Winning IMSA Racing Teammates Enjoy Quiet Life in Davidson Away From the Track
Located just 15 or so miles from Charlotte Motor Speedway, Davidson is in the heart NASCAR country, right?
Well, while stock cars are the predominant auto racing franchise in these parts, there is, in fact, another category of speedsters here that enjoys tremendous success in its league. Furthermore, two of the team members live right here in Davidson.
Bailey’s Glen is home to João Barbosa, a race car driver born and raised in Portugal who has raced various machines all over Europe and now America for 30 years since age 12. Just about a half-mile across Davidson-Concord Road is his teammate Iain Watt, a race car engineer born and raised in Inverness, Scotland, who emigrated to the United States in 1997. Both men race for the Action Express team, which operates with about 15 employees in a nondescript shop across the lake in Denver, North Carolina.
The team competes with two cars (# 5 and # 31) on the IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) circuit and has an unrivaled record in IMSA competition. Their two cars claimed the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018 IMSA season team and driver championships, as well as the 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 North American Endurance Championships titles.
Technical director Watt asserted, “We try to win them all. We’re not paid to finish second.”
There are major differences between NASCAR and IMSA racing. The 10-race IMSA season includes several endurance contests, which involve changing drivers during the course of a race. The best-known IMSA endurance race is the 24 Hours at Daytona. Others include ten hours at Road Atlanta, 12 hours at Sebring and six hours at Watkins Glen.
Another difference is that IMSA races field three different classes of cars on the same track at the same time! The modified Cadillac D.Pi Action Express cars race in the fastest “Prototype” class of competition. It’s a tremendous challenge for the 15 (plus or minus) drivers in that class to negotiate their way around the 30 slower cars while also trying to stay at the front of their own class. Watt explained, “Drivers have to be skilled to deal with the traffic, to be able to get through the slower cars efficiently and without damaging anyone.”
Barbosa added, “It takes a certain skill set to be overtaking cars all the time. In a long green flag period you might overtake 2-3 cars per lap.”
Watt’s job as technical director is to find ways to optimize the car, constantly examining and testing all parts and performance. Joao’s job is to drive is as fast as it will go.
Joao said IMSA racing is punishing to drivers. The cars are closed cockpit and don’t have air conditioning, so it gets very hot inside the car. The G-forces in the curves are also very high, and the cars are very light and aerodynamic, and bounce over the curbs. He said, “It’s very physically and very mentally demanding. The cars are low and stiff so you feel every bump.”
In addition, all the hard work can be wiped out in an instant. Barbosa missed the final race of the 2018 season, recovering from ribs broken when his #5 was brutally t-boned in the race at Laguna Seca in California.
Iain Watt came to the United States in 1994 as a Lola design engineer and has worked on NASCAR and several other racing arenas. But while he pushes to help his team be the fastest on the track, he moved to Davidson in 2007 from Indianapolis to enjoy a slower pace of home life.
“There’s a sense of community here,” he said. “Walking downtown you always run into someone you know, and the concerts on the green are great.” His school-aged children are close enough to Bailey and Hough that they could walk there, if needed.
While you might expect race drivers to drive fancy personal cars, Iain’s day-to-day ride is a simple old F-150 pickup. Barbosa is a little
more upscale. He prefers the team brand and drives a Cadillac Escalade.
Barbosa, who has won the Rolex 24 at Daytona three times, moved his family to Davidson about a year ago, also in search of the calm,
safe community Iain was enjoying. As the two became neighbors, as well as teammates, they found that they shared some uncanny connections. They were married on the same day in the same year (though they didn’t know each other at the time) and each has two children who are the same age!
Barbosa says he’s thoroughly enjoying the Davidson lifestyle. “It’s quiet, a great place to raise a family,” he said. “My son plays baseball, so we’ve gotten to visit a lot of fields around the area. And we like to go downtown when we go walking. My kids make sure we always stop in at Whits!”
With the end of the 2018 season now in the books, the two teammates are back in the shop, spending their days working, preparing their cars for 2019. They’ve got an outstanding record to defend, and the 24 Hours of Daytona that kicks off the 2019 season is just around the next turn!
Bill Giduz was the son who followed his father’s footsteps into journalism. He has been involved his entire life with news and photography in schools he attended and jobs he’s held. He believes now that he’s got a few good years left to devote to The News of Davidson.