Random Thoughts On Barber

There are so many advantages to attending a race in person, there is not enough room to list them here. If you’ve ever attended an IndyCar race, there is no need for me to explain that statement. However, one of the few disadvantages compared to sitting on the couch and watching on television is that when you are at the track it is sometimes tough to keep up with everything gong on.

When we have attended the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama in the past, we have usually watched the race from the hill overlooking Turn Two. That’s a popular place because you can see the cars coming off of the main straightaway and taking the huge dip after the left-handed Turn One. It’s so popular that the good folks at Barber Motorsports Park have a big video board along with the PA system broadcasting the radio broadcast. Those two items give you a pretty god idea what is going on.

Yesterday, someone connected to the track arranged for us to view the race from a very unique perspective at the last minute. We went out onto the bridges that jut out from the Barber Museum and cross the track in a couple of spots. He told us that it was the best view in Motorsports. He wasn’t exaggerating.

Never before, have I watched a race anywhere with a view like that. It goes out far enough that you are overlooking Turn Three. You are up high enough to see a good portion of the front straightaway, most of Turns One and Two and the straights that go to and from the area called Charlotte’s Web. The cars drive underneath the bridge as they head through the corkscrew down to the hairpin.

Looking down at Turn Three, you can see into the cockpit and actually see the drivers hands correct as the car gets squirrelly coming off of the turn. Another nice touch are the Plexiglas panels in the floor of the bridge where you can look through it and see the cars go through directly below you. Susan took this video through the glass. As I said, It’s a unique perspective.

I was mesmerized watching the race from this viewpoint. You really got the full sensation of speed. Best of all, as the cars were coming towards us from Charlotte’s Web you could see the passes being set up before they got to the bridge. You had to turn around to see if the driver was able to pull off the pass. Sometimes they were successful, sometimes not.

The only downside was that we could see no video boards or hear any PA. It was old school viewing – just watching the cars and hearing the engines. It was nice, but I really had no idea what was going on. I knew the running order because we could see the LED’s on the side of the car and I could also see the scoring pylon in the infield.

The lack of information did not deter us from staying there. Neither of us wanted to leave. But with about ten laps to go, we reluctantly left our vantage point so that we could take the tram across the track to victory lane. We got there just in time to watch Team Penske celebrate Josef Newgarden’s first win with the team.

I didn’t go through that story to gloat; in fact quite the opposite. I wanted to make everyone aware that such an opportunity exists. You can become a member of the Barber Museum for a very reasonable price and get access to the bridge. For more info on that perks and many more that a membership buys, click here.

I also went through that to let you know why I know so little what happened in the race. Most of you that are reading this know more than I do about the race. But the lack of knowledge was worth the view we got. Here are a few shots and videos from the bridge.






TV Coverage: I’ve not seen any of the television broadcast, so I really can’t comment. We plan on watching the replay Monday night. If I see anything extraordinary, I’ll be sure and comment at some time.

Chevy redemption: If you are a Chevy fan, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that Chevy finally won their first race of the season and dominated most of the practice sessions. The bad news is that the two Chevy teams that were not Team Penske had terrible weekends. Team Penske cars were at the top of the speed charts in practice and in qualifying. Josef Newgarden was the only Penske driver that didn’t make it into the Firestone Fast Six, and he won the race.

After the race, Scott Dixon said that the Chevy aero kit for tacks like Barber was so strong that he knew the Hondas would be at a disadvantage. He should know since he drove cars wearing the Chevy aero kits for the past two seasons before Chip Ganassi Racing switched back to Honda this season.

Is it a Chevy advantage or a Penske advantage? Team Penske has won five of the eight races at Barber. Ganassi has won none. Josef Newgarden became the fourth Penske driver to win at Barber since the inaugural race in 2010, joining Helio Castroneves, Will Power (twice) and Simon Pagenaud. Even going into the race, every Penske driver had won at least one race at Barber. That might indicate that Penske was going to be strong at this track and they were.

But what about the other Chevy teams? The Foyt team rarely showed speed this weekend and the cars of Ed Carpenter Racing had their own issues, partly due to the fact that Zach Veach was making his IndyCar debut while subbing for the injured JR Hildebrand.

So it may be too soon t say that Chevy will be just fine. While Team Penske was dominant throughout the weekend, the rest of the Chevy powered cars were non-factors. Honda showed more consistent strength from top to bottom. We’ll see what happens at Phoenix next weekend.

Marco woes: Once again, most of you probably know the answer to this but I don’t. What in the world happened to Marco Andretti? He finished dead last and three laps down to everyone except for Spencer Pigot, who brought out the second caution when he spun in Turn Six. Even Pigot finished two laps ahead of Marco.

Marco was fast through al three practices prior to qualifying, but as has become a pattern lately – he faded in qualifying and didn’t make it out of the first round of qualifying. Three of the four Andretti cars carried blank sidepods this weekend, including Marco’s. Performances like that make sponsorship on the No.27 car a tough sale, even if your name is Andretti.

Drive of the day: Josef Newgarden drove a great race and won, after starting seventh. He passed a lot of fast cars early on and ran in second place behind Will Power for most of the day until Power suffered a flat tire late in the race.

But I think that Graham Rahal had the drive of the day. He started last after a disastrous qualifying effort, but ended up in thirteenth place. He worked hard while mired in the back of the field. He kept his head down and earned every bit of that thirteenth place finish. It seems that Rahal has been a slow starter for the past couple of seasons. If he can have a good result in Phoenix Saturday night, he can still be in good shape heading into the Month of May.

All in all: I have been guilty of gushing about Barber Motorsports Park being a “gorgeous facility”. But t seems that those that make snarky comments about that term have never been there. Those that have been there know what I‘m talking about. From the random and obscure statues and other unique objects, to the manicured flower beds – Barber stresses the small things and pays attention to every detail. That’s why fans rave about the whole complex and the way they do things. And for those that say there is no passing on this track, I saw tons of passing from my location on the bridge.

As the Verizon IndyCar Series heads west to Phoenix for the first oval of the season, Sébastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing still lead the points standings after three races. But it’s really tightening up. Scott Dixon is only six points behind Bourdais and Josef Newgarden is only one point behind Dixon.

So I’ll close with this; If you live within an eight hour drive of Barber Motorsports Park, you should seriously consider coming to this race. It is a slower-paced experience than some of the other races on the schedule. I’ll promise you, if you ever go to the IndyCar race at Barber, you’ll want to come back again and again.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Barber”

  1. Bruce Waine Says:

    Contemplating the continuing on track challenges at Andretti Autosport, one has to wonder how Dixon & Ganassi have exceeded Andretti Autosport with only three races under the Honda banner…………

    What would one speculate that Dixon & Ganassi have discovered (tweaked) with the Honda engine and aero package that Andretti Autosport has not been aware of for years?

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Marco had a gearbox problem (stuck in 1st, I believe it was said on the broadcast) on the pace lap and lost 3 laps repairing it before he ever joined the race. He didn’t qualify nearly as well as he practiced, but I would not put his finishing position on him. The Andretti cars have had pace this year, even Marco, but they’d better find some reliability and luck quickly if they want to win races and cover sidepods.

    I will back George up on the race experience at Barber. I went in 2013 and it was easily one of the best race experiences that I have had. I will be back.

  3. I was really happy Newgarden won. The race was pretty dull until after the final caution when Newgarden and Power and Dixon battled for the lead. Power’s flat tire was good for Newgarden, but I was really hoping to see Newgarden complete the pass on Power. I think he could have done it. Newgarden was fast enough that he actually opened a gap on Dixon towards the end. In fact Dixon had over double the push to pass as Newgarden and seemed to be catching him, but by a couple laps to go Dixon had the same P2P as Newgarden and was LOSING ground on him. With how the TV booth was talking up Dixon it was very satisfying to see Newgarden put him away with ease. It took Pagenaud a full season to win a race with Penske, while Newgarden has done it in three races. I think Newgarden has a legitimate shot at winning the title. He is strong on ovals, probably better than Power or Pagenaud, and he is obviously good at road courses and street courses. The only improvement Newgarden needs to make is to qualify better; but then again if you can get from 7th to 2nd at Barber, I guess it really doesn’t matter where you qualify.

    Newgarden to Penske is good for getting Newgarden a championship, but it is a little frustrating to see how weak ECR has been without him. Rahal’s been struggling too. Non Penske/Ganassi fans are left with Coyne and Sam’s team to carry the day. They’ve both done well but Newgarden to Penske’s definitely thrown off the competitive balance of the series.

    TV wasn’t great. The Alonso interview in the booth was fun at first, but it dragged on for way too long.

  4. At the risk of being Mr. Grumpy Guy this morning, I will say this:
    You will find few sentences containing the words Barber Motorsports Park that do not also contain the word “gorgeous”. I get that and who does not like a good park? However, while it is not my money, I would like to suggest that the money spent on 100 sculptures, an 80,000 sq. ft. addition to the museum, and manicured flower beds could have been better spent on converting the motorcycle track to a proper IndyCar racing track. Looking at the glass half full, I suppose if you are going to watch a race with little passing possible, it is at least nice to have pleasant and scenic surroundings.

    • Mrs.Olpressure Says:

      Maybe you did not go to the NOLA race a few years back. That one was plagued with issues. Its not as hard to deal with rain issues if you have something nice to look at or discover (something new is added to that Barber Motorsports Park every year to keep visitors interested). Our view at NOLA was a swamp with some big uprooted trees and piles of dirt. The track may not allow as much passing as one might like, but we saw plenty of attempts. Barber goes out of it’s way to make sure the fan experience is great. The race is only a few hours of the day, the rest of the time at tracks is spent getting from point A to point B, finding things to eat, seeing drivers, and enjoying the surroundings. This may lose something in the hours of the broadcast, put people attending the race in person need all those things to make the day enjoyable and want to come back every year. I only saw a few parts of the Museum–and trust me, I do not like being dragged through museums of items that do not interest me, but I wanted to stay–the way it was set up and displayed was very engaging. Maybe next year we will spend some time in the museum.

      • Well, I am glad that you like the experience at Barber. I am also glad to know that you are likely returning to Road America in June. While RA has no sculptures and only a natural landscape, it does have many nice passing zones and a bridge from which to watch and hear race cars zoom by.

      • I would have liked to see the Gurney and Surtes exhibits. Thanks for sharing your race weekend with us.

  5. Barber certainly is a great track for these guys to race on

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