I've got a Google and I'm not afraid to use it

Posted by Iannucci | 3/26/2009 | 38 comments »
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"We cannot make good news out of bad practice." - Edward R Murrow

All this week it seems we've read nothing but glowing reports about Barber Motorsports Park (BMP), with ESPN.com's John Oreovicz, among others, suggesting this is just a few fixes from being added to the IndyCar docket.

As is stands, Barber is an outstanding venue for motorcycle racing, but it does not feature the combination of a long straight followed by a tight turn necessary to create passing in an Indy car road race.

The good news in that regard is that George Barber has a "whatever it takes" attitude and says he is ready to write a check to make whatever changes are necessary to bring the track up to a raceable standard for IndyCars.

Based on everything the man has done to date, we have no reason to doubt him.
Well, it turns out there should be considerable reason to doubt Mr Barber, because "everything the man has done to date" includes a very astonishing series of actions that includes the loss of an almost certain MotoGP event a few years ago. As you'll see, Barber's "whatever it takes" isn't as all-inclusive as it sounds.

Set the WABAC machine to 2000, where George Barber engaged in a deal with the City of Birmingham. Reports are fuzzy on the details, but it appears Barber received what is commonly referred to as a "sweetheart deal" from the city of Birmingham. Not only did the city front the $55 million to build the track, but they also leased the land for his park and museum for the grand sum of $1 per year.

There were, of course, requirements on Barber as compensation for this deal, one of which allegedly included the renovation of the dilapidated Sears Building in downtown Birmingham which one of Barber's companies owned. This is important as we fast forward to 2004.

That year BMP was on the verge of securing it's first major event, a MotoGP race. To accommodate the possible race, Barber went back to the city to request a $250,000 per year over three years, as well as $80,000 worth of law enforcement for the event. The Birmingham Mayor at the time, Bernard Kinkaid, said the city wasn't going to give a dime until Barber did something with the Sears Building, which had gone untouched for the four years.

Long story short, Barber offered to tear it down and build a park, but city officials said that wasn't what they had in mind. This showdown over the downtown structure resulted in a stalemate that effectively killed any chances of the MotoGP event (which went to Laguna Seca). In 2005 the city ended up buying the building from Barber for $3M and renovating it themselves for use by the University of Alabama - Birmingham.

As several of the above articles state, BMP contended that fixing the Sears Building wasn't part of the original deal. Without access to the original contract we'll never know, but the bottom line on this affair is that despite touting it as an opportunity to raise international exposure of Birmingham and bring the city over $200 million in additional revenue, Barber chose to hit up the city for around a million bucks, and when rebuffed didn't see enough value to open his own wallet to pay for it. Remember, this is the "Whatever it takes" attitude.

Also disconcerting is the fact that BMP also ran into issues with another motorcycle series - World Superbike (WSBK). In April of 2007 BMP was in negotiations to host an event, with WSBK officials discussing the possibility of lengthening part of the track to help the bikes get up to full speed. Sound familiar? If not, read the above quote from Oreo again.

Changes were made to course, including runoffs and other safety improvements. However the lengthening wasn't part of the plan, and by September BMP incredibly withdrew themselves for consideration, saying there were too many WSBK events in the US. Does this sound like "Whatever it takes" yet?

Clearly there are more than a few things in Mr Barber's past that would give pause to the idea of rushing in to consummating a deal - and probably a multi-year one at that - with BMP. Perhaps these issues can be explained, but for that to happen we need someone to start asking questions of the parties mentioned.

I realize it's a gorgeous facility, but let's hope that doesn't render it immune to a little inquiry. If some anonymous word butcher like yours truly can use Google to find all of this out, I'm sure someone else with a massive Rolodex full of contacts could discover even more about all of this. Heck, there might even be a real story there of interest to teams, fans, and most importantly members of the Indy Racing League.

Look, the goal here isn't to demean reporters who are all excited by the good time they had in Alabama. Those were nice reports they provided from BMP, but what would be more helpful is if they could use a few of their words to bring these above issues to light to their wider audiences. Then IRL officials can discuss them publicly, lay out the requirements for Mr Barber should they still be amenable to holding an event at his facility, and - most importantly - hold him accountable to any contractual promises he makes, because ultimately that's "Whatever it takes".


  1. Johnny // March 26, 2009 5:50 PM  

    A masterpiece.

  2. chrisestrada // March 26, 2009 5:54 PM  

    Great work. But I have a sneaky feeling that this has already been decided. Barber in 2010.

  3. SS Minnow // March 26, 2009 5:55 PM  

    Did you wake up and put on your "journalist" pants? I think you may have "scooped" the professional word butchers.....

  4. pressdog // March 26, 2009 6:12 PM  

    That's a class-five spankin', right thur. I'm wiping manly tears that our little word butcher is all grown up ...

  5. AZZO45 // March 26, 2009 6:19 PM  

    Wow... that was all created using the Google???

    The regular paid journos should be ashamed Good read indeed! :) :)

  6. The American Mutt // March 26, 2009 6:29 PM  

    As if we have a critical press in any aspect of our news coverage. The whole notion of an appropriately adversarial press went out a long time ago.

  7. J E Clerk // March 26, 2009 6:49 PM  

    A+ work, Jeff...

  8. Cory // March 26, 2009 7:02 PM  

    Great work-send it to Cavin

  9. AZZO45 // March 26, 2009 7:17 PM  

    "As if we have a critical press in any aspect of our news coverage. The whole notion of an appropriately adversarial press went out a long time ago".

    I don't think that's fair. "Oreo" has a co worker @ ESPN who did a very well done investigative piece on the Castroneves tax trial. Yahoo Sports just dropped the investigative piece on the UCONN mens BB team

    The good stuff is out there... or just use the search engines like Jeff did. A combo can work too.

  10. will-isitmayyet.com // March 26, 2009 7:30 PM  

    You desert folk just hate the south.

    Seriously, though. Wow. Top notch, Jeff.

  11. Bash // March 26, 2009 7:57 PM  

    Gobsmacked - good work, Mr. IRL.... :)

  12. meeshbeer // March 26, 2009 9:10 PM  

    More curtain pulling by the word butchers! Sweet! Must be full moon this week.

  13. The American Mutt // March 26, 2009 9:50 PM  


    Sorry. You're talking to an angry long haired conservative liberal (let me restate that, I'm as far to the left as you're likely to find in Indiana without being a knee jerk reactionist--which is to say, a moderate independent) political junky who's been less than impressed with the washington press corps for...well...ever. You're also talking about a moderate NFL fan, and I don't know if you've ever tried to watch/read any NFL coverage but it's just terrible. Hell, even Curt lets through personal bias when writing or talking about drivers. Point is, objectivity seems a rare commodity in journalism these days. I'm not saying it's there, but it's definetly lacking.

  14. The American Mutt // March 26, 2009 9:54 PM  

    oh and AZ,

    I feel like I shouldn't but I love Conways helmet.

  15. AZZO45 // March 26, 2009 10:08 PM  

    A "Conservative Liberal"....That's an odd mix! The crew @FOX Noise would freak with that demographic.

    As for Conway's helmet... its getting my vote. Ryan Briscoe's Aussie colors were the nice part of his helmet livery. Penske demands they use team colors (so RB's looks just like Helio or Will Power's...)

  16. Anonymous // March 26, 2009 10:52 PM  

    AZZ, what are you talking about, Conway getting your vote?

  17. AZZO45 // March 26, 2009 11:06 PM  

    Briscoe is using chrome & Penske made him dump his Aussie colors for corporate Marlboro Red & Black.ZZZ

    Turned Ryan into a conservative corporate tool! :) :) I like Conway's liberal use of color & expression, eh?

    Nice kangaroo though.... Chrome, so 2005.

  18. Goose // March 26, 2009 11:39 PM  

    Darn you and your research! I wanted to stay in dreamland. :(

    But seriously, that was nice work, Jeff.

  19. Sarah Fan // March 27, 2009 4:54 AM  

    Best piece I've read anywhere, on any subject, in a long time. The topic was icing on the cake. Thnaks!

    In today's world you can run, but you certainly can't hide.

  20. 87930 // March 27, 2009 5:59 AM  

    You have some valid infomation, although you have distorted it to make your point. Typical journalistic behavior. The Barber-Kincaid issue was much different than you have suggested. One of the many reasons he is no longer the mayor of Birmingham. A true journalist would have dug deeper and gotten his facts straight.

  21. Gurney Eagle // March 27, 2009 6:13 AM  

    87930, please elaborate. Inauiring minds want to know.

  22. Dale Nixon // March 27, 2009 7:21 AM  

    Waiting for Part 2 - Barber Motorsports Park applies for IRL stimulus package after hosting test session.

  23. Anonymous // March 27, 2009 7:49 AM  

    I have tried to reply to your poor research, but my comments were not accepted. Perhaps they were too long. They are posted here:


    Don Erwin
    Vice President, Corporate Development
    The Barber Companies

  24. AZZO45 // March 27, 2009 8:22 AM  

    Mr. Erwin:

    Perhaps because blog "Post a Comment" sections are designed to take a few paragraphs... NOT War & Peace length counter claims.

    AND... his research was GOOGLE , that provided a series of previous bad press for your boss. Jeff was just pointing out the OPPOSITE of the BMP press-release written stories that all seemed to have Alabama sunshine emanating from your boss's arse!

    Good & bad press... I'm sure the TRUTH lies somewhere in the middle, eh Don?

    One last thought... I'm no PR expert, but why not contact a blogger the same way you would other media? Contact Jeff & arrange a follow up interview?? At least see if he will post your follow letter (as an "official" reaction to his site's claims). Seems a tad more professional than log jamming his "Comments? section???

  25. The American Mutt // March 27, 2009 8:31 AM  


    Log Jamming. I love The Big Lebowski. Sorry.

  26. AZZO45 // March 27, 2009 8:42 AM  

    I'm sure Jeff would have given Mr. Irwin his own section... & you could have read BMP's claims with a HEADLINE & everything.

    No need to travel over to pressdog (who seems to have a larger "Comments" page???) to read the opposing view point.

    If a local newspaper slammed you... would you write a letter to the Editor or set up a PROPER follow up? Approach a rival paper for a retort??

  27. Jeff-O // March 27, 2009 8:54 AM  

    Hey 87930: Sadly "typical journalistic behavior" has become relying on press releases as a major source(s) of their stories. Jeff just simply provided the other side of the coin IMO.

    Also I agree with AZZO45's points. Makes me wonder if Jeff found some good insight via Google. The Barber PR response is to jam the comments page? Adds to the concern of BMP's big promises & sweet talk to the IRL racing @ their track.

  28. Iannucci // March 27, 2009 8:55 AM  

    Hey all,

    Thanks for all of the supportive comments. I'm truly overwhelmed, but understand everything here was actually sourced by someone else. I'm just "re-publishing" readily available information.

    I contacted Mr Erwin directly and he has granted permission to publish his comments, which I've now done in a separate post. We're exchanging very civil emails right now, so if I have any more information I'll certainly make it available.

  29. AZZO45 // March 27, 2009 9:13 AM  

    Jeff, I understood that if you used Google... info that you used would indeed be other journalists work.

    Work that was also available to the members of the "professional press" before they dropped their love stories about Barber.

    I've actually been to BMP... beautiful facility. I also do admire fellow racers with passion to build quality motorsports complexes. I just don't like one sided "puff" pieces appearing as hard hitting, balanced news!

    As I have mentioned earlier... some of those articles had the sun shining from amazing places... two sides to every story & you helped with the other side, eh?

  30. The SpeedGeek // March 27, 2009 10:48 AM  

    That made me laugh out loud at my desk.

    "What, he fixes the cable?"

  31. The American Mutt // March 27, 2009 11:22 AM  


    Phones ringin' dude.

  32. The American Mutt // March 27, 2009 11:23 AM  

    Or better I'll rephrase it,

    The Mutt abides. I'm out here takin' it easy for y'all.

  33. northerntiger // March 27, 2009 8:37 PM  

    try googling city of Birmingham politics or Bernard Kincaid and just see what you come up with.....

  34. Anonymous // March 27, 2009 9:35 PM  

    Give me an F'ing break! Do better research dude. Google, come on! I am a resident of the area near Birmingham. This is completely false and innaccurate. I have no particular affiliation with B'ham or Barbers but living here and racing my whole life gives a little insight.

    Birmingham, Jefferson County and their "biz" has landed several people in jail, the city and county in billions of sewer debt, amongst other things.

    Barber did that track more in spite of the city than being helped by. Yes, they lease that land for 1 dollar a year, but generates a lot of revenue for the city. City funds built the track, ha, thats funny. They wouldn't even build the road into the track, barber did.

    Mr. Barber, I've met, great man! Truly loves motorsports! Google birmingham and Jeff Co. politics chief!

  35. Anonymous // March 27, 2009 10:57 PM  

    The writer and those who are agreeing with him are fools if they believe this tripe that has been reported. As a resident of Birmingham I saw first hand the former Mayor's attempt to extort from the Barber's. How this is viewed negatively on Mr. Barber I haven't figured out yet.

  36. Michael // March 28, 2009 6:58 AM  

    Barbers track is first rate. Great Track. the city of Birmingham is a joke. Their new mayor goes up on federal charges this summer. They owe 3.2 billion on a Sewer. They can not tell you where the money went.

  37. Steve // March 28, 2009 10:37 PM  

    great piece of work!...I'm proud to call you "son-in-law"...keep up the search for the truth

  38. Anonymous // March 30, 2009 7:29 AM  


    I had a chance to read your post on BMP that I had heard so much about. I just have one thing to say, “Keep up the good work.” In recent years I have read all the glowing reports about BMP’s motorcycle museum and their manicured grounds, but I had never heard any positive comments about the track layout. Your column added another dimension to the press surrounding this racetrack of Eden.

    So much of what is printed by the national sports media is colored by the writer’s need to keep their job that the reader doesn’t often get a view that might put an organization in a bad light. The blog/podcast world has given a voice to an alternate view. That voice can often be sarcastic and self serving, but your BMP column is an example of what it can be.

    Maybe, as Mr. Erwin suggests, you didn’t get all of your facts right, but that can be true of the most diligent reporter. Your article doesn’t have the tone of someone with an axe to grind, but someone with the interest of the IRL and it’s fans at heart. Even if BMP has legitimate explanations for some of the points you made they are “En Garde”, and the internet savvy IRL/IMS are aware of this other point of view.