Barron Settles In At Blair
January 27, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
He won the 1997 Toyota Atlantic championship as a rookie. He raced for big-name teams such as Penske Racing and Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers. He led races and contended for wins in CART.
Still, Barron has been without a full-time ride since he drove for Gurney’s CART team in 1998. That won’t happen this year.
Barron, tired of jumping from job to job and team to team, landed a ride with Larry Blair’s Indy Racing League team for the 2002 season.
“At the end of last year, I was looking to get a full-time ride,” Barron said, “and fortunately, it’s been with Larry. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Barron and Blair didn’t come together by chance. The two worked together last season in CART. Barron replaced Max Wilson at Arciero-Blair Racing in the final two events of the season. He finished ninth and 13 at Fontana, Calif., and Australia. More important, however, Barron impressed Blair.
“Other than the accomplishments that I saw with Alex in a kind of live interview situation, if you will, running two races for us was his enormous ability to help read the car and provide extremely constructive feedback to the engineering staff, so that they are able to dial the car in quicker, more easily than any other experience that I had had previous,” Blair said.
Other owners have seen promise in Barron, too, but none produced the level of commitment Blair has shown.
Barron’s title-winning season in the Toyota Atlantic Series caught Gurney’s eye. He hired Barron to drive his All American Racers car in CART in 1998. A season and a half later, the partnership ended. But Barron wasn’t unemployed for long.
Roger Penske brought Barron on as a test driver in the middle of 1999. Barron’s performance earned him a ride in Penske Racing’s No. 3 at Michigan and Fontana. Those races ended with a blown engine and a crash, leaving Barron unemployed again.
In 2000, Barron was without a ride until Dale Coyne asked him to fill in for the injured Takuya Kurosawa. He was chasing down leader Adrian Fernandez at Australia before his engine blew, knocking him out of the race. He led 10 laps at the season finale at Fontana, but a blown engine forced him out of contention again.
Last season he competed in one IRL race at Gateway International Raceway for Sam Schmidt Motorsports and ended the year with Blair.
“I was real fortunate to hook up with Larry at the end of last year,” Barron said. “Things went really well and I think, again, the key to that was a great opportunity, due to the fact we had a Lola chassis, we had Ford-Cosworth engines. Working with Larry was just great. We just had a lot of fun, and we had good results.”
Blair attributes his team’s success with Barron to the relationship his crew has forged with the driver.
“I think fundamentally there’s just an enormous amount of trust and respect between us mutually, and it’s not as if we have to get to know each other first before we can identify and such,” Blair said. “So the team itself is really solid, and there’s a significant amount of harmony and consistent vision for where we’re headed. So from that point of view, we get a head start.”
Although he’s confident in the team, Barron has modest expectations.
“Everything is kind of coming into place here, and knowing that I have full season with the team that’s going to be very competitive is definitely a great feeling starting the new year, and I just look forward to going out there in Fontana and really getting associated with the team and get everything rolling and get the chemistry going between the team,” he said. “I think that when we get everything together, and we go to Fontana, we’ll be starting things slowly, but we’re just trying to make progression every time we go out. I think that’s the key to being successful.”
“I’m just looking forward to running a competitive package and getting the year going.”
The season begins March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but the team makes its first public appearance Feb. 6 at the Test in the West in Fontana, Calif., and Feb. 8-9 at Phoenix International Raceway.
The trip west takes Barron back home. He grew up in San Diego, and he considers California Speedway his home track.
“I definitely like the track,” he said. “I don’t live far from there, but I’m looking forward to going there with the new package and the new team.”
Barron is also excited about racing at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I’ve been there the last couple of years and have seen what has gone on,” Barron said. “As a kid, I watched it on TV, but you never really get that feel until you’re there, and knowing that we’re going to go there and actually race this year and being there the whole month of May is just going to be incredible.
“The kind of feelings that you get when you’re standing there, especially out on the front straight with the sounds echoing off the bleachers and just all the excitement on qualification day - Pole Day - it’s just incredible. I’m just looking forward to going there and competing and going for pole position.”