Barber Preview

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Fans of the NTT IndyCar Series have been patient and that patience has finally paid off. The season starts this weekend with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, AL – just a few miles east of Birmingham off of I-20.

The weather looks good, albeit a little cool. Moving it back a week was a good thing, because last weekend was not great weather-wise, at least in Nashville. I was also glad they moved it back a week to give the azaleas and dogwoods time to bloom. The last few years, they have run this race the first weekend in April, and that makes a difference. When they last held this event two years ago, the grass was still brown, the trees had few leaves and there were no flowers to be found. Except for this week, we have had a warm April in the south. I expect the beautiful facility to be in full bloom for this weekend to showcase the season-opener.

Aside from being the season-opener, there are many storylines going into the season. This is one of the most anticipated rookie classes I can remember. Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin will be the only one to run the full season. He comes with a lot of fanfare. I hope the media hasn’t set expectations so high that he falls short. He seems like a good guy, but I suspect he will struggle. Most disagree with me, but it would not surprise me if he did not win a race or finish in the Top-Ten in points.

The other two also bring a lot of excitement to the series. Romain Grosjean moves from Formula One to Dale Coyne Racing, but only for the non-ovals (except for Gateway, perhaps). The last race he was in was his terrifying fiery crash at Bahrain. He seems to appreciate coming to IndyCar. He acknowledges that the cars are very different, but he doesn’t seem to think that F1 was superior. So far, I’ve liked everything we’ve seen and heard from him in the offseason.

The rookie bringing the most attention is Jimmie Johnson, driving the non-ovals for Chip Ganassi. While most of the media has been frothing over Scott McLaughlin, they keep talking about how much Johnson will struggle this season. Jimmie Johnson didn’t win seven NASCAR Cup titles by being an average driver. While I don’t expect him to win the pole or the race this weekend, I have an idea he will do better than most people expect. I predict he will qualify in the top half of the grid, and I suspect he will finish better than fifteenth. I think most would consider that a successful weekend.

I also believe that Josef Newgarden will begin his quest for a third title this weekend. Not only do I predict he will win the 2021 IndyCar Championship – I also think he will win the race this Sunday. So now I’ve officially cursed my first driver of the season.

I’ll also be curious to see what Pato O’Ward can do in his second year at Arrow McLaren SP. He now has a stout McLaren teammate in Felix Rosenqvist, so I think that will be a very fun team to watch all season.

We have covered every IndyCar race at Barber dating back to the inaugural event in 2010. We also were present for Spring Training in 2009, before a race was even announced. This year, IndyCar is following their 2020 COVID-19 guidelines for the first three events of the 2021 season. That means only deadline media is allowed to cover the race. That is defined as The Indianapolis Star, Racer.com, NBC and a select few others will be credentialed – and even they are not allowed in the pits or the paddock for the first three events this year. Unfortunately, lowly bloggers are not considered deadline media.

That has not deterred us from going and keeping our streak alive. We bought tickets for all three days and will be onsite all weekend. There is going to be one change, however. Since we won’t have access to the media center, we will not be posting throughout the weekend like we usually do. After this post, there will be nothing here until Monday morning, when I will post my usual Random Thoughts.

From a personal standpoint, this is a very important race for us. The last race we attended was Road America last summer. We arrived there just three days after Susan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on July 7. While still in shock, we actually had a good time; but we knew the next week she was to meet her oncologist for the first time to start a very long road for her. To be honest, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was going to be her last race ever. It was bittersweet as we did our usual favorite things we do there, wondering what the future held. After all, my father had died of the same disease and he lasted just a little more than six months. We had no idea what to expect, but we naturally feared the worst. If I’m being completely candid, I wasn’t even sure if she would be alive today.

Susan has endured a rough nine months since then. She went through six months of the harshest chemo out there. There were some sessions when I wondered if she was going to make it through the night. Just before starting the final round, we learned that only 10% of the patients that start her specific chemo ever finish it, due to the grueling side-effects. As tough as it was on her, the chemo worked. Her tumor shrunk from 5.7 cm to 2.0 cm, it never spread and it was essentially dead from the chemo, before her very successful surgery on Feb 4.

Since then, she has gained 16 pounds and her hair is starting to come back. She tested positive for COVID in early March, which scared us to death – but she came through that like it was nothing. She starts the five weeks of radiation next Thursday Apr 22. Coincidentally, that will end just before Memorial Day weekend. She will have no more treatments after that, except for scans every three months for two years.

Back in the fall, we targeted Barber as her “coming out” party. She is going to make that goal like she has made all the others. The last time we left a race track, things looked very dark. She’s not completely out of the woods yet, but things look much brighter nine months later. We are now very optimistic, while still being realistic. As you can tell, this is more than a regular race weekend for us. So, if you go to Barber this weekend, please try and find us and say hello. Again, thanks for all of the support and prayers over the last nine months. They appear to be working.

Although we won’t be posting on this site from the track this weekend, we will still be posting comments, photos and videos on Twitter. Follow me at @Oilpressureblog or Susan at @MrsOilpressure. We will also post lots of pictures from the weekend on Monday.

Enjoy the race on Sunday on Big NBC at 2:00 (Central). It’s finally here!

George Phillips

16 Responses to “Barber Preview”

  1. Brandon Wright Says:

    Well, I was very happy for the season to start but now I’m even happier knowing Susan will be there! May have brought a tear to my eye. What a fighter she is. Have fun kids, you’ve earned this one! 💪

  2. Very happy for your family! While I’ve never met Susan, I’m confident there is isn’t a stronger person in this world. Take this weekend to celebrate – you two deserve it!

  3. From my personal experience going through what ytwo did this past year is amazing. So happy for the results you have.

  4. have a wonderful weekend george and susan. look forward to reading about it on Monday.

  5. James T Suel Says:

    I agree with your pick of Newgarden to win this weekend. Johnson will account well . I can’t make this weekends race but hope to meet you and Susan in May at the speedway. All the best.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    Wonderful news about Susan! I’m so happy for you both. Prayers continue, of course.

    You all enjoy the race!

  7. Congrats on your journey Susan! Hope you enjoy the weekend!! As far as I’m concerned you’re the biggest story this weekend!! The starting field should salute you on the warmup lap! 🏎🏁

  8. George, this may have been the best article you’ve ever written. The fact that you’re able to write it is a testament to Susan, you, doctors, medical staff and a lot of fans like me who offered prayers on Susan’s behalf. So happy that you’ll be at the race this weekend, what a wonderful time for celebration. If you’re ever in KC, the BBQ and beer are on me.

  9. That’s wonderful news for you and your wife! Enjoy the weekend at Barber.

    Everything I’ve seen of Romain Grosjean makes me think he’s a decent man. May not be the best racer but he’s got a great family and seems to be pleasant to be around. I wish him the best in IndyCar this season.

  10. Talón de Brea Says:

    This is a big, big weekend for you two. I’m so glad for you both. Enjoy yourselves and the shiny race cars.

  11. I am so happy for you and Susan! It warms my heart every time I read of her progress. We all love these cars that go fast, but often in life we don’t take the time to just slow down and take in the moment. Be sure to slow down this weekend George, and take in every detail of the moment. It will be special for sure.

  12. Leslie Bissell Says:

    What a fantastic article! I hope that you and Susan have a great time at the beautiful facility. You certainly deserve it! Best wishes and continued prayers for you both.

  13. Have a fabulous race weekend, Susan and George!!!! You deserve it! I look forward to your photos and comments next week.

  14. Thanks George . Hope to run into you and Susan this weekend .

  15. Matt B. (Dayton, OH) Says:

    Enjoy a great race weekend with Susan!

  16. George and Susan, hope you have an amazing weekend. I know how much you always enjoy this race. I’m sure it is even more special this year. Hope to see you at a race soon. Hugs and continued prayers.

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