Having just hooned around a race track at more than 200km per hour, Andrea Barry is, understandably, looking a little windswept. However, the driver of the V8 car she’s just clambered out of – her son Sam – is offering little in the way of reassurance, admitting that a video of his terrified mum in the passenger seat is already on YouTube.
“Never say never, but I probably won’t be doing that again for a long time,” Andrea (52) says, as Sam, a New Zealand Touring Car driver, laughs.
It takes a brave person to jump into a race car for a lap around Hampton Downs. But that’s not what makes Andrea a truly courageous woman – her beloved husband, farmer and stockcar driver Peter Barry, died following a racing accident eight years ago.
It's her steadfast support of her three children – Olivia (26), Robert (25) and Sam (23) – and her willingness to continue as the head of the family dairy farm in the wake of Peter’s passing that makes her brave.
And perhaps the most incredible part of this family’s story is the bond Andrea and Sam have forged through Sam’s own racing career, which has continued despite his dad’s accident.
“Pete wanted to get the boys into the racing first, so we bought a mini-stockcar and the boys started doing the racing. Then Pete realised he wanted to be out there as well,” recalls Andrea.
It was a family affair, she tells with racing most weekends. But a freak accident in 2009 saw tragedy strike, when Peter suffered a brain injury from a crash at an event in Palmerston North. He never woke from his coma while in hospital and died a week after the accident.
“Sam and I were at the track at the time,” says Andrea. “We’d just dropped Robert off at school in Cromwell and Olivia had just gone over to England to do a year’s OE. So we had to get them home.
“It was a matter of hunkering down as a family and that gave us a lot of strength.”
Only two weeks before the accident, Sam and his dad spent time overseas on a bonding trip.
“I knew my dad as a hard-working farmer. I couldn’t have asked for a better dad,” he tells. “Peter was a hard-working guy, great sense of humour. ‘Work hard, play hard’ was one of his mottos,” adds Andrea.
So Sam, who was only 14 at the time, didn’t hesitate to get back behind the wheel not long after the accident.
“I was a bit young, really, which was probably a good thing,” he says. “It didn’t make me scared of the track at all.”
And Andrea was completely behind her son as his talents saw him compete in higher classes of racing.
“I remember Sam saying to me, ‘I’m going to have to give up school and be a farmer.’
“And I said, ‘No, farming is what we did for us.’ We didn’t farm for the kids,” she says matter-of-factly.
“I didn’t mind him getting back on the track because it was a freak accident. There was nothing that could be done. Sam is an amazing driver; he’s proved that so many times.”
“We don’t blame speedway at all,” asserts Andrea. “It’s probably one of the reasons we’ve carried on – to show our commitment and passion. And I guess if we turned our back on it, it would be against what Pete believed in and wanted to do as well.”
With a Rookie of the Year title already under his belt in his first year driving in the NZ Touring Car series, Sam has his eye on driving in Nascar in the US. And he does all this while working 50-hour weeks as a heavy fabrication engineer at home in Waipukurau.
“Motorsport is almost a family; it’s really tight-knit,” says Andrea. “A lot of people in the farming community and competitors in the racing community really rallied around after Peter’s death.”
Remarkably, Andrea continues to lead the family dairy farming business in Hawke’s Bay, which she and Peter started from scratch.
“Sometimes I thought it would be easy just to sell it all but then I’d think, ‘Well, I’ve got a lot of mouths to feed,’” she says. “I think it was harder to sell than to not sell – I have really good staff, really good people around me.
“But most importantly, the kids were leaving home around that time and I wanted them to know this is where home is. That wouldn’t change.”
For now, Andrea and Sam can be found at race tracks most weekends as they travel together in aid of his dream.
“It’s been really good bonding for Sam and I, and gave me an interest and a passion too,” says Andrea.
“The racing has really been a two-way street!”