Rides, Rallies and Events Recap

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama - Birmingham, Alabama

Written by  April 30, 2012

On Friday, March 30, the Indy cars roared back into town for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Legacy Credit Union at Barber Motorsports Park. The rain returned with them, making a mess of things, but halting nothing. If it were the bikes it would be a different story, but these cars just put on rain tires and go.

There were people there from 42 different states and 6 countries, with an estimated 80,000 people for the weekend, most of them on Sunday.

At 8 a.m. on Friday, the track opened for practice and qualifying, starting with the Continental Tire practice, then on to the Grand-Am Rolex practice. After practice came qualifying for both, then the Firestone Indy Lights and IZOD Indy cars took to the track for their practice time. After lunch the Star Mazda cars qualified for their race that would take place later in the afternoon.

Saturday morning had cars out on the track for practice and qualifying. Around lunchtime, people filed into the pit area for an autograph session with the Firestone Indy Lights and a Pre-Race Fan Walk with the Grand-Am Rolex Series drivers.

The Porsche 250 race, called the Grand-Am Rolex Series, kicked off after the autograph session. The Rolex Sports Car Series is the top series sanctioned by Grand-Am, and its two classes--the exotic Daytona Prototypes and production-based GT cars run simultaneously at road racing venues across the U.S and Canada.

While these guys were racing, the IZOD Indy car drivers were holding autograph sessions in the pit area. Then the Continental Tire folks had a pre-race Fan Walk, before the last race of the day, which was the Continental Tire Sports Car Series.

The Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge features sports cars manufactured from around the world, brought straight from the showroom floor, that race side by side with only minor modifications in the area of safety. Like the Grand-Am Rolex Series, the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge races two classes at the same time: Grand Sports (GS) and Street Tuner (ST).

The GS class has Porsche 997, and Cayman, Nissan 350Z, BMW M3, Subaru WRX, Audi S4 and others going head to head with American Iron such as the Chevy Camero, Ford Mustang GT and Dodge Challenger. The smaller ST class is Grand-Am’s offering to the import and compact car crowd, with Honda Civic Si, Volkswagen GTI, Mazdaspeed3, Mazda RX-5, Chevy Cobalt SS, Dodge SRT4, Mini Cooper S, Kia Forte Koup, BMW 328i, and other eligible models.

All Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge classes run on Continental Tires, and at least two drivers must drive under green flag conditions, making at least one driver change mandatory.

It’s exciting to see all the different type cars on the track at the same time.
The Grand-Am Rolex series had a little extra excitement of its own with its “celebrity” driver, Patrick Dempsey (Dr. McDreamy on Grey’s Anatomy) and NASCAR royalty, racing legend Dale Earnhardt’s grandson, Jeffery Earnhardt.

With the rain from Friday and Saturday came a few wild wrecks, with people off in the wet grass, not where you wanted to be. One of them took a nosedive into the grass, sending dirt and grass everywhere, stopping hard, kind of like running into a wall. We also heard that they would be fined for going off into the grass. This is a world class beautiful track, and I guess Mr. Barber wants to do his best to keep it looking like it.

Saturday had the Indy and Indy Lights cars practicing and qualifying and signing autographs, while the Grand-Am/Porsche 250 and the Continental Tire Sports Car series took to the track for their races.

Over in the fan area this year along with the usual vendors was the “Neverland” Ferris wheel, benefiting the Legacy for Good Foundation, a National Guard Zip-line, free Altec Industries Bucket Truck Rides, and a Stella Artois Beer Garden.

Up the hill past the BIG Lady in the lake with the huge colorful fish swimming up to the edge and then past a few of the food vendors at the top of the hill was a display from the Energen Natural Gas-Chesapeake Energy folks. They had a couple of “Natural Gas” powered vehicles; one of them made us stop and go “WOW, a BIKE nestled in here amongst all of these cars.” Turns out, OCC put together a natural gas powered chopper for them; they claim it runs like any other chopper!

Saturday also had one of the drivers from the IZOD Indy car Series, # 83 Charlie Kimball, talking with some of the kids in the area with diabetes. Charlie was driving the Flex-Pen Honda in Sunday’s race and gave all of the kids passes to get in the race Sunday. How cool is that?

Sunday brought out the big guns, and NBC Sports! Bart Starr was the Grand Marshal. “Stealing Angels” sang the national anthem. They are descendants of very familiar people to most of us, Jennifer Wayne (John Wayne), Tayla Lynn (Loretta Lynn), and Caroline Cutbirth (Daniel Boone). For whatever reason, only two of them ended up singing.

The lineup of drivers included pole setter Helio Castroneves, whom I got to hug and tell how much I enjoyed watching him on Dancing with the Stars. He went on to win the race that year, which had nothing to do with the fact that I touched him prior to the race.

And then there’s Dario Franchitti, whose wife is Ashley Judd. We’ve been trying to catch a glimpse of her for the last couple of years. This year at the end of the big race we went back down to their garage area, and there they were getting ready to get the hell out of there I’m sure. He brushed right past us, but she was so sweet and stopped to take a picture with a little girl. That’s what a good southern up-bringing will do for you. It left us liking her even more.

The race itself was pretty cool with not as many wrecks as the day before. One of the few wrecks there were left driver Takuma Sato walking back. One of the other wrecks took car #6 out of the race, Katherine Ledge, one of the two women racing.

After a few lead changes and the dust settled, the race results put car #12 with Will Power back in the winner’s circle for the second year, Congrats! The top 10 rounded out with: #9 Scott Dixon 2nd, #3 Helio Castroneves 3rd, #38 Graham Rahal 4th, # 77 Simon Pagenaud 5th, #27 James Hinchcliffe 6th, # 14 Mike Conway 7th, # 8 Rubens Barrichello 8th, #7 Sebastien Bourdais 9th, and #10 Dario Franchitti 10th.

The last race of the day, however, was the Star Mazda Race #2 that had been postponed due to the rain.

Awesome racing and you couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to end the weekend on.

Write-On and Ride-On
By Lynn Reynolds and
Leigh Lilly