. Every ounce of joy when I’m racing; every rapid heart rate, every “waaahoooooo” and every toothy grin, I owe entirely to Niki Lauda. He was my first, my best, hero.

Motorsport Experience / Competition Cars:

God, I love my car!

Meeting Regis was what made my racing dream finally come true. Prior to becoming a Geologist, he had been an auto mechanic for many years. When I told him what I wanted to do, he was all for it. He found my cars, he figured out how to make them worthy, and he made it happen. Without Regis, I couldn’t do this. We started in autocross in 2002, then slalom and solo, then road course racing.

My first race car was”Sparky the Wondercar.” She’s a 1974 Triumph TR6, with WAY more power than brains. Regis kept figuring out how to make her faster, but everyone who knows about TR6’s is aware that they do not stop, and they do not turn. This isn’tideal for a sport requiring both.

Early days at Race City, 2002. Has it really been that long?!?

Then there’s the fact that a TR6 is an open car… Despite the stellar roll bar fabrication work by Derrick Roshack, the realities of what might happen in a rollover wore heavily on Regis. He reached his limit one day after watching Sparky take me sideways and up a berm at speed in Spokane. As soon as we got back to Calgary, Regis found me a new, safer race car; one with actual brakes and steering! I love Sparky, and I will keep her forever, but she is now a deeply sexy street car, not a race car.

My “new” car is a 1972 Volvo 142E with a very long racing pedigree. I bought her sight-unseen from a delightful man, Paul, in Massachusetts, who gleefully handed her over to “some Russian guy.” When I phoned Paul for the shipping information, he told me”Mikhail has it. No, I don’t have a shipping invoice. No, no shipping number, either. No, he doesn’t work for a shipping company. Phone number? No, I don’t have that either. I’m sure it will be okay, though. He seemed quite nice.”

Castrol in August. Photo: Valerie Barnes

I was horrified. I had no idea if my car would show up at all, let alone when. We waited. We waited some more. Then, three weeks after she had been picked up by “some Russian guy,” I got a phone call from a “decidedly non-Russian guy” who said “I think I may have your race car in my backyard.” We retrieved her from a truck-stop in Montana a few days later, brought her home, and christened her “Scrappy.”

She isn’t nearly as fast as Sparky on the straightaways, but DAMN, she turns and stops far better than Sparky ever could. Six years later, I have no regrets at all. Scrappy isn’t the fastest race car out there, and she is pretty heavy, but she’s a tonne of fun to push to the edge! I really enjoy the challenge of getting everything Scrappy can give me, every lap of every race. It isn’t easy keeping up with the pack in a 2675 lb car with only a 2 litre engine, but it sure is fun!!


Standout Motorsport Experience

Mosport was everything I hoped for, and a LOT more. Photo: Valerie Barnes

There are two: First, the Vintage Grand Prix at Mosport in 2019 was a HUGE thrill. I gotto share the track, so to speak, with all my racing heroes. In fact, it was a massive
undertaking to keep my mind on the track instead of bathing in the history of that
hallowed place. I spent all 5 days there with perpetual goosebumps. What a fantastic

Second, the bittersweet experience of saying goodbye to our beloved home track “Race City Motorsport Park” in Calgary in 2011. In the last lap of the last race there ever, our entire vintage field slowed down, assumed formation, and made the entire last lap waving checkered flags. Then we stopped on the starting line, got out of our cars and wept, hugged, laughed and reminisced. There wasn’t a dry eye in the stands, nor race control, nor certainly on the track. I miss that place so very, very much.

Which Kind of Motorsport Do You Watch on TV?

I find it difficult to watch racing on TV. My body wants to corner, brake and accelerate with the cars, which feels really weird. I can’t help it. I can’t play racing video games either, for the same reason. I’m wired funny, that’s clear.

What Would You Change/Improve in Motorsport?

We need more young people involved in motorsport. We need more women of all ages involved in motorsport! We need to get across to the fans and followers, particularly women that you can be involved in this sport in many capacities, from track workers and officials to race teams. So many people don’t realize that there is much more to racing than being a driver. I am very fortunate to be part of an excellent team, and I make damned sure they know I couldn’t do it without them.

Parting Info:

An added tidbit: Our team is Big Cat Racing, and its constant members are: Regis Sylvestre, (Crew Chief) to whom I have been happily unmarried for 25 years; and Valerie Barnes, (Paddock Chief) to whom I have been a sister for 59 years. What they do for the team cannot be overstated. Without them, I don’t race. Period. And then there’s all the support industries, from Bel Race Engines in Edmonton, to Pierre Guyon’s “Dyno Plus,” to Jimmy Bailey at Vex Performance, and particularly Derrick Roshack at D&R welding; without all these amazing people, racing would be a lot more difficult, and Scrappy would spend a lot more time up on jackstands…

I also don’t race without the stellar volunteers who make the entire sport possible in the first place. I hope everyone who gives up their time so generously knows how much I love them for it. I really do.