Q: You’ve been a racer. CART, Formula 2000, Indy Lights, and an instructor, what led you to become involved with race control and being a race director?
A: A team that I used to drive for acquired the Formula 2000 Series in 2002 and they wanted a more current driver, which they didn’t have at the time, to make their officiating decisions. Probably my experience driving and managing track programs such as driving schools, which I’d been doing for years, made me a natural choice. There wasn’t an interview, there wasn’t any kind of process, there was just a phone call asking, “ do you want to do this? “. I knew I wanted to do it because a friend I used to race with, Chris Kneifel, had just gotten a similar job at Champ Car and when I talked to him he said “ Just do it”, so I did it. After a year of experience he hired me to work at Champ Car and the rest is history.
Q: You became ALMS Race Director towards the end of the 2008 season. What stands out as the biggest adjustment you’ve had to make, or the biggest misconception you might have had going in, up until now.
A: The biggest misconception going in and the biggest adjustments have all revolved around this being multi-class racing rather than single-marque racing. That was a big eye-opener. Looking at multi-class racing as a fan, or a journalist, whether for tangible or intangible reasons you’re drawn to it. Behind the scenes the difference is massive, whether it’s full-course yellow or safety car, or wave by’s, the rules have all been totally re-written to apply specifically to multi-class racing since I’ve gotten here. It’s such a different beast from an officiating standpoint, there was a lot of learning about it, watching it, especially the first year, so that’s been the biggest adjustment.
Q: This has been an unusual year for race directors, whether NASCAR or IndyCar, having the spotlight focused on their activities. Given the competition, the 4 classes, why do you think your season has gone without any major event?
A: I took my team to dinner the other night and I told them something I say to them all the time. This can be a thankless job. When we have a great day nobody notices, and we have a lot of great days because these guys do their job. I give them a lot of the credit. Everybody has their specific tasks, they do them, and it makes my job a lot easier. I can walk in and make quick, appropriate decisions, because they make my job simpler and less complicated.
Q: Would you say that rewriting the rules since 2008 has helped a season like this go smoothly?
A: That’s definitely had a lot to do with it. We’re more comfortable with what we can, and are willing, to do with the rules package and it helps me be comfortable with my own interpretation of the rules and how I communicate that to the competitors. It helps create expectations that they understand and that I’m comfortable calling. I still really think that the strength of our ability to make decisions comes down to the whole team doing their job. When everybody understands their role, takes ownership of their role, and does it well, everything just falls into place.
On final warm-up before pit grid at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Barfield waits in the race control tower, scanning the screens and radios for reports on any incidents that might occur. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2011)
Q: Based on what you’ve learned, if you were able to impart one small nugget or success key to a race director, what would it be?
A: The biggest thing, in terms of earning respect even if people have differences of opinion, would be establishing expectations through communication so everyone knows where you’re coming from. I’m very clear in my drivers meetings what I will and won’t call. In such a subjective environment it’s very difficult to write rules that are clearly black and white. The competitors yearn for it, but there’s still a lot of shades of grey. That’s what we love about this sport, but the way you can make it black and white is in the way you communicate and set expectations so there are no surprises. You make a call and even if the team may disagree they look at it and say: “ that’s exactly what he said in the drivers meeting and that’s the way he called it “.