The preposterous notion of an IndyCar race in Alabama turns out to be a rousing success

Barber is physically hard on the drivers due to its undulations and sweeping corners

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Preposterous, really.

First, simply to build the place. It hardly seemed some Kinsella-ish, field of dreams, "build it and they will come" sort of operation. This wasn't like creating a diamond in a cornfield.

But it turned out to be a gem in the hills and forests into which Birmingham was encroaching to the east.

It was all well and good for the expensive toy collection of George Barber, the avuncular, low-key former dairy magnate who reaches for the push-to-pass button any time he feels the limelight creeping up on him from behind. The museum he created Barber Motorsports Park is a Smithsonian of breathtaking vintage cars and motorcycles.

Well, just as Barber envisioned, it also was a magnificent racing venue for the daredevils on two wheels and those expensive, sleek sports cars that make so many cameo appearances in mid-life crisis dreams.
But IndyCars?


Too tight. Can't pass. Too many elevation changes.

And, besides, didn't anybody look at a map?

It's Alabama, for cryin' out loud.

It's Talladega territory, the sole – and soul – of NASCAR's Southern footprint. This is where kids are taught to count, "One … two … Earnhardt … four…"

But, look here. The Honda IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama is in its fifth season. It's still a hit.

Zoom Motorsports, which promotes the event, announced a weekend attendance of 83,564 last year, the most since the inaugural race, and there were 57,963 at Sunday's race. The novelty, quite obviously, is not wearing off. It remains one of THE things to do, to see and to be seen.

Drivers talk about Barber Motorsports Park as if hallowed ground.

"It's beautiful. It's got a special feeling," says Josef Newgarden. "It's like they've built a pristine golf course with a race track on it."

Newgarden said "it's one of the highlights on the schedule of tracks we go to."

James Hinchcliffe says it's "the most physically demanding track we race on." That, due to the long, fast corners and the vast number of them.

What we've seen in the five years of IndyCars in Alabama, it can peacefully co-exist with Talladega just up the road. (Though, please, in the future, give weary bartenders, sportswriters, hotel chambermaids and traffic cops a weekend off in between events.)
There are sufficient fans and sponsors to support both races. The diversity in racing entertainment options is great. Hey, if we all only liked vanilla ice cream, Ben and Jerry would be selling tie-dyed T-shirts in a Vermont head shop.

Then, there are those of us who will be at both. It doesn't make us feel disloyal to either venue. We don't have to pick which child is our favorite.

It just means we like cars that go fast, drivers who can make daring moves matched only by New York cabbies, the tightrope wobbling nervousness of cars on a razor's edge, colorful pageantry and the experience at both speedways that is a full-on, relentless assault on all five of our senses.

Many of us have long been accustomed to, comfortable with and enamored by all that at Talladega Superspeedway.

Who knew that a preposterous idea like an IndyCar race in Alabama could have us equally addicted?

Leave a Reply