How’s this for a calling card?
“Harvey Firestone Jr., the oldest son of the founder, asked me if I wanted a summer job and I said, ‘Heck, yeah.’ That was between my junior and senior years of high school. I was 17. It was doing yard work and I wanted to save up for a car to drive to school.”
Joe Barbieri pauses as memories wash over his mind. The Firestone Racing motorsports manager will be retiring soon – at least from his four-decade association with Firestone and parent Bridgestone Americas. The company and silver-haired gentleman with a quick smile have mutually benefitted, and Indy car racing is the better for it.
“Being from Akron, the rubber capital of the world, everyone was involved with some rubber company,” he says. “I had sisters that worked at Goodrich, an uncle at Goodyear, a brother-in-law at General and a brother-in-law at Firestone. It’s one of those deals where you got hooked with a rubber company and that’s where you stayed. It grew from there.
“I got in with the company and I remember talking with the HR people and they contacted Harvey and made sure if it was OK to hire me, and he said fine, just make sure it was on a back shift. I worked for him from 8-2 and worked in the plant sweeping floors from 4 to midnight. That was a union job back then and it lasted a month and I got laid off. I got called back and worked two months and got laid off.
“All the time I kept the job with Harvey out at his estate. It was quite an experience. Obviously, I’ve come a long way since then. Those roots go very deep with Firestone and I love the company very much.”
Barbieri envisioned working with his hands – maybe even building a desk instead of sitting behind one –as a living. He attended Akron University but didn’t complete coursework for a bachelor’s degree.
“Management was never a dream of mine until I found out how hard work (with one’s hands) that was,” he says. “So I started working in a test laboratory at Firestone, and I did well enough to move up to the engineering department as a technician. I got a lot of experience on how tires are made, what goes into it and did light truck engineering.”
He accepted a position with Firestone Racing in 1987 – initially working in sales and marketing in Akron and then as a project supervisor in the motorsports department. He was promoted to motorsports manager in 1994.
“It’s been a great ride; I’ve really enjoyed it,” Barbieri says. “To watch it grow and change, and to be working with the engineers, has been special. It’s afforded me to go all over the world. It will be quite a change.
“I see golf in my future and I’m an Elk member and do volunteer work. I also love to fish. I’ll have to dust off the poles for the grandchildren.”
Sounds like a great way to create more memories.