Racing returns to Barber with Indy Grand Prix
by Will Heath
Mar 28, 2012 | 1580 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Racing begins at Barber Motorsports Park this Friday, as various open-wheel circuits will try to conquer the road course. Pictured, the Indy Lights series tests its cars at the track.
Racing begins at Barber Motorsports Park this Friday, as various open-wheel circuits will try to conquer the road course. Pictured, the Indy Lights series tests its cars at the track.
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Open-wheel racing is back at Barber Motorsports this weekend.

The third Indy Grand Prix of Alabama begins Friday with practices at the track, located off Rex Lake Road, officially in Birmingham, but just outside of Leeds. Rick Humphrey, the vice president of ZOOM Motorsports, says last year’s event drew anywhere from 70,000-80,000 people for the weekend.

“We have every reason to believe that same size will be here again,” Humphrey said. “I think the locals certainly are interested, and have continued to support the event. We’ve sold tickets in more than 40 states.”

The event received “Event of the Year” designation from the Alabama Tourism Bureau in 2011, and will feature the Grand-Am Rolex Series, Indy Lights and the IZOD IndyCar Series, all just off Exit 140 on Interstate 20.

“We’re excited about having such a large event, that borders the city of Leeds,” said Leeds Mayor Eric Patterson. “It brings in a lot of visitors and gives people a chance to see what a wonderful city Leeds is. There’s a lot of excitement around an event of this magnitude, and that transfers to the city as a whole.

“Major attractions such as Bass Pro and Grand River, which already are doing very well, are impacted even more during an event of this size. Revenue is generated for our motels and our businesses at Exit 140, and it has major retail impact.”

The estimated economic impact for the region is $33 million.

“The only disappointment that we experience is that we have no dining experience to entice other interested hotels and motels,” Patterson said. “Because of that, we lose visitors to other areas in the vicinity. If we could have places for people to frequent at night at the 140 exit, we could keep the majority of expendable dollars in the immediate vicinity.”

Along with the racing experience, the track is promoting its Red Diamond Fan Zone, which features attractions for children that include a zip line and the ferris wheel from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.

One of the biggest changes for fans is in parking. Humphrey said fans can park on-site for free Friday and Saturday, and free off-site parking is now available at The Shops of Grand River, located nearby. Shuttles will be available to take fans to and from the track from the outlet mall.

On-site parking Sunday is still available for $25.

“There’s a variety of things that make it a better experience for the fans,” Humphrey said. “Every time you do an event you learn something.”

Saturday’s main attraction is the Grand-Am Rolex 250, which features all of the series regulars, including TV’s Patrick Dempsey. Races begin Sunday at 10:20 a.m., and the Grand Prix starts at 1 p.m.

“All the comments (from the drivers) are positive,” Humphrey said. “Everyone seems to have a great experience.

“Both off the track and on the track, everyone seems to be very pleased with how things are and how they’re treated while they’re here.”

Tickets to the event are still available and start as low as $15. Visit www.barbermotorsports.com for more information.

Contact Will Heath at wheath@thestclairtimes.com.

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