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During his childhood breakfasts, George Barber probably saw wheels where other kids saw Cheerios. He’s had a lifelong fascination with vehicles equipped for power and speed.

The passion ran so deep that Barber, whose family built a legacy in the central Alabama dairy industry, decided to make a philanthropic investment in the community that raised him. Through his generous contributions, Barber Motorsports Park was completed just outside Birmingham in 2003.

The Barber Vintage Motorsports Park is considered the finest road course in North America. It’s also home to the Porsche Sports Driving School USA and the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. The 5-story museum elegantly displays the world’s best and largest motorcycle collection as well as the largest collection of Lotus racecars in the world.

I recently attended the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama located at the Park. I was in good company. Fans poured in from 40 states and many countries to watch the races. All ages were nestled under the pines along the 2.3-mile course on this glorious Alabama Sunday afternoon. They came to watch some of the world’s finest racers running at speeds up to 200 mph. They left an estimated $30 million economic boost for the Birmingham community.

I took a few things away from my time at the track, and thought I would share them. Maybe next year I’ll see you at the races.

The Pit is arguably as exciting or more so than the race. Before the starting flag, I wandered down to watch the Target professional tech team do their last minute precise prep and install their renowned driver Scott Dixon into the bright red Target car. Whether on the track or on the job, such finely coordinated teamwork gives me a zing.

Indy Racing is green power in action. It’s the first and only motor sport to be powered by 100 percent fuel grade ethanol.

Team sports are great “team building” for your crew. Many from Stewart Perry joined in for a memorable, fun day. We had such a great time together that we decided to make The Indy Grand Prix of Alabama a springtime tradition.

Passion is contagious. Mr. Barber turned his passion into a legacy. The result has and will enhance thousands of lives and bring significant economic benefit to his hometown. George Barber challenges us to follow big dreams and make them happen.

What’s your vision? How can you make it real?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.
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Last week we received a plaque from The Heart of America Foundation for the improvements we provided an inner city Atlanta elementary school. It’s a beautiful memento covered with pictures of students enjoying their new space. As I looked at all the smiling faces, it reminded me why we made the commitment last June.

Jim Gustafson and Patrick Davis, two of our strategic partners at Target, called to ask if we would be interested in teaming on the rebuild. I agreed, mainly because of the people who asked. When I got off the phone I started second guessing myself. With the Recession and our revenues down, what was I thinking? Fortunately, my conscience kicked in and helped me realize that it doesn’t matter. A friend asked for our partnership—they could help with supplies and we could help with the balance need—and children would benefit for years to come. We would figure out how to make it happen for these kids. Clinton Smith, who led the initiative from our end, did just that.

The library at Beecher Hills Elementary received a complete transformation including 2000 new books, updated technology and colorful interiors conducive to learning. “We know that pre-K through fifth grade is the period that sets the tone for reading,” said first-year Principal Crystal Jones. “Getting this done will go a long way toward making that happen.” Maybe the library can even provide a “tipping point” for these kids just like Malcolm Gladwell mentions in his book.

“You have not just changed the library, you have changed the lives of our children forever,” said Dr. Sharon Davis Williams, executive director of Atlanta Public Schools for southwest Atlanta schools.

I knew the children were thrilled, but looking at the pictures last week it made it all worthwhile. I called Jim and Patrick and asked them to sign us up for another school next summer. I couldn’t pass up the chance to help kids learn.

Check out more of the library renovation celebration on my flickr photostream.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.