The Barber Motorsports Park has landed a three-year contract with the Indy Racing League for races that could attract as many as 100,000 fans per event and deliver a hefty economic impact to the Birmingham metro area. A formal announcement that the Barber track will host the races will be made Monday by Gov. Bob Riley and Mayor Larry Langford, sources with knowledge of the plans told The Birmingham News.
The first of the races, called the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
, will be April 9-11, the sources said. The park will hold the event around the same time in 2011 and 2012.
Zoom Motorsports, a company headed by Birmingham businessmen Ronnie Bruno and Gene Hallman, has leased the track for the series and will promote it. Zoom, which has set an event budget of $4.5 million, is seeking $400,000 from the city of Birmingham and additional support from the state. The Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau also is kicking in some funds.
Plus, the promoters have approached several prominent Alabama companies about supporting the race. A title sponsor is being sought, and the sponsor's name would be added to the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama title.
Each of the races will have an estimated economic impact topping $30 million, according to a study prepared by the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The races will put Birmingham on an Indy car circuit that includes North American cities such as Miami, Dallas and Toronto. Alabama's largest city beat out Cleveland, Houston, Baltimore, Nashville, Charlotte and Portland, Ore., for the event, according to the sources.
Likes broad support
Terry Angstadt, Indy's president for commercial affairs, said Saturday the league was impressed with the broad-based support for the race in Alabama -- from state and local governments to the large crowd that turned out for an Indy test session in March.
"The ones that really do it right have that kind of broad-based support," Angstadt said, adding that track promoter Zoom Motorsports also made a strong impression. "The Zoom group has been as methodical and professional as any group we've worked with."
Angstadt also said Indy officials were "absolutely, literally blown away" by the 2.3-mile road course. "It's just a gorgeous facility."
The Indy Racing League has 18 dates on its racing calendar around the world each year. A spot opened up when Detroit lost its race, and Birmingham officials jumped at the chance to earn the date.
The Birmingham event will be the third race on the IRL calendar in 2010 and take place just two weeks before the Indy 500. It is expected that the same cars and the same drivers -- including Danica Patrick, Dario Franchitti, Marco Andretti and Helio Castroneves -- will be in Birmingham as they gear up for the Indy 500.
A 2-year process
Landing the race comes after officials courted the IRL for two years. Zoom's Hallman and Bruno worked with Riley, Langford, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and state legislators on the effort, the sources said.
They pitched the attractiveness of Barber Motorsports Park and the number of fans who turned out for the March test sessions. Also, a delegation from the state visited the Indy 500 this year to make a pitch.
Economic development officials are expected to use the event as a platform to market the state and recruit new industry.
Alabama's auto industry will have some involvement at the race. Honda, which operates a $1.4 billion plant in Lincoln, already is the official engine provider for IRL.
Barber Motorsports Park and Museum is a $70 million project within the Birmingham city limit near Leeds.
To host the race, the track's operators will have to install debris fencing for safety as well as some grandstands and hospitality structures. Most of the additions will be temporary, although the track may choose to keep some hospitality facilities permanently.
Officials are planning a week of activities leading to the big race on Sunday. Other races will be on Saturday.
The main race is expected to be televised by either ABC or the Versus Sports cable channel.
News staff writer Doug Demmons contributed to this report.
BARBER MOTORSPORTS PARK
THE TRACK: 2.38 miles long, 45 feet wide, 17 turns and 80 feet of elevation change.
OTHER EVENTS: Honda Superbike Classic-AMA Superbike Championship, Porsche 250 Grand Am series races, plus private car clubs, motorcycle and car testing and other events.
TRAINING: Home to the Porsche Sport Driving School USA and the Kevin Schwantz Motorcycle School.
NONPROFIT: The $70 million nonprofit Barber Motorsports Park is the largest philanthropic project by an individual in the state.
MUSEUM: Houses the world's largest private collection of motorcycles and Lotus race cars in the world.
Read even more about the Indy Racing League's plans for 2010 and Birmingham at the Blog of Tomorrow.
Indy Car race coming to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama - Breaking News from The Birmingham News - al.com
I like seeing more racing come to this great track.