Wednesday, February 26, 2020

SiriusXM's 'Auto Trends' Talks About Hammerin' Hank Aaron And The Bumpy Road He Navigated As BMW's First Black Dealer

Sidney Barron and Hank Aaron (Photo Credit: SB)

As Auto Trends with continues our Black History Month themed shows, focusing on the intersection of race and sports, we are honored to share the story of how Hammerin’ Henry Louis Aaron became BMW’s first black dealer.

When Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record on April 8, 1974, hitting the career-winning 715-home run, one might have assumed that he would no longer be facing opposition -- still needing to prove himself nearly a quarter of a century later. 

However, the world class athlete and successful businessman was about to embark upon a brand new venture, where he found himself in the crossfire again. 

Sidney Barron, Hank Aaron and BMW executives (Photo Credit: SB)

In his latest venture, as opposed to facing fans who despised him because of the hue of his skin tone and his athletic skill set, Aaron, the barrier breaker, whom many thought should have been enjoying retirement, was about to thread rough waters again, with those from the black dealer community, as well as white businessmen.

When many learned that the baseball icon, who was in his mid-sixties, was being awarded a BMW dealership, it sent shock waves through the business community. Many could not understand why someone without dealership experience was being awarded a premium store, especially many of the black dealers, who had yearned for years to crash through the dealership doors, acquiring an import luxury store.

In fact, it was reported that the late Sheila Vaden-Williams, who was the executive director of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers (NAMAD), was surprised that the baseball icon was on BMW’s radar, being that the organization that she led was typically the point person for all of the carmarkers, supplying them with viable candidates for dealership opportunities.

While many of the black dealers, had already had access to American luxury makes, such as Cadillac and Lincoln, the dealers, just like consumers, yearned to have access to the luxury imports, which was the pinnacle of success, especially a German new car franchise.

With the exception of Mercedes-Benz, which had approved Bob Ross, as their first and only black dealer in the late seventies, no other black business owner had access to selling to this class of car buyers who could afford to buy such vehicles, which in turn would mean more money added to the dealers’ bottom line.

Ironically, at the same time BMW was making history, the new luxury car brands from Infiniti and Lexus were also making groundbreaking appointments, too, with their first round of black dealers.

Conversely, unlike both BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the Japanese luxury brands were still relatively new and they selected dealers with an established track record. Both Infiniti and Lexus had only been around for about ten years.

Photo Credit: SB
Join us as Sidney Barron, a long-time business partner and close friend of Aaron’s, as he goes one-on-one with Auto Trends with Barron, who was Aaron's first general manager, when the BMW store broke ground, currently serves as the only black general manager for the ultra-luxury brand, Bentley.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Barron discusses  everything from how the baseball icon made BMW's short list to how the appointment of the German luxury automaker black dealers had strong ties to South Africa's apartheid to how they won the respect of the dealer community to why Aaron finally dissolved his portfolio of automotive franchises, which also included Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Mini, Jaguar and Land Rover, after only a short, but highly successful seven-year stint as a dealer. 

Barron, who is currently the only black general manager in the world for the ultra luxury Bentley brand, dispels all of the rumors that have been floated around for decades, as to why his former boss, was granted the franchise. 

Furthermore, Barron, who was Aaron’s first general manager, when the BMW store broke ground, also shares how the area in which the German luxury automotive store was located became known as ‘black auto dealer row’ in the United States.

To Tune In:

Satellite Radio
To hear the conversation, tune in to Auto Trends with, on Friday, February 28 at 12:00 p.m. ET on SiriusXM Channel 141. Encore broadcasts can be heard on Sunday, March 1 and Monday, March 2 at 12:00 p.m. ET and 1:30 p.m. ET, respectively.

FM Radio/Online
To hear the show for free, listen at 12 PM ET Saturdays on Pine Bluff, Arkansas' 89.7 FM. The show is available online, accessing

The show airs at 1:00 PM ET Sundays on Tallahassee, Florida's 90.5 FM.