Wrapping Up My Weekend At Barber

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The Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is now in the books and I came away with a mostly positive experience. First of all, hats off to the promoter of this event. When I was there on Friday, I heard a few fans grumbling about some of the parking situations. By the time we returned on Sunday, the problems had been rectified. For a first time event, things operated very smoothly and the vast amount of volunteers who worked there went out of their way to make sure all the guests were taken care of.

Now for the negative; from my vantage point overlooking turns two and three and based on the glimpses I could get from the TV monitor – it looked as if most people’s predictions of a parade came true. At the time of this writing, I have not seen the TV broadcast, but from what I saw live – it seemed to be a race that was decided by the speed of the pit crews as well as pit strategy.

This was my first race as an attendee at a road course. I’m not going to say I didn’t like it, but it was a totally different experience from the oval races I have been to. It was a more laid back crowd, as they were content to sit on blankets on the grass and have either a picnic or a few adult beverages while watching the race. However, the crowd in Birmingham certainly seemed to be more schooled in the Izod IndyCar Series drivers and teams than the fans at the oval race in Nashville, which is my closest point of reference to this race. Indy is a whole different animal and cannot be used in a fair comparison to any other event. I was a little surprised that most of them began to pack up their things at around lap 60 of the scheduled 90, but maybe that’s the road course way.

The Alabama fans all seemed to know who the drivers were and didn’t seem at all bothered with the lack of passing. Plus, they all were dressed in either IndyCar garb or T-shirts emblazoned with the event logo. There were very few NASCAR themed T-shirts from stock car fans who felt the need to make a statement, like we usually got in Nashville. These fans seemed to get what this event was all about. And believe me, this entire weekend was an event. I have business acquaintances in the area that said the race was heavily promoted and the city was very happy to have it.

Yes, I would say the track needs some work. I’m not smart enough to know exactly what track modifications need to be made. I’ll defer to others on that, but it doesn’t take an engineer to know that better passing zones need to be created. If they can get that squared away, this will become a top stop on the circuit each year. The Izod IndyCar Series needs more venues where they are embraced by the local communities. So many times, an IndyCar race is treated as an inconvenience by some tracks. Here, they were certainly welcomed.

Media Experience: This was my first time to attend an event with media credentials. It was certainly an interesting experience, albeit somewhat intimidating at times. On Friday, I was wandering the pits with all of the hustle and bustle going on. Even though I was totally within my rights to be in there – I felt in the way, because I was not interviewing anyone at the time or “covering” a particular story. I felt that to be hanging around just because I could, would have been abusing the privilege that I had been granted, so I left the pit area.

On Sunday, I was in the pits prior to the race and again felt a little out of place as I saw Curt Cavin, Kevin Lee, Robin Miller and the Versus crew all running around doing their duties. This time I stayed though, until the first lap of the race and then migrated to turns two and three. With about fifteen laps to go, I made my way back to the main straight to take in victory lane. My trusted photographer, Susan Scruggs, got some great shots of winner Helio Castroneves and the entire celebration. I’ll post the rest of the weekend camera shots to the flickr account on the home page of this site, later this week.

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I must confess to succumbing to the trappings of where I was and committing a bush-league act of a rookie. Shortly after Lindy Thackston’s interview with Helio, Jack Arute interviewed Tim Cindric directly behind me. I couldn’t resist the temptation. Instead of playing it cool and going about my business, I involuntarily found myself turning around and facing the camera right over Tin Cindric’s shoulder. All I could imagine was my family saying “Good God! There he is.” I was jarred back to my senses when the cameraman motioned me away and mouthed “Get out of the way”, with a look that would kill. Much to my dismay, my brother had recorded the race so I made an idiot out of myself for nothing. But if you recorded it, and you see a sunburned middle-aged guy acting like an adolescent fool – that’s me. I hope such a rookie move doesn’t get me barred from covering future events.

More name dropping: One of the more flattering things I’ve had happen to me, occurred on Sunday morning. I was in the media center again helping myself to the free food, when Dave Lewandowski of IndyCar.com walked up and introduced himself to me. I looked at my badge to see if it had my name on it. It didn’t. Again, like a rookie – I asked how he knew who I was and he said he recognized me from my blog. Wow! That was pretty heady. It would be easy to let this stuff go to my head, but all I have to do is remember my brain-freeze on Friday with Randy Bernard to bring myself back down to earth.

One person that I certainly wanted to meet Friday was Kevin Lee. He is the only one I had made an effort to e-mail that I wanted to try and meet up with. He and I have swapped many e-mails over the past year and talked on the phone, but had never met. We sent text messages back and forth on Sunday until we finally met up. No disrespect to anyone else I met this weekend, but meeting Kevin just seemed like talking to an extension of his radio show. It was like a couple of friends that knew each other just standing around talking racing. Later, I caught his eye in the pits while he was in the middle of doing his IMS Radio broadcast, and he mouthed “Hi, George” as he walked by. He’s truly one of the good guys.

All in all: It was one of the most enjoyable weekends I’ve ever had. It was almost surreal being in the inner sanctum of the sport I’ve followed pretty much all of my life. I felt like a kid, and couldn’t believe where I was at times. If I ever do this again, I’ll go with more of an agenda other than just taking it all in. But I really appreciate the comments I’ve gotten this weekend as everyone has put up with my self-indulgence. Later this week, I’ll come back down to earth, actually discuss the race after I watch the broadcast and things will become normal again. Thanks for following my weekend.

George Phillips

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32 Responses to “Wrapping Up My Weekend At Barber”

  1. Stephen_P83 Says:

    Well, even though I have a ticket to the Barber race in hand, I wasn’t able to make it to the race. Sometimes having a job really gets in the way at a very inconvenient time! I forgot to set my DVR and only finished my work for the day after the race started. I was only able to start watching on lap 15. I counted all of the passes that happened on track that I saw on the TV coverage. I didn’t count when someone had a spin and got passed like Simona towards the end or a pass when someone had just gotten out of the pits. I did count when a lapped car got passed on the track (yes both cases of Milka getting passed on both sides counted!). There were more than a few times when it looked like a car was going to be passed, then the TV went somewhere else and later I saw that a pass did happen. I didn’t count those because I never saw the actual pass on TV. The total number of on track passes I counted starting from lap 15 was 32. Like I said, there were more during the race, but the TV didn’t catch all of them and it never will catch them all. All in all, it was a good race. I think if the track was a little wider there would have been more passing, but there was quite a bit of action during the race. It wasn’t a parade as MANY people were thinking it was going to be. While the track looked amazing on TV, you can tell it wasn’t necessarily designed with car racing in mind. Even though it was first meant for motorcycles, it produced a good race and it’ll probably get much better in the future.

    I was REALLY hoping Marco would have won this one. Penske has gotten three in a row now. I know George is happy with that, but I just wish they would give someone else a chance before we get to the oval portion of the schedule and they continue to win everything.

    Milka doesn’t belong in the car. Her performance is laughable. What a joke!

    • Hi Stephen,
      I don’t think the circuit needs to widened as such, but if some of the slower corners were tightened a little, there may be more room for passing – but then again it all depends on approach and entry too

  2. The fans were happy to see Helio climb the fence…
    The “new look” is still too new and shiny…I like the older vitage stuff..looking forward to Bobby Rahal’s Lotus event there-
    Mr. Barber is a classic and what a fantastic addition to this series-moving forward.
    I thought Scott Dixon had this race and it looked as if he thought so too.

  3. George,
    Sounds like an awesome experience. I hope you never get too comfortable with the media credentials to share these little inside peeks at what goes on behind the scenes. I enjoy hearing about a side of the sport so few will ever get to experience. Thanks for being our eyes and ears, keep up the good work.
    Tom

  4. Saw you on TV, after it was pointed out by someone else and I went back to look again. It was the sort of thing where you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t looking for it.

    If you end up watching the TV coverage, you may be surprised at the passing that was picked up. The race turned out to be better than I’d anticipated.

    And they even had a pre-race piece about the giant bugs.

  5. I agree with Tom, George. You do a fine job writing from your perspective and that’s what makes it unique.

    My thoughts: beautiful venue, I like it that the IIRS is there. But I do hope they tweak it a bit before next year. it was funny/scary to see drivers going around Duno on both sides–“the Duno sandwich”–but I really think she and her sponsor should be sent to the minors. I’m disappointed that Versus has dropped coverage of Indy Lights. Good to hear that Bernard is approachable and confident–seems like a good hire. Restarts bug me–are they supposed to be single file or two by two? They just always seem messy. I liked Barber’s version of “start your engines.” And while it sucks that Penske is so good–it’s encouraging that other teams seem to be stepping it up a bit.

  6. John McLallen Says:

    George, you wrote an excellent recap and after this past weekend and the work you have put in I would say get used to it. I look forward to the growth of Oilpressure.com and your future observations because of your being closer to the series that we are al so passionate about. In my opinion, there isn’t a better scribe.

  7. Ron Ford Says:

    George, I think you are much too modest. You are a pretty good scribbler. My dad always told me not to spend too much time beating up on myself because there will always be others willing to do it.

    Anyway, yeah, great venue, great crowd, but the race was just a parade like too many street and road courses. Why the designers seldom lay out these tracks to allow for more passing is beyond me. The scenery at Barber is beautiful, much like Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, but Road America has many more places to pass. Hopefully Mr. Barber can make some changes to the track to allow more passing next year.

    Should have been Marco’s race. He appears to be very focused this season and very fast.

    When you were wandering around the pits, did you notice how the Penske equipment reflects the captain’s precision approach to everything? There is never a speck of dirt on anything. He usually has about five of those little scooters lined up in such a straight row that it appears someone used a surveyor’ transit to line them up.

    Keep up the good work. If we want to read aging boomers vicariously reliving their drug-addled past through Hobbs we know where to go. (Just kidding Roy) LOL

  8. George,

    You should NEVER feel inferior to Robin Miller.

  9. Simon Garfunkel Says:

    George, you have brought one of the most unique perspectives to a race weekend I have ever read. Not only have you told us what its like being at the track but you have given us all a glimpse into the behind the scenes world without the highbrow opinions of the pro journalists. I hope you get to go to more races this year and give us some more insights. Keep up your good work. I love this blog!!!

  10. Thanks for sharing your thoughts George. I don’t always agree with you but I respect your very well thought out opinions and observations. You bring a perspective that isn’t seen anywhere else and I really appreciate it.

    I saw on tv that a lot of people had left before the end of the race and was very surprised. I wish this race was about 10 laps shorter so it a two stop race for everyone and no fuel saving. I think the end of the race was hurt by Andretti, Helio, and Dixon not really challenging each other because they had to save fuel to make it to the end.

  11. Just looked at “the official” new blog…must say that you do a much better job, George. The new blog is too pretty, too offical, and screams “control”.

    If you went “official” you would have to do what you were told and write what they told you to write-
    How boring is that?

  12. Leigh O'Gorman Says:

    What’s this..? Oh – it’s George towering behind Big Tim :)

    http://tinyurl.com/y7rokgg

  13. I didn’t enjoy the race at all. A fuel miliage parade finish…. That sums it up. No talent required, unless you completely suck (Milka). Of course, Nashville and Richmond were just as bad.

    • Dude, it wasn’t that bad. If it were a “no talent” thing, then the entire field would have finished nose to tail, because a faster guy would have been parked on a slower guy’s gearbox all day. Instead, you had Helio, Dixon, Dario, Power, Andretti and Briscoe, all excellent road course drivers (well, Marco…he has his days, I guess) up at the front. If it were entirely down to strategy and then no passing were possible at all, we could have wound up with Danica winning. Or Mario Moraes. That was never in the cards. The fast guys wound up at the front, as they usually do. And sometimes fuel mileage plays a major part in who wins a race. Welcome to auto racing. It’s been like that since 1902.

      Mind you, I’m not saying that there couldn’t be improvements made to the track to improve the overtaking situation (though I’m not entirely sure where), just that this wasn’t the non-overtakepocalypse that many people are making it out to be. And even if it were…so? Didn’t we just have two excellent races just before it? And isn’t Long Beach usually good? And isn’t Kansas usually decent? And isn’t Indy always Indy? And…so on and so on. Just…relax. One subpar race doesn’t mean that an atom bomb needs to be dropped on Alabama, or that the entire sport is headed down the toilet. Cheer up. There’s another race on in 5 days.

      • Glad you enjoyed it. I didn’t, and we’re both allowed to have our own opinions. I thought it was awful, and I’m not alone in that view. Fuel finishes have been around, and generally they are boring. Compared to the World Superbike or MotoGP events, Barber just doesn’t hold up!

      • Leigh O'Gorman Says:

        Well Dylan,
        What would you suggest to put an end to “boring fuel finishes?” I’m wondering if there are any workable theories that are based in physics rather straight up statements.

      • First of all, I understand that fuel finishes are sometimes part of racing, but it doesn’t mean I’m excited about it. Rain ends oval races early, and it’s unavoidable, but there’s NOTHING positive about it, either.

        That said, there’s a couple ideas. Done right, by mandating enough fuel to make the finish, a refuelling ban could work, although I’m not sure. The other idea, and I like this one more for NASCAR, is shorter sprint type races, maybe in World Superbike fashion. And prehaps larger fuel tanks, or shorter, whichever would be more effective in cutting the amount of fuel finishes.

        Physics wise, not sure. I would assume you’d either use the greatest or least efficiant desgin, to make it either so fuel efficiant that might reduce fuel finishes

  14. WOW….

  15. great venue, but no way that was a great race unless you’re a fan of pit strategery or qualifying. It is a beautiful race course but they need to make some minor adjustments to add to the competition.

  16. Great write-ups from the track, George. I’m looking forward to more of the same from you in the future.

    And don’t feel too bad about the victory lane thing. 1) It wasn’t that bad. If I weren’t looking for you, I’d have thought it was just some guy wandering around back there, unaware that Cindric was being interviewed…which happens about once every four races. Somebody’s always in the background of the shot. At least you weren’t waving to the camera. 2) You’re not alone there. One of the only times I’ve had pit access for a race, I wandered around behind Wayne Taylor pretty egregiously while drinking a Gatorade, simply because I knew he was being interviewed by ESPN. There’s something about a TV camera being present that turns me into an 8 year old. Anyway, the tape of my one and only televised racing appearance is floating around in my basement to this day.

  17. bickelmom Says:

    Loved it, George! Keep up the great work! Your perspective is unique and fun!

  18. BentWickerbill Says:

    I would like to see any of the naysayers, especially the ones who make statements like there is no talent involved here, complete one lap at speed at Barber (never mind 90)…. The same armchair quarterbacks many of us must endure listening to every Monday here on the job, who couldn’t throw a football 50 feet, (much like many sports commentators) make equally outrageous comments with regard to driving high performance open wheel autos. It’s kind of like watching Darrel Waltrip sitting in front of a group of former Daytona 500 winners, some of which were also former Champ car and Formula One champions and saying with a straight face, that NASCAR unequivocally was the most difficult form of auto racing…. Please, give it a rest folks….

  19. Need to make a name change -“BentWickerbill”
    very derogatory-
    Sounds like GP’s syntax but not believable…
    Going rogue?

    • BentWickerbill Says:

      Dear Solar System,
      I doubt that you actually even know what a wickerbill is, or it’s function for that matter, but I do know that it is high time for you to take the needle out of your arm and place it back on the victrola, I think we would all much rather listen to the music.

  20. Dictionary definition of “whickerbill” is derogatry.
    Rather unsophisticated for adult motorsports-

    • Bent Wickerbill Says:

      Again, it is best to first remove the needle from your arm to ensure getting the spelling correct.
      A wickerbill not a whickerbill is as follows:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gurney_flap

      The Gurney Flap (or wickerbill) is a small flat tab projecting from the trailing edge of a wing. Typically it is set at a right angle to the pressure side surface of the airfoil,[1] and projects 1% to 2% of the wing chord.[2] This trailing edge device can improve the performance of a simple airfoil to nearly the same level as a complex high-performance design.[3]
      The device operates by increasing pressure on the pressure side, decreasing pressure on the suction side, and helping the boundary layer flow stay attached all the way to the trailing edge on the suction side of the airfoil.[4] Common applications occur in auto racing, helicopter horizontal stabilizers, and aircraft where high lift is essential, such as banner-towing airplanes.[5]
      Perhaps it’s time to put your blogging crayon down and get your mind out of the gutter….

  21. A name change is needed-

  22. Also, since Simona was 5th place almost the entire race which the average speed was 105 mph…and she spun out…does that make her a legend in the making?
    She is fantastic BTW, just as great as the other fifth place driver-

  23. I’ve been to several street races at St Pete and Denver. The actual race is just a part of the entertainment. I really enjoy the ability to wander around and watch from different vantage points and move along when the need arises. People watching, teams or spectators, is much better at these events too. The access allowed if you have a paddock pass is great. I have many high-level autographs that I could never hope for during a Nascar or F1 event, which I’ve also attended. To me, the only benefit of ovals is the ability to see the whole track, but after the lapping of cars begin, it’s difficult to know who is exactly in what place.

  24. I have read “Winners are Driven” by Bobby Unser
    pg. 15

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