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Brian Barnhart is the general manager for Arrow McLaren’s NTT IndyCar Series team. (IndyCar photo)

Barnhart: ‘The Life Of Brian’

He has been praised for his efforts as a team member and a series official, but he’s also been reviled by legions of race fans who simply didn’t like the man for whom he worked.

He has been recognized as one of the best race strategists in IndyCar racing, but he’s also never been forgiven for decisions of the past.

He has experienced the ultimate thrill of victory — winning the Indianapolis 500 — with two different teams, but he’s also made “the call” in one of Indy’s most controversial finishes.

Iowa - 2023 - Indycar
Iowa – 2023 – Indycar

Through it all, Brian Barnhart is one of racing’s greatest survivors.

He has blocked out the haters and moved forward to have a long and illustrious career.

One thing is certain, the “Life of Brian” has been a riveting story.

At 62, the 1979 graduate of Southport High School and the 1983 graduate of what was then known as Indiana Central University, now the University of Indianapolis, is in his 42nd season working in Indy car racing.

He is certainly a survivor.

“Very much so,” Barnhart told SPEED SPORT. “The criticism didn’t affect me at all. I didn’t listen to it. I had my head down trying to do the best job that I could.

“It bothered me more for my family than it did for me.”

Barnhart is currently the general manager of Arrow McLaren, overseeing Zak Brown’s ambitious operation that also includes racing director Gavin Ward and drivers Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist and Alexander Rossi.

But it’s how Barnhart got to his latest position with an IndyCar team that is fascinating.

It started when he was in college and his summer job was working for a very small electrical company in Indianapolis, Mechel Electric. He drove a truck, picked up parts and made deliveries for the company.

Mechel Electric also sponsored a small race team based in Arizona that ran an Indy 500 car out of the electrical shop with drivers Chip Mead and Spike Gelhausen.

“I was doing my work around the electrical business, but as time went on, I started hanging out with the race team in the evenings, started doing stuff with them and started going to races with them in 1982,” Barnhart recalled. “I started doing more with the race team and had an opportunity to go racing full time in 1983.

“My college counselors said, ‘Yeah, go do that for a year. Everything will be waiting on you in a year or two.’

“Here I am, 42 years later and I never went back.”

Barnhart earned a degree in political science – ironic considering the heated racing politics he would navigate later in his career.

Barnhart’s father and grandfather were both “Yellow Shirts” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway through the early 1970s. Young Brian was a fan and attended races with his family.

His first big step in racing came with Patrick Racing in 1985, working with Gordon Johncock and Don Whittington. In 1988-’89, he joined A.J. Foyt Racing in Texas and moved to Galles Racing in 1990, where he teamed with Al Unser Jr.

“We had a great team,” Barnhart recalled. “Rick Galles put together a really special group of people out there. Our crew chief was Owen Snyder. We had “Ziggy” Paul Harcus, Mike Arnold, myself, Randy Bain, Martin Fox. We had a great group of people that had tremendous chemistry and got along great. Al was awesome to be part of the group.