When the ‘Alabama Gang’ took on the Indianapolis 500

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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Tucked away in the woods, just inside the city limits that separate Leeds, Alabama, from the booming city of Birmingham, is one of the most beautiful road courses in the South, if not the entire United States.

This weekend, the Barber Motorsports Park will be staging the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama NTT IndyCar Series race for the 10th time.

Watch the race on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN or the NBC Sports app

Up the road a piece, is where the legendary Auburn and National Basketball Association great Charles Barkley grew up.

Barkley put Leeds on the map when he was one of the top high school basketball players in the country in the late 1970s and early 1980s. On Saturday night, the greatest player in Auburn history will be pulling for his Tigers as the basketball team made it to the NCAA “Final Four” for the first time in school history.

Times have changed in these parts. In a state known for college football and NASCAR, it’s college basketball and IndyCar racing that will be the main attraction in this state that takes pride in its Southern culture.

Nearly 50 years ago, it was much different.

There were stock car tracks all over the state of Alabama and the most famous of all stock car racers were known as “The Alabama Gang.”

It consisted of Red Farmer, a local stock car hero who continued to race well into his 80s. He’s still a legend at the disputed age of 91. Nobody knows for sure, how old Farmer is, but the International Motorsports Hall of Fame lists his birth year as 1928.

As late at 2015, Farmer still competed regularly in late model stock car racing at Talladega Short Track – a one-third mile dirt “Bull Ring” in Eastaboga, Alabama located across the street from Talladega Superspeedway.

But it was Bobby Allison and his younger brother Donnie (pictured above), along with Hueytown, Alabama neighbor and NASCAR protégé Neil Bonnett that made “The Alabama Gang” something to fear.

When these drivers weren’t winning the Daytona 500 or the Southern 500 or the Talladega 500 or any of the other big-time races on the NASCAR schedule in the 1960s, ‘70s and ’80s, they were racing Late Model stock cars at Birmingham International Raceway and other tracks in the South and around the United States.

So as the NTT IndyCar Series takes over Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham for the 10thHonda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, let’s look back to when “The Alabama Gang” took on the Indianapolis 500.

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1970 Indianapolis 500 “Rookie of the Year” Donnie Allison after qualifying for the 1971 Indianapolis 500

In the days before specialization, it was not uncommon to see race drivers compete in races, no matter what series the races were part of. IndyCar drivers such as AJ Foyt were semi-regulars in NASCAR Grand National, winning races against the big-name drivers of the time such as Fred Lorenzen, Richard Petty, Fireball Roberts and David Pearson. Cale Yarborough competed in the same Indianapolis 500 in 1966 that Formula One World Champion Graham Hill won, and the great Jackie Stewart was Indy 500 “Rookie of the Year.”

Jim Clark, the legendary Formula One World Champion, drove a NASCAR race at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, North Carolina in 1967. That’s the same year Mario Andretti won the Daytona 500.

Donnie Allison had struck up a friendship with AJ Foyt from those days when Foyt competed in NASCAR. Foyt was one of the few IndyCar drivers the NASCAR gang considered one of their own, despite the fact Foyt used to call the NASCAR guys “Taxi Cab Drivers.”

“Every time I saw AJ, I would ask, ‘When are you going to let me drive one of your Indy cars?’” Allison told NBC Sports.com. “He said, ‘You don’t want to drive an Indy car; you’re a taxi driver.’

“I was at Daytona in 1970 and I asked him again. He told me to come to Houston to see what we could put together. I went to the shop and AJ got together with his father, Tony, and we went into the back and showed me the car I was going to run, and it was a 1968 Eagle. It wasn’t even a Coyote; it was a two-year-old Eagle.

“AJ’s father and I put the car together and we went to a test at Phoenix. He asked me to take a ride in the car. I got in it and went out there and on the third lap he was motioning me on the straightaway to come in.

“AJ was mad at me and said, I just cost him $500. I asked how I did that? He had bet the Goodyear Tire guys I wouldn’t break 29 seconds (a lap). My second lap was a 28.50.

“It was a constant thing like that with Foyt. He was a tremendous race driver and a very good friend.”

Allison enjoyed his time in an Indy car and even told Foyt in 1971 that he would run the full United States Auto Club (USAC) IndyCar “National Trail” so that Foyt could concentrate on the “Big Four” races in IndyCar at that time.

“You’d leave stock cars?” Foyt asked Allison, who told him, “Only to drive your car for the IndyCar championship in USAC.’

“I enjoyed the Indy cars,” Allison told NBC Sports.com. “I had a lot of experience in Super-modifieds and the Indy cars were like a glorified Supermodified.

“I had two rough months of May at Indianapolis, but I had two really good race days.”

Allison started 20thin the 1970 Indianapolis 500 and finished fourth, winning the Stark and Wetzel “Rookie of the Year Award.” The following day, he returned to Charlotte and won the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I spent plenty of time in airplanes that year flying between Charlotte and Indianapolis, back and forth,” Donnie recalled. “I was so busy those days flying back and forth every day, I crashed for about a week and slept.

“It was quite a weekend.”

Allison became quite a sensation, too, as a genuine NASCAR driver with NASCAR roots that achieved success in the Indianapolis 500.

Donnie drove the Indy 500 with ease.

“In the 1970 500, I don’t remember it being difficult,” Allison said. “At one stage of the race, Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti and I were in one heck of a race. In fact, we passed each other about three or four times until I finally got ahead of them and stayed.

“I got a heck of a compliment paid to me when AJ Watson came over to the garage and stuck out his hand and said, ‘You’re the only stock car driver I’ve ever seen that could drive one of these things.’”

Donnie Allison believes a good race car driver drives by feel and that is the way he raced. That is why he was able to adapt to the Indy car as well as he did with the stock cars. The same could be said for the successful IndyCar drivers that ran in NASCAR.

“I wasn’t intimidated by Indy,” Donnie told NBC Sports.com. “Not one time was I apprehensive about the Indy car at all. That is why I did as well as I did; I had the confidence.

“In 1971 on Carburetion Day, there was only one car that ran faster than me that day and it was Al Unser (who would go on to win his second-straight Indy 500 that year). They changed the wing angle on me before the race and said I couldn’t drive a car that loose.

“I believe I would have won the Indy 500 that day if they hadn’t changed the wing angle on me.”

Donnie Allison admitted the car was a handful all day. He once again started 20thand finished sixth.

He was originally going to drive an old Coyote chassis, but Allison had difficulty with that car. Sometimes, his discussions with Foyt were quite heated, but they never let that impact their friendship.

Foyt had a brand-new Coyote that had run laps at 172 miles per hour. He let Donnie in the car, and he ran 173 mph on his first lap.

Foyt withdrew the original car that was assigned to Allison and rival car owner Andy Granatelli protested. Granatelli wanted the satisfaction of bumping one of Foyt’s cars out of the field of 33.

“My first lap was over 175 miles an hour,” Allison said. “I ran 174, 174 and my last lap was 172.

“When I came in, AJ didn’t say, ‘Good job. Congratulations.’ He said, ‘Why did you drop off on that last lap?’

“That was AJ Foyt for you. But he’s my good friend.”

Donnie finished sixth in the 1971 Indianapolis 500.

Older brother Bobby was proud of his little brother, but incredulous at the same time.

“Who could come to Indy and have a fourth place and a sixth and not get a first-class ride for the next year?” Bobby asked. “He deserved better than that.”

Another highlight for the younger Allison was running at the famed Milwaukee Mile.

“That was cool, that was a lot of fun,” Allison said. “And, I bumped Cale Yarborough out of the race. I was really happy about that.

“Milwaukee was a great track. You could pass three or four times a lap. It was a race track where we raced. It was almost like a short track.”

Donnie Allison also ran at Ontario Motor Speedway and Pocono in 1971, but admitted he was having a difficult time and was frustrated. At Pocono, he thought every time he left pit road, he wasn’t going to make it back unless the car was on the back of a wrecker. Allison kept wanting to change springs and Foyt wouldn’t let him. He qualified 15th and ran the first practice, came into the garage and told Foyt he quit.

Foyt wanted to meet with Allison, but Allison didn’t want any part of it. Finally, the two agreed to meet at a Coffee Shop in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Foyt relented and admitted that Allison’s springs would be better than the ones Foyt made him use.

Allison’s first timed lap after the spring chance was 6 miles an hour faster than what he qualified. But a spin out after 48 laps left Allison’s car in the mud.

“Hey Allison, you looked like a Turtle down there with your head coming in and out of the mud,’” Foyt said. “I told him, ‘I guess I screwed up.’

“AJ didn’t have a comeback for that one because I admitted it was my fault.”

Donnie Allison would win three NASCAR Cup races in 1970 and one in 1971 in the two years he ran the Indianapolis 500. He wanted to run for the USAC IndyCar National Championship in 1972, but a deal never materialized.

Allison returned to NASCAR and won a total of 10 Cup races. He was a hard and fierce stock car racer first and foremost, but the NASCAR star of the family was older brother Bobby.


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Bobby Allison after qualifying for the 1975 Indianapolis 500 for Penske Racing.

Winner of 84 NASCAR Cup races and the 1983 championship, Bobby Allison remains a legend and is a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. But the most successful member of the “Alabama Gang” had a miserable experience in the two Indianapolis 500s that he competed in for famed team owner Roger Penske.

In 1973, Bobby Allison would get his chance to compete in the Indianapolis 500. It ended up being one of the worst experiences of his career up to that point.

“Penske was getting his team put together and at the time Mark Donohue was alive and was one of Penske’s chief engineers,” Bobby Allison told NBC Sports.com. “They asked me to go to an IndyCar test and treated me like a ‘Red-headed Stepchild’ at the test. Mark was there and Peter Revson was there, and they told me, ‘Don’t you dare go fast. You have to go slow or this car is going to kill you.’

“I went out slow. I came back in and they laughed at me.

“This was 8:15 in the morning and they weren’t going to let me go back out until 3:30 in the afternoon. When they let me back on the track, they told me I could go as fast as I wanted, just be careful.”

Allison ran nine laps but didn’t know how fast the speeds were until he came back into the pits. One of the engineers confronted him over the nosepiece of the car and grabbed Allison by his collar and shook his fist in his face.

Allison was stunned.

The engineer was mad because a NASCAR driver had run laps equal to what Donohue and Revson had run. It was the first time I had ever sat in an Indy car.

“I pushed him backwards, took my firesuit off, got in my airplane and came back home,” Bobby recalled to NBC Sports.com. “Donnie had a similar situation, but Donnie put up with it. Donnie’s fuse is sometimes shorter than mine. I was surprised Donnie put up with Foyt and his cronies.

“Roger Penske stepped in and promised to straighten it out. But Roger Penske wanted Gary Bettenhausen to run my car after any and all changes were made. That really irked me.”

Allison thought the world of Donohue and admired the driver that was the cornerstone of Penske Racing in those days.

To add to the misery of 1973, Allison and his wife, Judy, were close friends with popular driver Art Pollard. When Allison and his wife entered the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Pole Day, Pollard was killed in a crashed that happened right before their eyes.

“Judy and I came through the tunnel and this crash happened and it’s Art Pollard getting killed,” Bobby Allison recalled. “Judy wanted to leave right then and there, but I had to do it because I had given my word to Roger Penske.

“All the IndyCar drivers and crewman were convinced they were automatically better than any NASCAR driver. I knew better than that. I was flabbergasted at the attitude.”

After two days of rain and a horrifying crash at the start of the race on Memorial Day Monday when Salt Walther’s car went into the tire fence and spewed hot fuel into the crowd, badly burning dozens of spectators. The race was halted that day for more rain and darkness. Tuesday was completely rained out so on a Wednesday morning, race officials hurriedly tried to start the race.

Allison’s engine blew up on the Parade Lap.

“I had been up there all month and never turned one lap in the Indianapolis 500,” Allison said. “Judy was sitting in the stands for the raise and was only a few hundred feet away from where Swede Savage was killed.

“She was plenty unhappy about the whole experience.”

Penske talked Allison into one more attempt at the Indy 500 in 1975. Allison was driving Penske’s AMC Matador in NASCAR and the combination was enjoying success. But Bobby could not get along with Penske Racing chief mechanic Jim McGee. Changes were made to Allison’s car without his knowledge.

“I missed the field on the first day,” Penske said. “I qualified what would have been the top 10 but it was on the second day.

“I started 13thand led the 23rdlap of the race. I pitted and the fuel system failed and doused me with alcohol. I was sitting in a tub of alcohol and the crew told me to go and ran the car until it ran out of fuel. I got it stopped, lost a lap, had a caution, got the car fixed where I was comfortable. I unlapped myself under the green six laps after the halfway mark of the race.

“Then, my engine blew up two laps later.

“I said, ‘I don’t need this.’ I had worked hard to do well in NASCAR. I wanted to do good in NASCAR.”

Throughout Bobby Allison’s career, he was often at odds with authority figures, be it team owners, NASCAR officials, crew members or fellow drivers.

When told of his older brother’s reflections of the resentment he felt in the Indy 500, Donnie took a more diplomatic view.

“Different personalities and different egos,” Allison said of his older brother and Penske Racing. “When Bobby drove for Penske, he owned his own team and did a lot of the engine work and engineered the car himself.

“Bobby was just like Foyt – he knew what he wanted, he knew how to get it and he didn’t want anyone to know what he wanted.

“Bobby and I had identically built race cars than he did. I was winning all the races in that car and Bobby wasn’t. He wanted to know what was different in my car and his car and I told him, ‘the driver.’ He asked again and I told him what it was.

“He didn’t like that. I beat him at a big race in Birmingham and I told him the same thing. He didn’t like that answer. I did an awful lot of work for Bobby. Bobby Allison Racing was built by Bobby and Donnie Allison.”

Neil Bonnett attempted to compete in the 1979 Indy 500 for team owner Warner Hodgdon, but rain ruined his chance to qualify for the race. Bonnett was driving for the Wood Brothers and was prepared to skip the World 600. But when qualifications interfered with the NASCAR race at Dover, Bonnett withdrew from the Indy 500 and never had a chance to return.

Bobby and Donnie Allison are the only two members of the “Alabama Gang” that ever competed in the Indianapolis 500 and are part of the history and legacy of that race.

“I feel very good about that,” Donnie Allison said. “I ran pretty damn good there.”

Donnie and Bobby both watch the NTT IndyCar Series races on NBCSN and NBC. Although Bobby is more of a stock car fan, Donnie has become a big advocate of the current IndyCar Series, its stars and its races.

“I really like what is happening,” Donnie said. “Jay Frye (INDYCAR President) started thinking about what they needed to do to make the cars more raceable. That’s the problem NASCAR is going through right now. NASCAR is a bunch of Sumo Wrestlers trying to drive the cars because they can’t drive the cars they have.

“Whatever they did in IndyCar, was the right move.”

Donnie is 79 and is part of the Allison Legacy Racing Series. Defending NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series driver Joey Logano competed in that series when he was 12.

Bobby is 81 and remains one of the more tragic figures in the sport. He lost both sons including Clifford in a NASCAR Busch Series crash at Michigan International Speedway on August 13, 1992. Bobby’s son, Davey, killed in a helicopter crash at Talladega on July 13, 1993.

Bobby’s career came to an end when he suffered a very serious head injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway on June 19, 1988, just a few months after he won his third Daytona 500 in a 1-2 finish with his son, Davey.

To this day, Bobby Allison has no recollection of that glorious moment in his life when father and son finished first and second in the Daytona 500.

“To this day, I see replays of it and it’s like I’m watching a movie,” Bobby admitted. “It’s not me and Davey on the track, it’s a movie.”

Bobby became a widower on December 18, 2015 when he lost the love of his life, long-time wife Judy.

His connection to the Indianapolis 500 was not a happy one, but Bobby does have something from that race that is a proud possession to this day.

“I’m still proud of the fact we both represented ourselves well with the speed that we ran and Donnie getting the finishes that he did, and me running as good as I did,” Bobby Allison said. “To lead that 23rdlap of the 1975 Indianapolis 500 – they gave me a little trophy for leading that lap. They used to give the lap leaders a trophy for the laps they led.

“I have that trophy in my house.

“There are a lot of guys who are really good race drivers that don’t have a trophy for leading laps in the Indianapolis 500.”

The Thermal Club wants an IndyCar race, and series executives liked its initial impact at test

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THERMAL, Calif. – Many teams in the NTT IndyCar Series questioned the relevancy of having a two-day preseason test at The Thermal Club.

The team owners, drivers and engineers believed the 17-turn, 3.067-mile race course that winds and twists its way through a gated private community (about 45 minutes southeast of Palm Springs) had no relevance to any track on the 17-race schedule.

To the leaders of IndyCar, however, there was plenty of relevance to hosting its “Spring Training” at a sort of motorsports country club that caters to extremely wealthy residents who also are automotive enthusiasts.

“Both with our stakeholders and the media that covers IndyCar, we wanted them to know that we are going to do things differently,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports from the private VIP viewing area that overlooks the long straights and twisting turns of the course. “This is going to be a year when we expect our growth to go to a whole new level.

“What better way to send that message than to be at a place we have never been that is exceptional?

“The quality of this place; the facilities are off the charts. The customer service, the welcoming feeling you get from the staff here. The track itself is fast. The drivers are having a great time on it.

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‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“It really sent a message to our other promoters and our drivers and team owners that something is up. We want fans around the country and the sports industry to know that something is going on with IndyCar this year.”

The Thermal Club is a concept driven by Tim Rogers, who made his fortune by supplying gasoline to 7-Eleven stores in 36 states. He wanted to create a private community that mixed multimillion-dollar homes and luxury villas with a high-speed race course.

The two-day IndyCar “Spring Training” was the most ambitious motorsports project yet for The Thermal Club.

Rogers wants it to be the first step in a long-term goal for the community.

“Our endgame is we want to host an IndyCar Series race at The Thermal Club one day,” Rogers told NBC Sports as IndyCar hit the track again Friday morning. “This was a good trial to see how the facility can handle it and if the facility works for them.”

Felix Rosenqvist makes laps in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet during the first day of NTT IndyCar Series testing (Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images).

The two-day test was closed to the general public. It was open only to credentialed news media, members of the Thermal Club and a limited number of their guests.

With the spectacular backdrop of the Coachella Valley that is rimmed with snow-capped mountains, The Thermal Club could provide a great setting for an NBC telecast of an IndyCar Series race (and possibly line up a big sponsor for a return on its investment with a larger than normal audience during a ripe time such as the first weekend of February).

NASCAR is using that same model Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum by hosting the Busch Light Clash. The National Football League’s AFC and NFC Championship games were last weekend and next Sunday is the Super Bowl.

“That could work, but we have room where we could separate the public and the private members area, too,” Rogers said. “We could accommodate 4,000 or so of the general public.

“This would be a premium event for a premium crowd.”

Rogers’ dream of The Thermal Club began 11 years ago. He will talk to IndyCar about a return for Spring Training next year with hopes of getting a date on the schedule for 2025.

“Whatever fits,” Rogers said.

Miles and Penske Entertainment, the owners of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500, realize Rogers has an ambitious dream of getting a race on the schedule.

Miles, however, isn’t ready to indicate that a race at Thermal is part of IndyCar’s future (though drivers seem open to the concept).

“Tim and everybody at The Thermal Club have done a phenomenal job of being hosts here for this test,” Miles said. “Everybody is very happy we are here, and I expect we will find a way to continue to be here. Whether that means a race and when is really a bridge we aren’t ready to cross yet.

“We really like opening the championship season each year in St. Petersburg, Florida. We’ll have to see. But it’s a great way to start the season in this way, and right now, we are happy to be here.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Defending IndyCar champion Will Power takes laps at The Thermal Club during the first day of the track’s first test (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

On track, it was a successful two-day test session with 27 car/driver combinations that will compete in IndyCar in 2023. It’s the largest field for IndyCar since the 1990s. There were a few spins here and there but no major incidents across 2,560 laps.

Kyle Kirkwood led the final session Friday while getting acquainted with his new No. 27 team at Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood has replaced Alexander Rossi at Andretti, whom Kirkwood drove for in Indy Lights.

His time of 1 minute, 38.827 seconds (111.721 mph) around the 3.067-mile road course was the fastest of the fourth and final session. But the fastest speed over two days was defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing in the Friday morning session (1:38.4228, 112.182 mph in the No. 8 Honda).

Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing was second in the final session at 1:38.8404 (111.707 mph) in the No. 77 Chevrolet. Rookie Marcus Armstrong of New Zealand was third at 1:38.8049 (111.707 mph) in the No. 11 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was fourth at 1:38.8718 (111.672 mph) in the No. 10. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske rounded out the top five at 1:38.9341 (111.602 mph) in the No. 12 Chevrolet.

Ericsson was the fastest in combined times followed by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard at 1:38.5682 in the No. 45 Honda, Kirkwood, Ilott and Armstrong. Positions 3-5 speeds were from the final practice session on Friday.

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
With members’ houses in the background, Romain Grosjean navigates the turns of The Thermal Club in his No. 28 Dallara-Honda (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Drivers didn’t know what to expect before hitting the track. After the two-day test was over, NBC Sports asked several drivers what they learned from The Thermal Club.

“I think it’s a first-class facility, no doubt,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske said. “I think the entire facility here at Thermal really rolled out the red carpet for us. They did a tremendous job.

“It was a fairly flawless test, I would say, for two days. I think the great thing about this was we had a two-day test, which was fantastic. You got to have this warmup; this preseason build. That was the biggest positive for me, is that we were here, we were running cars. It was a great facility to do it at.

IndyCar Thermal Club test
Josef Newgarden said his No. 2 team (which has a new lead engineer) used The Thermal Club test as an opportunity for building cohesion (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).
Indycar Series Test - Day 2
Josef Newgarden (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

“I think the track was a lot more fun than we anticipated. It was challenging, definitely technical. I don’t know how relevant it is. For us, it wasn’t really relevant to anywhere we’re going, but that’s OK.”

But even though the track has no sector particularly similar to any road or street course on the schedule, there still were benefits.

“In a lot of ways, it is relevant,” Newgarden said. “For us it was relevant for building the team up, trying to work in a competitive environment, be competitive together. That’s everything. So regardless of is the setup going to apply to a certain track or another, (it) doesn’t really matter.

“For us, it was applying the principles of how we’re going to work together. From that standpoint, it was very productive for everybody. Raceability-wise, it’s hard to say. It was chewing tires up. Big drop-off from run one to two. I think from a race standpoint, that would be quite positive. You’d have big tire deg here.

“You’d have to do more work on runoff areas if we wanted to race here, but it’s possible. I don’t think it would take much effort to do the things to run an actual race.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Will Power (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Kirkwood found speed in his Andretti Autosport machine, but he used the test to create a smooth working relationship with his new crew.

“I wouldn’t say that we found something here that is going to translate to anywhere, right?” the 2021 Indy Lights champion said. “This is a very unique track, although it was a lot of fun to drive, and it kind of surprised me in the amount of grip that it actually produced.

“It was quite a bit faster than what we expected.”

Many of the NTT IndyCar Series teams will test later this month at Sebring, Florida, as they prepare for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to kick off the season March 5.

“It’s a very nice facility, a nice area, it’s pretty cool to have two days of testing here with a lot of high-profile people,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske told NBC Sports. “It’s a very technical, tough track.

“It’s pretty good.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 2
IndyCar drivers turns laps on the second day of testing at The Thermal Club, which is nestled in the Coachella Valley that is ringed by mountains in Southern California (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

The Thermal Club received rave reviews, welcomed IndyCar and provided exposure to the movers and shakers of the business community that own the luxury villas and homes in this ultra-rich community.

Could it be a venue of the future for a series that sells lifestyle as much as on-track competition?

“This is a fantastic facility and the circuit is a fast circuit,” team owner Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty exciting to watch the cars run around here. I think it would be attractive to people.

“I’ll leave that up to Mark Miles and (IndyCar President) Jay Frye and everybody else whether we have a race here, but why not?

“It’s a great place.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500