A Chilly Spring Practice In The Forecast?

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As hard as it is to believe, the designated “Spring Training” for the Verizon IndyCar Series will take place in just a little more than two weeks at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama. As I write this, there is more snow falling in Nashville. Last week, our city was paralyzed by snow and ice. This week has seen temperatures dip into the teens almost every night. As odd as it seems, Birmingham has had a worse go of it this week than Nashville.

People up north tend to think that it never snows in the south and rarely gets cold. Granted, we don’t have winters like Boston, Chicago or even Indianapolis – but we definitely have our share of winter here. So does Birmingham, which is just three hours to the south of us.

That’s why I’m a little surprised that IndyCar continues to hold Spring Training at Barber in mid-March. Last year, an ice storm hit the south just about a week before Spring Practice at Barber. As it turned out, the temperature warmed up just enough for them to run, but I remember everyone talking about how cold it was. Verizon shot their first-ever IndyCar commercials as the title sponsor with gray skies, brown grass and bare trees in the background.

As much as I like having the Verizon IndyCar Series venture into the southeast as much as possible, I’m wondering if there isn’t a warmer and more predictable locale they could go to for an open test just before the start of the season.

They used to split Spring Practice between Homestead and either Sebring or Barber. In 2009, before Barber was officially on the schedule; the series ran for a couple of days at Homestead for oval testing before heading north to Barber for road course testing in Mid-March. That year, the season started on April 5th at St. Petersburg. We actually went down to Barber for the day that year. The day was perfect. It was probably about 75-degrees and sunny. Susan, her son Eric and I sat on one of the hills overlooking the track taking in the sun and the cars on track. That was our first exposure to the “gorgeous” facility.

Since then, the weather has been iffy during mid-March. The next year, the series was there mid-week. It snowed in Nashville that first day. It didn’t snow at Barber, but it was too cold to run. Lately, it has been marginal weather conditions for Spring Practice at Barber on many occasions. It’s common for decision makers in a snow-bound office in Indianapolis to remember Barber with its warm breezes through the dogwoods during race weekend. Perhaps they just don’t realize that it gets very cold here

Since the series does not run on an oval until the end of May, they’ve now dropped oval preparation from Spring Practice. If they are going to run an open test on a road course for a couple of days before the start of the season; why not go some place where they are almost assured of having decent weather?

Some might say to try NOLA Motorsports Park just outside of New Orleans. The Big Easy was been fairly frigid last week, as well. They ran there a couple of weeks ago, but all the crew guys seemed pretty bundled up.

Does the Spring Practice venue have to be a track that is on the schedule? Barber wasn’t in 2009. Sebring would make sense, but the 12 Hours of Sebring will be going on the following weekend. That wouldn’t work.

How about a twin bill at Phoenix? They could run a couple of days at Firebird, which is now known as Wild Horse Motorsports Park. They could run a couple of days at the road course before heading over to Phoenix International Raceway for some oval testing. You never know, the IndyCar presence could help drum up interest in the area for an eventual return. Of course, you’d have to work it around NASCAR’s spring trip to Phoenix, which will take place on the same weekend of Sebring this season – the weekend following this year’s Spring Practice at Barber.

I’m not sure what the weather is like in Northern California in mid-March, but perhaps Sonoma would be adequate. I’ve seen videos of spring test sessions there. It doesn’t even look like the same track. The grass that is normally brown in August during the IndyCar race is a lush green in March. Maybe Laguna Seca could be a possibility.

Again…I’m not complaining. I’m just trying to think where the teams may be able to have better weather to test in. Although I’ve only been to Spring Practice once at Barber, I always like knowing I have that option in the spring. But it has been chilly, more times than not.

And as I say, it’s hard to imagine cars racing just three hours away from here, while we still have ice and snow lingering around on our streets. But it’s nice to think that four weeks from today, the first practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be taking place. Now, that does warm me up.

George Phillips

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12 Responses to “A Chilly Spring Practice In The Forecast?”

  1. PIR would be a good location except the old road course is long gone and since they changed the dogleg for NASCAR, it is really not the same. There is the interior road course though. NASCAR ruined that track IMO witch is a shame. The weather may be consistently warmer this time of year than Barber but it is tough to match Barbers diverse terrain. Its too bad the warmth does not kick in until April? It is the most beautiful track when it gets greens up. For those who have not been I would highly recommend it. I hope IndyCar’s stop there continues to grow and succeed as the fans seem to really enjoy it.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I hear this fairly often about Phoenix, but am not sure how exactly the track was “ruined”. Is it because of the reconfiguration or simply because of NASCAR’s presence on their schedule?

      Several Indycar teams have tested at the reconfigured Phoenix, not sure what would be wrong with the racing there.

      • Only that they made it easier to drive and put more banking on it. I would consider that ruined. It was not meant for stock cars and had a very distinct dogleg. Now it is not as difficult and yes it has been Nascarified.

        • billytheskink Says:

          Banking increases were 1 degree at the most, and the new progressive banking never varies more than 2 degrees from the original. The front straight is all of 10 feet wider. The most significant change was to the dog leg, which is 90 feet further from the front straight and slightly tighter than it once was.

          Doesn’t sound too terribly different to me. Sure, the changes were made to “improve” the stock car races (though I’m not sure how much they have), but what happened at Phoenix is not anything close to what happened when Atlanta and Homestead were re-done.

          Panther, Penske, and Andretti all had nice things to say about the reconfigured track after testing there. I see no reason to think Indycar would race much differently there than they had in the past that would not be explained by the differences in the cars and young age of the track surface.

          • Ok thanks. I remember going there as a kid in the early 70’s. My Dad raced on the road course. I’ll take your word for it. Last time I was there for an AMA motorcycle race was 2003 or so. Much has been done since then. I’m more of a purest and don’t like the idea of modifying old tracks to aid handling characteristics of stock cars. Las Vegas comes to mind on that concept and we all know how that turned out. They bought and closed a track in Colorado too to lock up the front range market and eliminated any future fan attended oval races. Oval racing just disappeared. Since then I’ve had a tough time with NASCAR getting involved in race tracks.

  2. Is NOLA that much warmer than Barber in March?

  3. There’s a new blog that will have weather forecasts and live radar for all the IndyCar races through the year – http://racecastwx.weebly.com/

  4. This also illustrates the geographic challenge of starting the season early.

    • I agree with you, PD. It would be so much easier to end later, but then we know that isn’t going to happen any time soon. Rather unpredictable in many parts of the country that can have good in February.

  5. My wife found a cruise out of New Orleans. It ends the morning of the NOLA race. Barring getting Urban Meyered upon return, we will be able to make the race. Things better be warm by then.

  6. I’ll wait to see how things turn out weather-wise at Barber this year. It might be pretty nice.

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