BIRMINGHAM — John Croyle, a good friend and the founder the Big Oak Boys Ranch, gave me some great advice once. We were riding horses somewhere in the hills of St. Clair County and John asked me to tell him about the best day I ever spent with my Dad. I didn’t hesitate. I told him about the time my Dad took me camping at Lake Monroe near Bloomington, Indiana. We didn’t have a tent, so Dad tied a rope between two trees and hung a tarp over the rope and we sleep under there. Dad stuck a rod through a chicken and cooked it over an open fire. We thought we’d starve to death before that chicken was done, but to this day it’s still the best chicken I’ve ever tasted. The next morning Dad showed me how to shave. A 13-year old boy doesn’t forget a day like that.
My boys had a similar day last week. I was on vacation and other than a quick trip to Indiana for a little farm business I didn’t have much planned. A few months back I was at Barber Motorsports Park for a press conference. The track, Zoom Motor Sports and Honda announced that Honda was becoming the main sponsor for the Alabama Indy Grand Prix race that will be held in April. Mr. George Barber who built this wonderful racing facility was kind enough to speak to me and he asked how my boys were and how old they are now. Then he said, “Mike when it cools down a little bit bring your boys out and I’ll take them for a ride.” I said, “Mr. Barber don’t make that offer unless you really mean it, because I’ll take you up on that in heartbeat.”
Well, it cooled down a bit and last Monday was the perfect autumn day. It was mid-morning, cool and the sun was bright. First, Mr. Barber had us pile into a van and he drove us around the track. He showed us the line that most race cars would take around the track. He showed us how drivers would dive into corners and where the best places to pass on the track were. In a van going 40 to 50 miles an hour, it seemed simple enough. Then Mr. Barber, gave my boys the ride of their life. It was a two seat car with the driver on the right side and Jack and then Will strapped in on the left.
I shot video as the car raced by us, hitting close to 150 M.P.H. on the straight-a-ways. Fast, but not so fast that I couldn’t see the boys smiles and thumbs up as they whizzed by. No one was nervous, including me. This wasn’t George Barber’s first trip around a race course. Before taking over his family’s dairy company he raced cars all over the world and won over 90 races. He’s all about safety first, but he’s about speed and fun too.
It was an experience few people could give my boys and I’ll always be grateful. I’ve been an Indy car fan since I was old enough to turn a radio on. I still am, and am thrilled that Indy cars have such a great place to come and race in Alabama. We’ll be track side again in April and have a better appreciation of how fast those cars are going and the skill it takes harness all that horsepower.
It really was a great way to start a great vacation.
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