Alabama GP Sunday Notebook Taylor Hicks, the 2006 "American Idol" winner, received an up-close and (maybe too) personal view of the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park circuit in the front seat of a Honda Accord Pace Car courtesy of Firestone Indy Lights driver James Hinchcliffe.
Hicks, a Birmingham, Ala., native, sang the national anthem before the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Legacy Credit Union.
"I've never been to an IndyCar race and this is the first IndyCar race for a lot of people in the state of Alabama," said Hicks, who is on tour in "Grease." "To be able to get out on this course and see what the IndyCars do, you feel like you're really there and feeling the turns. (Hinchcliffe) did a great job and I had a great time."
Hinchcliffe appreciated the compliment.
"I may have turned the notch up just a bit in some of the turns," he said. "I like to think we give everybody pretty good rides, and it's cool to be here in Alabama and give him a taste of an IndyCar race. I'm pretty sure IndyCar has a fan for life now in Taylor Hicks."
'Do you want to get in the car?" E.J. Viso asked with a sly smile.
Charles Barkley, the "Round Mound of Rebound," gave the IZOD IndyCar Series driver one of those are-you-kidding-me? looks. "You don't have a shoehorn big enough," he said.
Before his duties as grand marshal of the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Legacy Credit Union at Barber Motorsports Park, the native of nearby Leeds took in the sights of the IZOD IndyCar Series paddock, pit lane and paused every few feet to oblige a spectator's photo request.
Under the canopy of KV Racing Technology, he also received a brief tutorial of the multi-button steering wheel and car aerodynamics from Viso and attempted to try on his racing gloves.
"Not my size," joked Barkley, all 6 foot 6 and maybe just a few ounces heavier than his listed playing weight of 250 pounds to the 5-5 Viso.
"I'm a racing fan and have followed a few of the guys and girl (Danica Patrick)," said Barkley, a Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member. "It takes a lot of courage to go out there and race at more than 200 mph. This event is great for Birmingham, great for Leeds and great for Alabama. I've been at Barber Motorsports Park a few times before, but I've never seen so many fans. It's just great."
Of note: John Brunner has joined conquest as team manager. He formerly was with Forsyth … Eddie Allison, longtime chief mechanic for brother Bobby's stock cars, was a guest of A.J. Foyt on race day.