Ryan Hunter-Reay

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Ryan Hunter-Reay has enjoyed success at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First, with two race wins and a pole position at Barber Motorsports Park.

But that’s not the only reason the Andretti Autosport driver enjoys coming to the picturesque and quirky road course.

Barber Motorsports Park“There is always something new and surprising to see on and off the track, thanks to the imagination and inspiration of George Barber,” Hunter-Reay said Wednesday as he stood next to one of the track’s latest unusual statues – this one of Sasquatch, the folklore ape-man creature also known as Bigfoot. Sasquatch stands beside a secret fishing hole within a few feet of the track, complete with fishing pole cast into the water in the hopes of catching his next meal.

The track’s namesake and park creator, George Barber, invited Hunter-Reay, an avid fisherman who enjoys deep-sea fishing off the coast of his Fort Lauderdale, Florida home, to meet and do some fishing with one of the park’s more elusive residents.

“(Sasquatch) moved to the area some years ago and we found him wandering aimlessly in the woods,” Barber explained. “We felt a little sorry for him, so we gave him some cover, a pond to fish and bathe in, and he’s been with us since.”

Hunter-Reay grabbed a rod and spent time fishing for bass with his new “friend” in a small pond atop an impressive new waterfall feature that sits between the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum and Turn 9 of the 2.3-mile racetrack that has hosted Verizon IndyCar Series races since 2010. They discussed the 13-acre lake on Barber’s property that is home to 1,700 largemouth bass and 17,000 bream and redear sunfish, smaller fish upon which the bass feed. Apparently, it is not unusual to catch 8- to 10-pound bass in the lake.

While waiting for a bite on his line, Hunter-Reay recounted another surprise he encountered on track at last month’s open test.

“As I came around the turn and under the bridge by the museum, I was surprised to see a woman in a skirt with her shoes still on, hanging from the rafters of the bridge,” said Hunter-Reay, who won the Barber race from the pole in 2013 and repeated as race winner the following year. “I was about to radio it in, when I remembered where I was. I took another lap just to be sure and there she was. It was a bit distracting at first but all in good fun.”

“That’s Georgina,” George Barber said matter-of-factly of the mannequin dangling over the track from the bridge. “She is a big INDYCAR fan. We have quite a few crazy fans, but there’s always one that does something a little looney and that’s Georgina.

“She likes the view from bridge and she’s decided that she’s going to stay there until one of these drivers slows down enough for her to drop right down into the cockpit with him. She’s a real attractive southern lady.”

Hunter-Reay, driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda, and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers will get that chance when practice begins Friday. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama race telecast starts live at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Of note

Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves made the media rounds Thursday in familiar territory on the eve of opening practice for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner was in Atlanta and visited The Weather Channel (see photo below) among other stops. Castroneves’ girlfriend, Adriana Henao, is from Atlanta and their daughter, Mikaella, was born there. Many of Henao’s relatives will be attending Sunday’s race to make for a small family reunion. … On the strength of two wins in as many races to start the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Honda leads the manufacturers’ championship by 50 points over Chevrolet heading into the Barber race weekend. Honda has totaled 185 points to 135 for Chevrolet, which has won every manufacturers’ title since engine competition resumed in 2012.

Weather Channel and Helio Castroneves