BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Shelby Blackstock has eyes locked in on a strong home performance as Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires readies for its historic milestone race weekend in the Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Alabama doubleheader at Barber Motorsports Park.
The 27-year-old from Nashville, Tennessee, considers the 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course his home track on the 16-race schedule.
“This is definitely a home track for me,” said Blackstock, driver of the No. 51 Starstruck Mazda Dallara IL-15. “It’s about three hours from my original birthplace of Nashville, Tennessee, and now I live in Charlotte, so it’s still pretty close.”
Now in his third season in the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, sanctioned by INDYCAR, Blackstock also spends time between races as a Porsche Sport Driving School coach at the scenic Barber facility.
“The biggest thing is not only home field advantage,” he said. “Yeah, I’ve had a lot of laps here luckily and it’s great to see all the local fans here, I get a lot of press stuff here – you know, southern boy born and raised – but the biggest thing other than home field advantage is how Barber is always changing.
“The track is different every time we come here, so it’s anybody’s guess on how it will be, just depends on who gets on top of it first.”
Blackstock took advantage of a little home cookin’ in Friday’s practice, leading the 15-car field with a best lap of 1 minute, 15.150 seconds (110.180 mph). Qualifying for Race 1 takes place at 9:40 a.m. ET today, with the race at 3 p.m. Sunday’s race is at 12:45 p.m. ET and will be the 400th in series history. All Indy Lights sessions stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
Currently tied for fourth in the championship standings following solid finishes of fourth and sixth in the season-opening round on the streets of St. Petersburg, Blackstock wants to keep that momentum going.
“The biggest thing with this year is going to be consistent,” said Blackstock. “That’s probably the biggest thing you really have to focus on.
“If you can score in the top five every single round, get some podiums and a win here and there, you’ll have a really good chance for the championship.”
Having spent the previous five seasons at Andretti Autosport through the three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, Blackstock moved to Belardi Auto Racing this season.
“It’s definitely a more family-oriented team (at Belardi),” said Blackstock. “It’s a smaller team, but they are very hungry. I really like how the team works. I fit in well with the team, the drivers and all the crew guys.
“I’m really, really liking my switch and the results show. I mean, being in the top five in points right now, we have a good chance going for the rest of the season. Just really liking this a lot over here, these guys are awesome.”
Blackstock admitted how much it would mean to capture his maiden Indy Lights win on his home track on the milestone Indy Lights weekend.
“Absolutely,” said Blackstock, who finished in the top five in both races at Barber Motorsports Park last season. “Especially since it’s a home race and I’ve worked here a lot for coaching and stuff like that. That’d be a really big bonus to this season.
“My job is to go out there and win the race, so I need to get everything prepped and ready to go, keep my head clear and go out and do the best I can.”