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Indy Racing Returns to Barber Motorsports Park – Birmingham, Alabama

Written by  May 1, 2013

Some weeks before the April 5th return of Indy racing, the city of Birmingham was in discussions as to whether or not to extend their support of this event. This event that has an economic impact of around 28 million, was voted “Best Annual Event” and “Best Sporting Event” in 2012 by Birmingham Magazine, and the 2011 race earned the distinction of “Alabama Event of the Year.” Before the race, the media were informed that there would be a special announcement made on Sunday.

The Thursday before the racing started there were a couple of what they were calling “Media Opportunities.” Some were the typical meet-the-driver deal, but one of them was just a little more special. Indy car driver, Tristan Vautier, and Indy Lights driver, Zack Leach, made a trip to the Children’s Hospital in Birmingham for “Racing for Kids,” pretty awesome!

You couldn’t ask for better weather as the thousands of fans started steaming into the Barber Motorsports Park on Friday for the start of an action-packed weekend beginning with practice and qualifying for the Continental Tire and the Grand-Am Rolex DP and GT cars. The big boys, Firestone Indy Lights and IZOD Indy cars, also got in some practice time in the afternoon.

The Red Diamond Fan Zone activities were back with the Neverland Ferris Wheel benefiting the Legacy for Good Foundation, the IZOD IndyCar Fan Village, Grand-Am Road Racing Fan Zone, and free Bucket Truck Rides, with additional attractions like the American Honda display, various vendors, the Stella Artois Beer Garden, the public Grandstands and of course, official merchandise.

Saturday saw more practice and qualifying as well as a chance for fans to get up close and personal with their favorite driver with the fan walk and autograph sessions held at the lunch break.

After the break, it was time for some racing starting with the Porsche 250 Grand-Am Rolex Series. Grand-Am’s flagship Rolex Sports Car Series now features three classes of cars with the exotic Daytona Prototypes that attract the attention of the superstar drivers competing against the production-based GT and new GX classes. After the race, fans got the opportunity to get close to the IZOD IndyCar and the Continental Tire drivers with an autograph session and fan walk.

Saturday afternoon had the Continental Tire Sports Car Series Race. The Grand-Am Continental Tire Challenge is Grand-Am’s showcase for the latest in international and American-made high performance sports cars, coupes and sedans straight from the dealer showroom floor, the same cars seen on the streets and highways around the world every day.

Sunday was just an absolute beautiful day for racing or anything else you may want to do OUTSIDE!

Before any racing got underway, there was the “special” announcement to take place in the media center, with Mr. George Barber, Zoom Motorsports President and CEO, Gene Hallman, Alabama, IndyCar CEO Jeff Belskus, Senate Majority Leader, Jabo Wagoner (Governor was apparently busy), and the Mayor of Birmingham, William Bell, along with Grand Marshall, Vincent E. “Bo” Jackson.

In February of this year, Bo Jackson was named the “Greatest Athlete of all Time” by ESPN. His success has not been limited to his talent on the field. In addition to his famous “Bo Knows” campaign by Nike (which, by the way, was the last time he got into an Indy car at a Nike shoot where he said they had to grease him up to get him in) he also has gained recognition for his “Bo Bikes Bama” fundraising efforts to raise money for the tornado relief recovery efforts from the April 2011 tornadoes that tore through Alabama. Jackson will be back in Alabama the end of April for “Bo Bikes Bama 2.” Driver, Justin Wilson, will be joining Bo for the ride.

After that announcement, we were told that Alabama WOULD be supporting this event through 2016. Then on Monday, we learned that the city had voted, and they were going to continue their support for this event. An event, mind you, that brings in over 28 million dollars and sold tickets in every state and 9 countries.

We met Miss Alabama, Anna Laura Bryan, who would go on to sing the National Anthem after the driver introductions. In 2011, Ms. Bryan wrote a bill supporting the use of service animals in public places, which was passed unanimously by both the State House and Senate. Since then, the Decatur native has spent the past year promoting her platform PAWS for Autism, People and Animals Working Side-by-side. She hopes that through her advocacy for this cause, PAWS will one day grow into a non-profit organization. We wish her all the best in those endeavors.

Then it was time for the driver introductions, which they took across the track in order to have them in front of the public grandstands. It was also the first time we all got a look at Bo Jackson in a fire suit, as he would be taking a ride in the Fastest Seat In Sports- with two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk. The three-time Indy 500 winner, Johnny Rutherford, will drive the Honda Civic SI Safety Car.

Ryan Hunter-Reay had the pole for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Up first though was the Legacy Indy Lights 100 race, 40 laps. Entering its 12th season under IndyCar sanction, Firestone Indy Lights is an essential stepping stone and the premier ladder series for drivers and teams striving to compete in the IZOD IndyCar series and the Indianapolis 500. The series is the final step in the Mazda Road to Indy development system and offers its champion up to 1 million dollars in scholarships to graduate to the IZOD IndyCar series.

Carlos Munos completed his domination of Barber’s Motorsports Park by winning the Legacy Indy Lights 100. The Andretti Autosports driver swept the weekend, with Jack Hawksworth finishing second, Gabby Chaves third and Sage Karam fourth.

Headlines for the Honda Indy Grand Prix read: Hunter-Reay Breaks Penski win streak at Barber’s!

Reigning IZOD Indy Series Champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay overtook Helio Castroneves on lap 76 of 90, then held off Scott Dixon to win the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

Scott Dixon finishes second AGAIN; he said later that he felt like he needed to go buy a bridesmaid dress. Maybe next time he can wear the bridal gown! One can always hope, right?

Castroneves finished third; he won the inaugural race at Barbers. I remember that--I got to tell him how much I enjoyed watching him on Dancing with the Stars. Charlie Kimball came in fourth, and Will Power, who started in the front row, came in fifth.

Until now, Helio Castroneves and Will Power were the only drivers who had won at Barber’s, Castroneves in 2010, Powers in 2011 and 2012, and both are the only ones to have had the pole position. Powers had the pole in 2010 and 2011, and Castroneves in 2012. Castroneves only needs three more poles to reach 40 career poles in his IndyCar career. Only one driver has won the race from the pole, and that was Will Power. Now Ryan Hunter-Reay can add his name to the list. Hunter-Reay needs 10 starts to mark 100 consecutive IZOD IndyCar series starts, just a little bit of trivia information for ya there!