After nearly a quarter of a century of being intricately involved with running Verizon IndyCar Series races, Brian Barnhart is returning to the team side as president at Harding Racing.
It was announced today that Barnhart, 56, is leaving his position as INDYCAR’s vice president of competition/race director to join the fledgling Harding team as it works to become a full-time series entrant in 2018.
Barnhart conceded the decision to leave INDYCAR wasn’t easy, but the “once-in-a-lifetime offer” has his competitive juices flowing. Before he became a longtime fixture in race control at Verizon IndyCar Series events, the highlight of his work as a crew member on Galles Racing, Team Penske and Patrick Racing from 1982-94 was as a mechanic and tire changer on Al Unser Jr.’s two Indianapolis 500 victories in 1992 (with Galles) and 1994 (with Penske).
“I’m very excited about getting back on the team side and competitive side of things again,” Barnhart said of joining Harding Racing, which debuted this year with driver Gabby Chaves making starts in three oval races. “It’s certainly one of the components that factored in heavily in making the decision.
“I’ve been with INDYCAR for 23-plus years, obviously a huge part of my life, and makes the decision extremely difficult to make because of the opportunities that have been afforded to me by the Hulman-George family, INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They’re an incredibly loyal and supportive group of people in the family and I feel like a part of the family.”
After a three-year stint as Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s track superintendent from 1994-97, he’s had various operations positions at INDYCAR. He was the race director for 14 years (1997-2011), a race steward in 2012 and ’13 and served as the company’s president of operations and strategy. He has been the vice president of competition since May 2013 and re-assumed the race director position in 2015 to oversee on-track operations on a race weekend.
“Brian Barnhart has been a fixture in INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1994, and truly long before that during his time with several of our teams,” said Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations. “He has been instrumental in our competition department’s work with manufacturers, teams and venues over the years, and played a lead role in contributions to safety development and implementation, as well as overseeing race control. We can’t thank him enough for his passion and dedication to his work. We wish him all the best in his next endeavor.”
Barnhart stressed that he wasn’t seeking another opportunity, but team owner Mike Harding put together a package too enticing.
“I wasn’t out looking for a job,” Barnhart said. “It was an offer that came to me that was just simply too good to pass up in terms of what it offers me at this stage of my life and to get me to my retirement age – and to get back on the team side.
“It’s the next chapter. You go through life in runs. The run at INDYCAR was a great opportunity, but the next chapter of my life will be back on the competition side. We’re all competitive people at heart and the allure of being back trying to compete and win races is just really exciting to me.”
Harding Racing enjoyed promising results last season with the 24-year-old Chaves, who finished ninth in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, fifth in the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway and 15th in ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.
“With a short start-up season last year, the team did a fantastic job with a top-10 finish at Indy, a fifth at Texas and ran all day at Pocono as well,” Barnhart said. “They only ran the three ovals, but they were very good and competitive in all three. Now taking it to the next level, running a full season, will be exciting.”
Barnhart considers his extensive experience with race teams – as a crew member and series executive – has prepared him well for this next challenge.
“Since my years as a mechanic, although they were long ago, the sport has changed dramatically but a lot of the concepts and basic fundamentals are all the same,” he said. “After nearly a quarter of century on the INDYCAR side and understanding the role of the sanctioning body and what it does, I think it gives me a ton of depth and experience and makes it very well-rounded. From a team side, from a league side, from a sponsorship standpoint, from a television standpoint, you have a broader depth in understanding and experience on all levels.”
What he’s learned from a lifetime devoted to racing is nothing quite compares to the thrill of being on a winning team at the Indy 500.
“Absolutely,” Barnhart said. “It is the greatest race in the world and to be fortunate enough to be on two race teams, one with Galles and one with Penske, when ‘Little Al’ won both was clearly the highlights of my previous years of being on the team side. Hopefully we can have some huge success back at the speedway in the future.”