As you read this (assuming you are reading this before 10:00am central time), Susan and I are en route to Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, AL. Although it is not the Indianapolis 500, I get very psyched up heading into this weekend. For the third year in a row, the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama is only the second race of the season. For those that didn’t perform well at St. Petersburg two weeks ago – the pressure is on to get their seasons back on track. For those that finished in the Top Five in the first race, they want to continue their momentum. After a week off for Easter, drivers, teams and fans are anxious to get back to racing.
Another reason why I’m excited for this weekend is that we always go there. We’ve attended every IZOD IndyCar Series race that has been held here beginning in 2010. We also attended a pre-season test here in March of 2009. We love going to Barber. Although it is now a running joke to call this a beautiful facility – it really is. I used to say that term was code-speak for boring racing, but after last year’s race, I can no longer say that. Last year’s race at Barber was one of the most entertaining races of the season. Here’s hoping that was due to the raciness of the DW12 and that we can expect more of the same this weekend.
If you’ve never been to Barber Motorsports Park, you probably don’t get it that it truly is beautiful there. The scenery doesn’t fully translate to television. I’ve never been to The Masters, but from what I’ve seen on television Barber Motorsports Park could be compared to Augusta National. There are lush green lawns that surround manicured flowerbeds filled with dogwoods and azaleas around many of the turns. They may have a challenge on their hands this year since the south is having such a late spring.
Nashville is only three hours north of Birmingham. We had snow on the ground in Nashville just two weeks ago. Had they held this race last weekend as they did a year ago, they would have been met with dark gloomy skies and temperatures in the mid-fifties. Fortunately, it looks like spring will finally arrive this weekend as the IndyCars take to the track. It couldn’t come too soon as it has been a relatively cold winter by southern standards. With nice weather expected all weekend, the forecast for Sunday is sunny and 76-degrees. Perfect!
Aside from being able to soak up some un and enjoy beautiful scenery, I enjoy this race. Most know that I prefer ovals, but I have grown to appreciate natural terrain road courses. I keep hoping that one of these days, the series will run at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. CART and Champ car had some memorable races there. If the IZOD IndyCar Series were to ever run at Road America, I would move mountains to go. That venue has been on my list of places to attend before I die (I detest the term “bucket list” – I never heard it until that depressing movie came out a few years ago). If I can’t make it to Road America, Barber will do just fine.
My non-IndyCar fans, which accounts for most of my friends in Nashville, think I’m going to Talladega this weekend. When I explain that these are the cars that race at Indianapolis and they turn left and right – most look at me like I have two heads. It’s gotten to where I no longer even try to correct them. I’ve found it to be an exercise in futility. But when they start asking me if Kyle Busch is going to win, that’s where I have to chime in and set them straight.
This track is challenging on the drivers and is difficult to pass on, although last year’s race showed that passing can certainly take place. To the common observer, it looks like Barber Motorsports Park is the domain of Team Penske since a Penske driver has won every race; Helio Castroneves won the first edition in 2010, while Will Power has won the last two. But a closer look also reveals that the most consistent driver at this track is Scott Dixon – he has come in second at every race since its inception.
After one race this season, everyone is talking about how an offseason driving coach in England has turned Marco Andretti around. Although he finished eleventh at last year’s race, he posted finishes of fifth and fourth in the first two races there. After a podium finish in St. Petersburg, might Marco earn his third career win?
Will Power had a decent race going last week before JR Hildebrand ruined his race during a caution period – although I still think James Hinchcliffe would have won. Does Will Power answer the bell this weekend and win his third in a row at Barber? What about Hinchcliffe? After earning his first career win two weeks ago, will he make it two in a row? Will Helio carry his momentum from a second place finish in the opener to a track where he has already won? Perhaps the unpredictability from St. Petersburg will continue at Barber and an unexpected winner will emerge.
My record is horrible at picking winners. I think I had two correct picks last season, and they were back-to-back. One was when I picked Helio Castroneves to win at Edmonton and then I picked Scott Dixon to win the next race at Mid-Ohio. Since then I’ve come up woefully short. So will my streak of bad luck end this weekend or will I curse another driver’s race by picking him or her? I’ll be optimistic and go with Mr. Consistency and figure he’s due. Sunday’s winner will be Scott Dixon.
Please note: Once we get settled in at Barber Motorsports Park, I will be posting regularly and often throughout the three days we are down there. Please check back here many times throughout the weekend for updates, pictures and my usual ramblings. – GP