The Black Brigade By Tyrone Williams

1.

White shopkeepers,

farmers, traders

have assembled of their own accord,

Under one flag

With one sword

But we are not welcome

to defend our home

because our skin

is black.

 

2.

Who are you? What do you want?

My husband is a free man! Leave him be!

Where are you

taking him?

My God! My God! Somebody help us!

 

3.

Don’t sit.

Don’t stand.

We can only

crouch, hunker.

Halfway positions,

halfway men.

Not slaves,

not yet free.

 

4.

Return these men

to the free state

Of Ohio.

Return them to

work and family,

Free to remain

at home or

to return here.

 

 

5.

Cross this river one more time

These men say I’ll get my say-so

They say, Talk to our eyes.

Cross this river, for the last time?

 

6.

We return

on this new morning,

twice as many

strong.

 

Ready to defend

our city and home.

Ready to safeguard

our families and

future. Ready to

believe in unity.

 

7.

Now an army

with one mission,

many of us will follow,

a few command.

we work the front:

cut down trees,

dig pits, build bunkers,

man trenches,

armed only with

picks, axes, shovels.

 

8.

A grey cap

with field glasses

scans the front line,

stops on me.

I stare back.

I want to shout

“Black men

built these forts!”

 

9.

The morning sun

burnt off the last

of the fog.

Not a single grey

cap could be seen.

I kissed the axe

I’d held all night!

Forts and vigilant men

turn the sowers

of division away.

 

10.

We left as men,

Returned as heroes

To doffed hats,

Waving hands.

Cheered by the

colorful crowd at

Fifth and Broadway,

we are citizens

knighted by a

sword not used.

Poetic Justice

Tyrone Williams has lived in Cincinnati for nearly 30 years. It’s his home.But during his three decades here, at least one piece of the city’s storied history eluded him—the story of the Black Brigade, Cincinnati’s free black men who were rounded up during the Civil War and forced into slave labor to protect the city from advancing Confederate troops.

Although a well-published poet, Williams had never created any type of public art. But when the call went out for someone to write a poem about the Black Brigade for a monument that was being created along Cincinnati’s riverfront, Williams decided to step outside of his usual comfort zone. It was, he thought, a perfect fit for him.

Others thought so as well. He was selected to write a 10-verse poem that was etched in stone as a small part of a larger piece of public art honoring the brigade. While notable on its own, what he loved most about the project was, as a poet, he got to work with three other artists in the monument’s creation.

“It takes your ego out of the process,” he says. “You have to work with someone else’s idea and you have to sometimes give up some things. It becomes part of something larger.”

His research helped him imagine the feelings of the 400 men who, in September 1862, were taken from their homes, locked in mule cages overnight and forced across the Ohio River to build fortifications against the Confederates. He imagined the fears of their wives and children, not knowing if their men would come back from Kentucky, where they were at risk of being captured and returned to slavery.

He thought about the joy the men felt when they were rescued by an abolitionist judge-turned-colonel, returned to the city and offered the chance to willingly volunteer. And he imagined the pride they felt when 718 of them showed up the next morning to help defend their city—and their elation when the Confederate troops retreated.

The monument is a series of panels on a wall that consists of statues, bronze plaques and words etched in marble and stone. Williams’ 10 verses fill the spaces between the panels. The wall is embedded into the earth, resembling the fortifications the men built with their hands along eight miles of Kentucky landscape near Fort Mitchell. Shaped like a crescent, it points toward the Ohio River and the Kentucky shore.

The names of all 718 men in the three regiments are engraved along the bottom of the wall. Their flag is engraved beneath a statue of a worried woman and child. Another statue, depicting Judge William Dickson receiving a sword from a brigade member, anchors the end, near the words of Williams’ final poem, which is etched permanently into the stone—and into Cincinnati’s memory.

Mirror Image

On his first day as a gear-cutter at the BorgWarner plant, Kelly Phelps strides up to the cavernous factory wearing Carhartt coveralls, thick leather steel-toed boots and safety helmet pulled close.

It’s 11:00 p.m. on a summer night in June. After four years of college at Ball State University, he’s returned to the Indiana city of New Castle where he grew up. With nowhere in this lower-income industrial community to put his newly earned art degree to use, he’s decided to take a job at the factory, a rusted relic of the dying automobile service industry that has sustained his family since his childhood. With his lunch pail in one hand and work gloves in the other, he looks over at his twin brother, Kyle, and steps inside. Then, everything changes.

The problem isn’t the enormous space, the physical assault from a blast of hot air or the ear-piercing sounds. It’s not even the constant whir and thrum of the machines making parts for the transmissions of Chrysler SUVs that most of the people in the factory will never be able to afford. The problem is the monotony. He’s not ready for eight hours of standing at the same station, doing the same task over and over and over.

Still, work pays the bills. So he pulls on his protective glasses and picks up a blank—a smooth, round steel disc—and locks it into a machine. Then he does it again. And again. The machine cuts the disc into a gear, its edges shaped into perfect prongs. With a gloved hand, he wipes away the steel burrs, sharp little bits of shaved metal. For every 100 discs that go into the machine, he pulls 30 to make sure the measurements are good.

He’s also not ready for the exhaustion of working third shift, coming in when his body is ready for sleep. Nor is he ready for the dangers of working in a big production factory where workers get around on trikes and drive front loaders to the railroad spur to move pallets of steel crates into the shop.

[lightbox link=”http://xavierweb.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/brothers9.jpg”][/lightbox]Most of all, he’s not ready for the anxiety of the men and women who have worked there all their lives and know no other way to make a living. By the summer of 1996, some of the factories in New Castle and Muncie have started downsizing. Some have actually closed and people are losing their jobs. Their fear is tangible. And educational.

A year at BorgWarner becomes a lesson in life for the twins. Their eyes are opened to the reality of the factory life that has sustained their city for more than 100 years. This is where their father went to work every day, as did their friends’ families and practically everyone in town. It’s why their dad pulled on his boots every morning and peeled them off at night, tucking them into the furnace closet. It’s why he was unemployed for at least a year after being laid off from the Chrysler plant in New Castle before finding work at BorgWarner.

It finally becomes clear to them—two young budding artists with four years of college behind them—that this is where they come from, this is who they are. This world of the factory defines them and their community. It also becomes clear to them that they need to tell this story through their art. And they need to do it together.
 

[divider]A life, divided[/divider]

Ten years ago, Kelly and Kyle walked into a tattoo business in Dayton, Ohio. When they were in college, the two had bands with interlocking hooks—an icon of being a twin—tattooed on their wrists. It was small but symbolic.

This time, they were looking for something new. Something different. Something that was not only an expression of their combined individualism, but also something that spoke of their passion for those who spent their lives cutting gears and stamping parts. They decided to have a large spider web woven in ink around their left elbows—a representation, says Kelly, of being caught up in the system, tangled up in the web. Each strand represents individual struggles to overcome personal obstacles.

Five years later they took that message even further, this time by having the words “Working Class” in old English lettering surrounded by a wreath tattooed on their forearms. It was, they say, a more direct way to show the folks back home in New Castle that they may have college degrees and were able to escape the grind, but they haven’t forgotten who they are or where they came from.

“It’s a brand for everyone to see that’s who I am,” Kelly says. “It’s like you wear your politics on your sleeve. This is undeniable. I make no bones about hiding or covering up who I am, from the tattoos down to the clothes we wear, all work clothes. It’s just ingrained in us.”

[lightbox link=”http://xavierweb.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/brothers7.jpg”]brothers7[/lightbox]All their lives, the Phelps brothers have done everything together. Their mother dressed them alike from birth. They attended the same college and graduate programs, choosing the same major and going to work at the same university. Their tattoos are no different.

“He’s the first person I talk to in the morning and the last at night,” Kelly says. “We work exclusively together. We’re the left and right hand, always and forever. We have the same tattoos, same music, same cars, same everything. It’s who we are. We are one person in two different bodies. It would be like tearing half my body away without him.”

Indeed, they admit their twinning behavior is extreme. They wear the same working-class T-shirts, heavy silver rings and neck chains, shave their heads close and have the same light goatees. They each drive a black Jeep Commander, and their houses are only blocks apart in the same neighborhood. The only obvious difference at first is Kyle’s face is slightly fuller than Kelly’s.

Xavier psychology professor Kathleen Hart, herself a twin, says the experience is unique for each set of twins. There is little scientific research about the phenomenon to back up common perceptions about twin behavior, but she says the Phelps brothers probably are more extreme than most twins in their identification with each other.

“It seems as though because of being identical, being a minority and being unique in their community, they cleaved onto each other and really formed a very, very tight bond,” Hart says. ““The fact they are twins and have all those shared experiences makes it easier to create a relationship that is that symbiotic, but it’s something they have created. Given the role that plays in their work and in their art, it sounds like it’s working for them.”

Now, as dual artists, they have a commodity to promote, both for a living and a cause. They started teaching together at the University of Dayton in a shared tenure track position, but in 2003, Kelly took a position at Xavier, so they could each have their own tenure track.

Kelly is popular on campus among students. His enthusiasm for the possibilities that an art degree offers encourages students to be creative in his Xavier studio. Checking on their work on a September afternoon, he comments on the life-sized heads, self-portraits they have created, that are propped at various angles on the workbenches, still soft and gray-toned in the unfired clay stage.

[lightbox link=”http://xavierweb.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/brothers6.jpg”]brothers6[/lightbox]“I love teaching, but I love doing art, too,” he says. “One facilitates the other.”

The brothers credit their parents for developing their love of art. Their father’s ability as a handyman to build anything—including additions to their house—and their mother’s creative talents at upholstering taught them how to work with their hands. They would take toys like GI Joes or Transformers and reconfigure them into something other than intended.

“We were finding art everywhere—seeing dad swing an axe or mom turn a pattern into something. We were always creative,” Kelly says.

Their exposure to creativity paralleled the family’s strong work ethic. When their father got laid off from Chrysler, he did odd jobs until he was hired at BorgWarner. Their mom’s upholsteryjob inspired her to start her own business. The twins watched and learned.

“We had a strong sense of a work ethic, having pride in what you have,” Kelly says. “We convey that through our art.”

At New Castle Chrysler High School, they got into sculpture, the kind of art where you get your hands dirty. Their parents encouraged them but also cautioned them to find something at which they could make a living. “Every factory worker worries about how to make a living. We came from a town where everything is focused on practical things.”

Though being among a small handful of African-American residents in New Castle, the Phelps don’t focus a lot on race issues. But they found it frustrating at Ball State, as in high school, to be the only African-American people in the art department. “We didn’t have a role model,” Kelly says.

Their art showed. Their sculptures were of interesting topics—slavery, “angry black man art” depicting the African-American
experience—but it wasn’t their experience. They hadn’t lived what they were creating.

That all changed in their senior year of college when they entered an art competition and won second and third place. The guy who took first was Bobby Scroggins, an African-American artist and professor at the University of Kentucky. They had never met a black professor, especially in art. He told them they had talent and ought to go to graduate school. They did, after their year at BorgWarner, entering Kentucky in 1997. Scroggins taught them, mentored them and even today, talks to them regularly. “It changed our lives,” Kyle says. “We realized the working class was all around us, and we never paid any attention to it. It was a revelation. Since 1997, our whole body of work has been in this whole working-class theme.”
 

[divider]A people left behind[/divider]

Three framed statues are lined up side by side on a workbench in a small studio in the lower level of Kyle Phelps’ suburban house in Centerville, Ohio. They are, for the most part, complete, but they need some finishing touches.

The two men move around the enclosed space with ease, taking turns dabbing paint onto the sculptured figure placed squarely in the center of each piece against a backdrop of riveted metal. One dabs here, the other dabs there, moving in unison, piece by piece. Each movement complements the other in a kind of rhythm that can only occur among people who have known each other for a very long time.

[lightbox link=”http://xavierweb.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/brothers8.jpg”]brothers8[/lightbox]Sixteen years after their year at BorgWarner, having earned Master of Fine Arts degrees together at the University of Kentucky, Kelly and Kyle Phelps are now professors in ceramics and sculpture—Kelly at Xavier, Kyle at the University of Dayton. They are also accomplished artists who have completed more than 100 pieces, some of which have been purchased by museums, corporations and universities, including Chrysler Corp. and Purdue University, and private individuals, including movie producer Michael Moore, actor Morgan Freeman and musician Bootsy Collins.

They recently completed a commissioned statue of jazz musician Eric Dolphy for Le Moyne College. Their work has been featured in Sculpture Magazine, and they are increasingly getting more showings, such as last summer when they were the invited artists at the 19th annual San Angelo National Ceramic Competition. They submitted several of their most recent works, whose titles reflect the Phelps’ renewed focus on working-class themes. Among them: “News of the Layoff,” “Steel Worker” and “Miss America.”

Scroggins is proud of his former students. “The people I know that have seen their work and their energy and what they have to offer are very, very accepting of what they try to do and who they are,” he says. “They’re involved in a social commentary that a lot of people in our country have ignored. They’re reminding us of the people who got left behind.”

The Phelps brothers’ art tells the story of what happened to their city and the working-class people who lived there—starting with
the layoffs and eventual selling off of the New Castle Chrysler plant to DaimlerChrysler in 2002. What once employed nearly 7,000 people in the 1930s had only 200 workers remaining. The factory is now completely silent, as is BorgWarner.

“When the factories disappeared, the poverty set in,” Kelly says.

The titles of the three pieces on the workbench reflect as much: “The Break” features a factory worker lighting a cigarette. He wears a jump suit and has a lunch pail at his side. “Miss America” features a woman in similar work clothes, a lunch pail in one hand and work gloves in the other, looking down and dejected. The third piece, “John Henry,” is shown holding a sledgehammer.

What’s most noticeable about the people in the pieces is that they are idle. “They’re not working. They’re disheartened. They’ve been let go,” Kelly says. “The point of the piece is they’re no longer viable to anyone’s service. They’re cast off, discarded.”

The “Miss America” piece reflects their recognition that women are part of the working-class workforce, too, and ought to be treated as equals to men. One of their favorite sculptures is “Carlita,” featuring a hotel maid in a headscarf pushing a cart filled with cleaning supplies. The backdrop, as in most of their pieces, is an American flag.

“She’s the hotel worker who cleans the room and then disappears,” he says. “There’s something really dirty about how we treat these people.”

The Phelps brothers start a sculpture by first getting into their car and driving to old factory sites in Indiana and Ohio. The abandoned behemoths are now rusting hulks, partly torn down, partly collapsed. They take pictures and then discreetly collect scrap metal and machine parts. They haul it back to the storage room in Centerville and piece by piece, find ways to incorporate the rusting iron and steel into their art, redefining the original intention of each item.

They clean and heat-treat sections of old corrugated steel and wrap it around wooden frames to create a rugged backdrop for the sculpture that nestles in the center. In some pieces, the steel is shaped to resemble smoke stacks and water towers, and always an American flag. A rusted railroad spike they found onsite is attached to the “John Henry” piece. A pair of real, worn work boots dangles from another.

“Our art now is reflective of our experience in that factory town,” Kelly says. “These factories are just shells of what they used to be. They were these mega-structures, and when you see the space where it doesn’t exist anymore, it’s like a scab or wound or a memory of what once was there. They’re being scraped away as if it never was there.”

Except that their art is archiving that history and, as Kelly says, “capturing the moment before it disappears.”

Xavier Through the Seasons

Each year, as the seasons change, Xavier’s campus takes on a new look. What was green in the summer becomes golden in the fall. A coat of white winter snow offers contrasts not seen in the sunlight of spring. Take a look at campus through the seasons.

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XU Alum Recounts His Time in the Military during WWII

Ed Burke graduated from Xavier in 1942.

He immediately entered WWII as the commander of a tank destroyer battalion, earning a Silver Star for this efforts, which included storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and helping liberate three French towns from German occupation.

In 2012, the French government honored Burke for his efforts in helping liberate the country, presenting him with the Knight of the Legion of Honor medal, its highest award given to foreign military servicemen by the French government.

Read more about Ed Burke’s story here. 

Old Man and the Pep Band

At first glance, Paul Denning’s close-cropped hair, well-proportioned physique and enthusiastic nature portray a man who lives a fairly typical life. But only if one considers it typical to return to college at 46, join the rowing team at age 48, become the rowing coach at 52 and survive a fifth bout of cancer—all while working full time and maintaining a schedule that would disable most people’s Daytimer.

“Plus, I played the tuba in the pep band.”

Holding forth over hummus and pita chips in the Gallagher Student Center, Denning’s agenda for the moment is not only telling his story but also convincing two students they need to join the team. They’re more interested in demolishing their meatball and marinara footlongs, so Denning turns back to the tuba.

“The tuba is the ultimate fashion accessory,” he says. “And you get a great seat at the basketball game.”

Plus he adds, in his abundantly enthusiastic nature, for the last 30 years or so, he’s made it a point to learn an instrument a year. “I’ve worked through all the brass instruments, violins, keyboards, and am currently learning the bagpipe.”

Originally a music major at the University of Kansas, Denning was recruited by General Electric to work in its technology department, so he dropped out and moved to Cincinnati. Career advancement required he complete an undergraduate degree, so he began taking classes in the evening. While walking across campus one day, crew team members were staging an ergothon—a fundraising event using rowing machines. Though closer to the age of the students’ parents, Denning sat down for a friendly competition with one of the rowers.

“I was already doing marathons and triathlons,” he says, “so here I was, a 47-year-old guy rowing against an 18-year-old.”

It’s all true, says Jacob Smith, a junior, former crew member and one of the lunch bunch Denning is trying to bring back into the fold. “I thought, what are we going to do with this old guy? Is he really going to row a boat with us?” Smith says.

Row he did—12 competitions over two years. After graduating in 2009, Denning began coaching the team. He even credits the crew with helping him through chemotherapy as he battles recurring cancer.

“I need the team as much as they need me.”

And whether the task at hand is cajoling just one more student to join the crew or striving to produce a sound resembling music out of a bagpipe, Denning exudes the attitude that what he gives back is also what keeps him going—and rowing.

 

Into the Wild: A Teaching Experience That is Both Intense and In Tents

Mike Cottingham is a teacher. Only his classroom is 13,770 feet up on top of Wyoming’s Grand Teton mountain. It’s also in a kayak next to a humpback whale just off Alaska’s Chochagoff Island. And in the middle of the Jatbula Track in Australia’s Northern Territory. No blackboards. No cramped little desks. No annoying intercoms with endless interruptions from the vice principal. Just nature. Lots and lots of nature.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd that’s exactly how he planned it. The 1972 MEd graduate scrapped the traditional pencils and books and created Wilderness Ventures, a school (of sorts) that teaches teenagers about all the stuff that most schools don’t: life, nature, cooperation, interdependency. The students spend anywhere from 16 days to six weeks in a remote wilderness area with no phones, no TVs, no computers. They camp, cook and clean outdoors. It’s intense and in tents.

But they leave with a new view of the world.

“Teenagers can be a challenge,” says Cottingham. “They’re not always kind to one another. They’re very into themselves and don’t typically think of others. So what we realized early on is that the greatest gift we can give them is teach them how to live in a community, how to team-build, to share, to care for one another, to be tolerant and accepting of one another. Our students all come from different backgrounds, different socioeconomic situations. Some are jocks, some are intellectuals, but out in the wilderness they all have to work together. It’s all about community.

“They learn the hard skills of being in the wilderness, but we also teach them the soft skills—how to talk, how to communicate face to face instead of sending a text message. We sit around a campfire and sing songs, talk about leadership, talk about the big questions of life. And, in the end, it makes a huge impact. We get feedback all the time from kids or their parents who see the impact, either immediately or later in life. We’ve had 30 kids who are second-generation campers.”

In the 40 years since Cottingham began his venture, he’s led more than 22,000 teenagers into the wilderness, expanding from sites scattered around the American Northwest to the wilds of Alaska. He’s taken kids to South America (Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Belize, the Galapagos) and Europe (the Alps and Pyrenees mountains). He’s expanded to the South Pacific (Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Tahiti, Thailand) and is venturing for the first time this year into Africa.

00790-WVGenSince primitive camping and unlimited exploration is unique to America, the international trips are slightly different, with the students hiking from village to village or hut to hut. And they’re focused more on community service work. Over the course of three summers, for instance, Wilderness Ventures built a school in Fiji.

For Cottingham, it all began with, well, an effort to keep from being sent to Vietnam. He took the lessons from his own socially active childhood and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Notre Dame. He then returned to Cincinnati and entered graduate school to study teaching—specifically alternative education models—because he loved teaching young adults. And, it offered a deferment from the draft.

By the time he graduated, the war was over and life was safe to resume. He got a job as a high school substitute teacher while his wife, Helen, worked as a middle school teacher full time. With their summers free, they spent a lot of time camping and backpacking throughout the West with the Sierra Club. Looking to combine their love of teaching with their passion for the outdoors, the two created Wilderness Ventures as a summer job in 1973.

“It began because I convinced 10 families I knew what I was doing,” he says.

It grew to 13 the second year, then 24. “I said, ‘I think we can make a living doing this.’” The two quit their teaching jobs and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyo., a place they discovered during their summer treks. “Jackson Hole was one of the most beautiful places we’d ever seen,” he says. “When we moved out here, it felt like we were coming home.”

03838-WVGenBy the ninth year, the Cottinghams started their own family and turned the teaching and leading over to younger souls, focusing instead on the business aspects—recruiting teenagers, overseeing the 11 full-time and 120 seasonal employees—and making sure their vision of impacting the lives of teenagers didn’t change even though the times did.

“Ten years ago, there wasn’t the Internet or Facebook or smartphones,” he says. “We have kids who don’t sign up when we tell them they can’t bring their phones or music. But if we can convince them that giving them up for a while will open up a new world to them, their lives will be changed. So what we offer is even more relevant today than ever.”

[divider] ••• [/divider]

Learn more about Wilderness Ventures

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Center Stage

Nate Davis wasn’t even back to his seat when his phone started ringing. The former Marine sergeant, who’s now director of Xavier’s Center for Veterans Affairs, received an invitation to speak at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in September about how the Post 9/11 GI Bill impacted him.

Although hesitant at first, he agreed. And as soon as his two-minute speech was complete, the emails and calls started.

“There were a slew of them,” he says. “I got calls from vets thanking me for saying what I said. I got emails from older vets who were not going to school but just wanted to talk to me. That shocked me more than anything. I got a call from a Xavier student saying that I made him proud to be a Xavier student.”

Davis’ speech was in the heart of prime time, in front of 10,000 people in the arena and several million on TV. But it almost didn’t happen.

“When I got the call, I was actually watching the Republican convention on TV with my mother,” he says. “There was so much mud slinging that I thought I didn’t want to get in the middle of that. I thought if I got on stage for one side or the other it might divide veterans because that’s not what we’re about. We’re not Democrats or Republicans. We’re veterans. I kept thinking of all the bad things that could happen.

“But my mom said, ‘Don’t let things out of your control scare you away from doing what you’re supposed to do.’ I thought, ‘She’s right. This is not about you. God just gave you a stage to tell the story of veterans and you don’t know what effect your message might have.’ So I agreed. When I got there, it felt like I was supposed to be there at that moment. I felt I had a purpose.”

What kind of impact did it have? He may never know the total impact, but two veterans enrolled at Xavier as a result—so far.

[button link=”#” color=”Blue” size=”medium” target=”blank”]Watch Davis’ Speech[/button]

Fast Track

Tony Barber has chosen to take the road less traveled—and at the highest speed possible.

In 2004, Barber quit his traditional white-collar job of managing a call center for a local Fortune 500 company. He ditched the 9-to-5, power ties and Franklin planners because he wanted something more fun. Like cars. Really fast cars.

“I discovered cars before girls,” he says. “Other guys had a poster of Cheryl Tiegs on their walls. I had a Lambourghini Countache.” So the MBA grad turned his attention to Turn In Concepts, a custom automobile business he created that designs and markets aftermarket performance parts.

“We started with one specific part,” he says, “a shift linkage bushing.” He digs through a shelf of boxes at his stuffed-to-the-rafters headquarters in Fairfield, Ohio, and produces the part. It’s an unassuming donut-shaped piece of black plastic designed to correct the “shift slop” that affected the Subarus used in the sports of autocross and time trials. But it’s so effective mechanically that in 2005 they shipped 25,000 units of the bushing.

Now, Turn In Concepts has grown to three partners, five employees and a parts list numbering into the thousands. They ship products all over the world on a weekly basis to places like Greece, Russia and Singapore. “All our parts are track-focused and designed.” Meaning that while his customers like their cars to go fast, staying under control is just as important. “About 95 percent of our customers are people who want their cars to perform better. The other 5 percent intend to track race.”

What’s Barber’s biggest challenge moving forward? “To stay in tune with the market we need to stay in touch with the market.”

Which has inspired projects like undertaking the legendary Cannonball One Lap of America in a 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX with custom aerodynamics, suspension, transmission, brakes and around 700 horsepower squeezed out of a four-cylinder motor.

The result of that effort is on display as a trophy for placing fourth overall, first in class and rookie of the year.

“We like to test new components on the latest cars, test them on the track and then when we’re done, we’ll sell the car.”

The need for competitive speed has also led the company into the fast and furious world of professional time trials—including the very cool sounding Global Time Attack. So these days Barber can often be found behind the wheel of some very fast, high-performance cars. “Just another day at the office.” And he’s rarely distracted by emails.