Photo: Justin R. Noe/ASP, Inc.

MORGAN: Observations from an Inaugural Trip into IndyCar Country

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor, IndyCar Contributor

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama For the first time this weekend, I was finally able to step foot inside an IndyCar paddock. Not only would it mark my inaugural open wheel race to cover as a credentialed media member, but it would also be my first time to see an IndyCar race in person…ever.

I have seen plenty of races on television, but as I’ve learned over the years of covering NASCAR races, seeing it in person can change your whole perspective.

After a weekend full of action at Barber Motorsports Park, a beautiful 17-turn, 2.38-mile road course winding through the countryside just outside of Alabama’s most populated city, here are a few of my observations of the experience.

From the time you pull into an IndyCar event, the vibe is just different. Upon walking the paddock, the environment feels much more welcoming than any other garage area I’ve ever stepped foot in. Teams and drivers are milling about in a much more laid-back fashion. There is work ongoing throughout the garage, but even while working at a feverish pace, those working on the car are quick to stop and speak with fans, media, and others that might be hanging around their garage space looking to get a word in with them.

On a normal NASCAR weekend, you rarely see the drivers on race morning as they zip from one pre-race commitment to the next, but in IndyCar, the drivers can be seen walking throughout the paddock, mingling with their teams and giving waiting fans a minute of their time when asked instead of normally hiding away in their haulers or motorhomes until close to race time.

Maybe it’s the hectic nature of a NASCAR weekend or the difference in the number of people milling about in the garage and on pit road, but IndyCar certainly seems to have the hospitality aspect of things down pat.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome being able to walk throughout the NASCAR garage on any given weekend, but they certainly could learn a thing or two from their open wheel counterparts, especially when it comes to access.

Now, onto the racing itself.

In NASCAR, Cup Series race days consist of one thing and one thing only on track, the Cup Series race. Meanwhile, IndyCar hosts a number of support races leading up to the main event in the afternoon, giving all in attendance a chance to watch cars on track instead of waiting around for hours on end until the green flag finally flies.

As far as the cars for each respective series, there is not the ground shaking thunder that comes with a NASCAR V8 rumbling through the air, but IndyCar certainly has some of the most beautiful looking race cars in all of motorsports.

These sleek machines, newly updated for the 2018 season with a universal aero kit, look blazingly fast just sitting still, and especially so when they come blowing by you on track when the race gets underway.

Road course racing on NASCAR tracks has fallen into the lines of what we would expect on short tracks. It’s entertaining as hell, but in IndyCar, the drivers can still run inches from each other throughout the course without having to result to using the chrome horn to make a pass, which is equally as enthralling.

Sunday’s race also incorporated wet weather as rain set in around the track in the morning and didn’t let up all day long. Anticipation was already high heading into race day as the Barber layout and the new car for 2018 had been giving drivers fits, but the wet weather just took it to a whole new level.

Now if this was NASCAR, it would be a lot of sitting around and doing nothing instead of going racing, given that they were at a road course that week. I don’t know about y’all, but I’d rather see some racing than staring at a computer screen waiting on the weather to clear up enough.

Though I was only able to see 22 laps before the heavy rains forced a postponement to Monday, the first time out in IndyCar certainly left a lasting impression on me and left me just wanting more. For anyone reading that has never given IndyCar a second look, I encourage you to give the open wheel side of the sport a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

While I still have to give NASCAR the nod as I’ve been more engrained into stock cars since I was growing up, more weekends like this could absolutely start to turn the tide in my book.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.