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An interview with IndyCar veteran and Panther racing CEO John Barnes: Barnes speaks to ACTE about his rise to IndyCar fame, his Panther Education Center program to help young people develop hands-on skills, and his work with the U.S. Army to help injured veterans.

ACTE: Mr. Barnes, you worked your way up to CEO and co-owner through serving in a variety of roles as a gopher, mechanic, car builder. How has this approach worked for you?

JB: I have been very blessed to have had a tremendous amount of training, from the grassroots side, all the way up to where I am today. And I have had a great opportunity to work for and side-by-side with great leaders and incredible businessmen. And so I have tried to get as much osmosis of that as possible, to take their best traits and blend it into what I do today. When I started in IndyCar racing I was 16 years old, and there wasn't much that I was capable of doing, other than polishing something or washing something. But I had a tremendous appetite to learn and to better myself, and I saw the career that I wanted to pursue.

ACTE: What are the prospective careers in racing for young people, beyond driver?

JB: Most people see motorsport as being about the driver or the rider. It has very little to do with that. I mean, that's the end result. But it starts out with a business plan, with marketing and finding sponsors to support your endeavors, then purchasing the equipment, all the stuff it takes to go racing, the logistics of moving the team and personnel from city to city, the hospitality piece that we do.


We feed more than 400 to 500 people per weekend in our infield training unit. And then the engineering side of it is huge as well, where we look at every aspect of the car and the parts that we are able to change because of the rules' flexibility. And we have to look at the engineering standpoint to see what we can do to make them [the cars] better, both from a mechanical and aerodynamical standpoint. Then you've got the mechanics on board to actually put the cars together and service the cars on the race weekend. Every piece, from physics to engineering to athletes to changing the tires on pit road to people who write and disseminate marketing ideas--it's a community in itself.

ACTE: So what do you do to expose students to these potential careers and perhaps keep them engaged in their schooling?

JB: We try to do that with a program we started here called Panther Education Center. I understand, as an employer, what a terrible problem this country has with education. Very, very little of the education over the last 15 years is relevant to the kids that we have now today. The kids are so bright, they're so technically savvy, and we have to find ways to engage them and get them a more hands-on educational program instead of just chalk and talk. We put a program together here where we take the different aspects of our business and try to build those hands-on educational programs around the different portions of our business.


Let's say that there are three students who come in, and they have a budget to work with. They have to hire a. driver, they have to hire a crew, they have to buy equipment. Three or four other students come in, and they would handle the logistics of hotel rooms and airfares and have it all work within the budget. And then there's another side that takes a simulation program and builds how the car would perform on the racetrack. We're currently working on finalizing that model and trying to get it out and into the education world, to show them the experiential learning program that would engage students both in engineering and mathematics and real world-experience.

ACTE: What about the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) applications, since that's such a big trend right now in U.S. education?

JB: Look at the transformation in the way that we communicate in the last three to four years, as a society. Then look at the way the classroom has stayed virtually the same for the last 50 years. There's some technological advancement, using computers and those kinds of things and workshops. But I think what we need to do as a society is--and I say this to my staff here all the time--"Look down the road 18 months, two years, three years, whatever. What are going to be the trends at that point in time as far as how we communicate?" We're going to have to get our arms around that to really engage the young people, to have them learn on the basis of how they learn.

ACTE: In addition to the Panther Education Center, we've also heard that you have internships with the engineering students at Indiana University--Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) as part of its motorsports program?

JB: Yes, we work very hand in hand with a former employee of mine, actually--Andy Bonne, who is director of the motorsports program there. He worked for four years, after working with us, as the head aerodynamicist for Toyota Formula One; came back here to Indiana to run the motorsports education program for IUPUI. And we have interns of theirs that work with us, and we teach them, they teach us. We think it's a great opportunity for us to kind of lay seeds in the field and see what grows from them.

ACTE: We've heard that you've also collaborated with the U.S. Army to help soldiers with injuries suffered during warfare.

JB: We've been working with the Army and the Department of Reserve Affairs. In our industry, Indy Car Racing came up with a need back in the middle 80s to measure the forces of an impact that the driver has upon the wall. And so, it reached out to different manufacturers and different research people to come up with ways to measure the impact of the car. About 1997, we had a specific driver who had an impact. The impact was survivable, he was checked out at the medical center, and there seemed to be no problem. He left from there, was driving home, stopped at a place and ended up passing out, and they found that he had had a traumatic brain injury, quite similar to what the soldiers see in theater.

So as an industry, we are one that usually doesn't have to have board of directors meetings or great bureaucratic seances to come up with ways to fix our problems. So, we came up with a product that measures a TBI event, a traumatic brain injury, for an impact. And so, we shared that with the Army in 2009. We've had some generals that came to the racetracks. We then went from there and had very, very high-level meetings with the Army.

To listen to the podcast of the full interview with IndyCar veteran John Barnes, visit
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Title Annotation:Q & A
Article Type:Interview
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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