Public funding of stadiums, arenas and other privately promoted sports events is a financially dubious proposition for taxpayers, at least according to some critics of the phenomenon. I tend to agree. If an event isn’t sustainable on its own it’s not a good business deal. So I’m not that broken up about the fact that the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama has withdrawn his request for the city to cut a four year, $1.2 million deal with promoter Zoom Motorsports to at least partially underwrite the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama races scheduled to be run at Birmingham’s Barber Motorsports Park. The mayor decided not to go forward with the deal after the Birmingham city council was deadlocked on the issue. A majority of the council was in favor of supporting the race with money and in-kind services, but the mayor and the council president have sparred over particulars of the deal, like the length of the proposed contract. In addition, Councilman Steven Hoyt, a backer of “diversity” initiatives, inflamed the debate with his comments about race from the council dais, implying that blacks have no interest in motorsports.
“It concerns me greatly that we’re supporting something that doesn’t support our citizens. I have seen nobody that looks like me making decisions at Barber motor sports. None. Zero. The buses that I’ve seen [going to Barber Motorsports Park] don’t come from Birmingham. They are from Hoover [a Birmingham suburb] and other areas.”
The racetrack and the adjacent Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum are the gift (the track and museum operate as a 501C3 non-profit) of George Barber, whose family owned the oldest dairy in Alabama. Barber raced Porsches rather successfully in the 1970s and the facility, which cost about $80 million to build, started out as Barber’s private collection and playground. The collection includes both racing cars and motorcycles. When it opened, the museum was said to be the first museum exclusively devoted to motorsports. John Surtees, who won world racing championships on both two wheels and four, called it the world’s best motorcycle collection, with about 1,000 bikes in the collection, half of which are on display. The bikes and race cars are almost all restored and kept in operating condition so they can participate in vintage racing. Barber built the museum, no doubt as a monument to himself, as these things tend to be, but he also had Birmingham’s civic needs in mind. He had the means to locate it in a city with a significant tourist trade, but he hoped that the facility, and later the track which opened to the public in 2003 and has since hosted top road racing series, would draw visitors to Birmingham much as site of the Masters’ Tournament brings tourists to Augusta. Birmingham has no major league sports teams and the Indycar race is the largest sporting event in town.
About 80,000 people attend the Indycar race every year and the local convention bureau says that it generates aboout $26 million in economic activity in the area. Though the $300K was supposed to go towards the sanctioning fees charged by the Indycar series, it appears as if the lack of public funding will not stop the annual event. Just before today’s race started, Indycar CEO Jeff Belskus and head of ZOOM Motorsports Gene Hallman announced a deal that will bring the top American open wheel racing series to Birmingham until at least 2016.
Hoyt’s remarks were not just a crude playing of the race card, in light of Barber’s civic mindedness they’re incredibly small minded. I’m quite sure that if George Barber had said that only people who “look like me” were welcome to his facility, Hoyt would have been outraged and there would have been press conferences replete with Reverands Sharpton and Jackson, but since the person who actually said something about people looking like him looks like him, there will be no protests. I’m not sure if people who think like Hoyt does can have their minds changed by things like facts, and I know he’s proud of the fact that he’s not a motorsports fan, as though it’s a point of racial pride, but if he’s got some spare time, next month just a couple hundred miles down the road from Birmingham, Antron Brown will be defending his NHRA Top Fuel championship at the NHRA Southern Nationals in Commerce, Georgia. I’m not much of a drag racing fan, I’d more likely be at Barber Motorsports Park than Atlanta Dragway, but I’d pay money to watch Councilman Hoyt explain to Brown how black people don’t like motorsports.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS