Beaux Barfield ready to go to work
INDIANAPOLIS -- Beaux Barfield and Brian Barnhart share the same initials.
But INDYCAR's incoming and outgoing race directors couldn't be more different in terms of background, personality, philosophy and perception.
Barfield, 40, was named INDYCAR's president of competition Wednesday, and he'll go to work right away revamping the Izod IndyCar Series rulebook and the way it's enforced.
In his time as chief steward for the American Le Mans Series, Barfield built a reputation for fairness and integrity. He's taking those traits to a series that has been dogged by controversial calls (or non-calls) for the past decade.
Barfield was an open-wheel racer who worked his way up to the Indy Lights level before his career took a turn into officiating. He worked in race control for the Champ Car World Series for five years, including serving as the top official for Formula Atlantic, before taking the race director position for the ALMS.
But he was always an open-wheel guy at heart, so when INDYCAR came calling, saying yes to the offer to take over race control from beleaguered Barnhart was a no-brainer.
"I'm honestly honored to be taking the role of race director for the Izod IndyCar Series," Barfield said at a news conference at Indianapolis Motor Speedway confirming his appointment. "Indy cars represent the pinnacle of my aspirations, both when I was driving and when my career translated into officiating.
"Part of the attraction for me is taking something that obviously requires some fix and some change," he added. "To come in with the ability to write the rules and start from the ground up is a great opportunity."
The INDYCAR rulebook was primarily developed by Barnhart, who remains with the company as president of operations. More controversial was Barnhart's interpretation of the rulebook, particularly in the area of blocking on the track.
Many drivers were left furious when they were called for blocking; others seethed at the lack of calls when they felt they were egregiously blocked.
The most famous incidents involved Helio Castroneves, who essentially had two race wins taken away from him when he was penalized by Barnhart for blocking.
Barfield knows blocking is going to be a hot topic but appears prepared to confront it.
"When I started officiating, we as an officiating crew made zero calls on blocking," Barfield said. "The following years, based on fan and driver input, we called everything on blocking. Both, in retrospect, were absolutely wrong. Both, from an officiating standpoint, were very easy to call. But the easy way to call it isn't the answer.
"The absolute black-and-white rules that most of us long for aren't really compatible in real life and in racing," he continued. "So it requires an official that can communicate and articulate the gray and enforce it accordingly. There will be latitude for drivers to defend their position, but when it gets to the dangerous side, calls will be made. I've called plenty of blocking penalties in the last several years. But you're more likely to see penalties for contact than for blocking."
Barfield said he wants to promote a culture of consistency when it comes to enforcing the rules and subsequent penalties. But above all, he hopes that officiating is a nonstory in the IndyCar Series, unlike the past few years.
Ultimately, I don't want to walk in here like I'm wielding a big stick and gunslinging. I have to sit in the drivers' meeting and explain to the drivers exactly what my expectations are, and I need to be very clear about that, so I manage those expectations.” -- Beaux Barfield
The fact that Barfield was once a driver (as opposed to Barnhart, who worked his way through the ranks as a mechanic) should promote a level of respect between the current Indy car drivers and the race director that was perceived as lacking under Barnhart.
"I think it's very important from an officiating standpoint to not look down at your constituency," Barfield said. "I've had great, productive working relationships everywhere I've officiated. I look at drivers and team managers as peers; I treat them as such. You move forward at times with relationships that you know are going to be adversarial. You sit down, have conversations that you know are going to be difficult, and try to find benefits for everybody involved when you have such a relationship with your people.
"Ultimately, I don't want to walk in here like I'm wielding a big stick and gunslinging," he added. "I have to sit in the drivers' meeting and explain to the drivers exactly what my expectations are, and I need to be very clear about that, so I manage those expectations."
In truth, one of the things that adversely affected Barnhart was the amount of responsibility he took on over the past 15 years.
He was essentially in charge of everything related to INDYCAR's on-track product, from writing and enforcing the rules -- competition and technical -- to making the schedule to running the races.
Those responsibilities will now be split among three people, with Will Phillips focusing on car and technical issues, Barfield running race control, and Barnhart stepping into a full-time administrative role.
"I think it's important that there's a line from Will and Beaux and Brian," said INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard. "There's still going to be a lot of roles for Brian, including track inspection, research and development, and event schedules. The fact is that everybody is going to have to work together to make this work.
"This is a big job," Bernard added. "Brian has done a great job with it, but I think it's time we should divide and split competition and operations and really focus and try to take our sport to the next level. That was the whole reasoning for doing this."
In many respects, as race director, Barnhart represented the last of the old guard from the days when INDYCAR was known as the Indy Racing League. Bernard has been keen to kill off the IRL and all the negative connotations that came with it.
Nearly two years after taking the INDYCAR CEO job, Bernard has his own team in place. He also has the potential excitement of a new chassis formula with engine manufacturer competition to help accelerate the slow and steady growth Indy car racing has shown since the unification of the sport in 2008.
"INDYCAR has a very bright future ahead of us in 2012," Bernard said. "I would like to think this is the start of a new era with a new car -- the first one in eight years -- as well as with three engine manufacturers producing a new turbocharged V-6 engine.
"We believe we have a lot of opportunity in 2012."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.