Wrapping Up My Weekend At Barber
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.
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.