Beaux Barfield was officially announced as the new Race Director for the IZOD IndyCar Series earlier today, and he very kindly spared More Front Wing a few moments of his time to allow us a closer look into the philosophies behind his officiating and the changes we can expect to see in 2012.
Full audio of the interview can be accessed using the player at the bottom of this page. A selection of key quotes appears below.
On his career background: “At the end of my driving career as it was sort of petering out and I didn’t have the means to continue financially, I found my way into — as many of these guys do — teaching racing schools, coaching drivers, to keep myself at racetracks. I happened upon a fellow by the name of Chris Kniefel, who ended up soon thereafter becoming the Champ Car Race Director. He and I worked really well together at schools and just had a great time. The first year that my former team owner obtained the Formula Ford 2000 series, he hired me out of the blue to be the Race Director with absolutely zero officiating experience. Kneifel told me to go for it — he thought it would be a good experience and I would do well at it. And with a year of officiating experience, Kneifel hired me to work alongside him as a steward at Champ Car. And, basically, the rest of my officiating career is history from there. But it was good experience working alongside him for a couple of years and then a couple of years with Tony Cotman as a steward at Champ Car, where I also served as Race Director for different support series such as Atlantic and Trans-Am and was fortunate enough to land on my feet with the American Le Mans Series when Champ Car essentially got absorbed into INDYCAR.”
On discussion of his lack of experience officiating oval races: “I can certainly appreciate people’s concern with their perception of my lack of experience on ovals. But my response to that is that I’ve driven on ovals, I’ve won races on ovals, and I’ve officiated on ovals. The five years in Champ Car, I went through a similar evolution of ovals falling off the schedule for various reasons. At the end of it, we still had at least a couple of oval races per year there, so I’ve been a decision-maker in Race Control during oval races. It’s certainly something that I’ve got to get reacclimated and familiar with but something that is definitely within my realm of experience.”
On double-file restarts: “I know that the drivers tended to be very vocal about it in the beginning. It seemed like the best drivers decided this is the way we’re moving forward and this is what we want to do to improve our product, and they dealt with it and they moved forward with it. In that regard, a lot of my officiating philosophy applies, which is putting a lot of responsibility on the drivers on the track. It’s difficult for me to accept any blame or a lot of responsibility for drivers running into each other on the track when they’re the ones doing the running into each other. So, ultimately, it’s up to those guys to figure out how to get through the first turn and coexist peacefully to run their race and get through it. It’s something that we as a race series have decided to go forward with that we think adds excitement and improves our product, and I certainly support that.”
On the use of discretion: “I think discretion is certainly a word that I use less, and precedent and consistency are words that I use much more. The clearer we try to make rules as officials, the more it tends to paint us in a box and really put us in a worse-off position than having a little bit of grey, so really, like anything else, there’s a balance. The evolution of my officiating: the very first year in Champ Car we called no blocking, for example, and we got totally hammered for it. The second year, we called every single little move as a block, and we got hammered for it. Either concept was easy to move forward with from an officiating standpoint — it was very easy to never make a call, and it was very easy to make a call off of any little twitch that a driver made. So, what I really learned from that in developing an officiating career is that the easy way out is not necessarily the answer. It’s up to me to establish and manage expectations. I think it’s important for me to be able to articulate those grey areas so drivers know exactly where I stand and what will be called and what won’t.”
On shaking the perceptions of inconsistency and favoritism: “I really think it’s a tone you set. I have to be comfortable with the penalties fitting the violation and be comfortable with moving forward with that throughout the entire season. The worst thing you can hear about your own officiating is that people have a perception that it’s inconsistent, so that’s something that I certainly live by. I hate to call it a ‘menu of penalties,’ but we have a very simple spreadsheet that we refer to in Race Control that if we draw a blank or we don’t have a great memory or haven’t had that violation in a while we refer to this sheet and it tells us exactly what our standard penalty is for that violation. It’s a simple operating procedure that allows us to establish that consistency.
“But to take it a step further — and I know this sounds a little bit cliché — like many athletes might describe in their element, they sort of get in a zone. I’ve been in a zone enough where I’m watching a replay and I’m thinking about what I’ve told the drivers I would call or wouldn’t call and literally looking at an incident as it happens without any regard to who’s driving the car, the car number, or even the color of a car. I’m looking at that incident and how those cars are interacting just for absolute face value. It doesn’t matter who or what, it’s just the incident by itself, and then you can assess responsibility or blame enough to introduce penalty to the situation, and that’s how I move forward. So, the who and what of the incidents usually really rarely factors in.”
On openness and transparency of the rule book: “I certainly have hopes that I can start to turn this around and take it in a right direction, that the fans will be way less concerned with what the rule book says and way more interested in focusing on the great product that’s being developed. My thoughts on transparency are that I have time for every driver, every team owner, every fan, every member of the media that ever stops me in the paddock. I don’t shut down and I don’t hide — I’m very available. That probably means less to a fan, maybe a little bit more to the media, and certainly is invaluable to drivers and team owners.”
On establishing accountability through race-time use of instant messaging: “Quite simply, I don’t think I could function in Race Control without it anymore. I’ve used it so effectively and gotten so accustomed to it and gotten my teams so comfortable with it that I might be lost in Race Control without it. So, it’s definitely going to be in place, up and running, functional at the first race of the season.”
On communicating with live media: “For my own style, much like the drivers and the team managers, I have a good relationship — or at least open communication — established with the production crew and the on-air talent. So, much like the drivers and team managers need to understand me, so does television. Going to production meetings and having a good explanation at every race of how I’m going to call those races is a priority. Along those lines, in my Race Control, to my left is my person that does instant message, and to my right is the person that’s in contact with the director and producer. So, in terms of coordinating commercial breaks and such and giving any explanation on top of something that is called — or something that, for that matter, might not be called — I’m giving them that information so on-air they know what I’m thinking so they know how to explain it without it getting questioned, doubted, or stirring up controversy.”
On how the appeals process might work: “I think that probably the best preview I could give you to that potentially at this point — still yet to be determined — is that the stewards might be well enough disconnected from the normal operational decision-making that they’re in a position to at least hear the beginning of an appeal.”
On his approach to officiating his first Indianapolis 500: “I think there’s enough of a lead-up to the event that, with as much on-track activity as we have before the actual race itself, that will suffice in my mind to get me back comfortable with ovals that I haven’t experienced in a few years. I’m certainly looking forward to that somewhat lower-pressure environment of getting comfortable with watching cars from Race Control interact on the racetrack.
“I think the formation for the start of the Indianapolis 500 will be established in a tone that is set in all the races preceding the Indy 500. So, ultimately, the drivers will know what I expect of them on the starts and what I’m looking for, and I think it’s very important to take action against anybody who doesn’t play along prior to getting to the Indy 500. From an officiating standpoint, I don’t want to have to penalize anyone, and I certainly am sensitive to what the Indy 500 means to everybody, including myself, and probably am more sensitive at that race. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to stand down from doing it. So, I’m perfectly willing to, and that tone is set in the races preceding it. Hopefully, we’ll end up with a start that all of us want to see.”
On whether he will wave off unsatisfactory starts: “The wave-off of a start, in my opinion, is not up to me. A wave-off of a start is up to the Starter — hence the title Starter. So, one thing that I have always done and I will continue to do is — much like I’ve already established this important communication line between drivers, team owners, television, all these various entities — I will make it very clear to the Starter what my opinions and philosophies are, but ultimately it’s his call and that’s up to him. I will give the Starter full empowerment to start races or wave starts off as they see fit.”
On dealing with the pressure inherent in his new role: “My goal is to go about my business the way I do it, and I’m confident that that will make a noticeable difference. I know there are times that this isn’t always going to be the case, but ultimately, my style is to disappear quietly into the background where I belong, do my business of calling a good race, and let the drivers be the stars as they should be. I don’t expect any attention when it goes well, and I’m certainly prepared for the things that people will say and how people will react when you make a call that everybody doesn’t agree with.”
On what about INDYCAR Race Control needs to change: “From what I’ve pinpointed, there have been a few noticeable system breakdowns that I have noticed and, I’ve determined through a lot of analysis, that are fairly simple fixes in my mind based on the system that I’m already used to. So, I’m comfortable, based on the things that I have discovered through analyzing INDYCAR Race Control, that the system that I already am comfortable with, when I walk in and put that in place, will resolve many of the issues that have happened in the past couple of years.”
To listen to the full interview, use the player below or search for More Front Wing on iTunes.