Story By Kendyl Hollingsworth
Photos Contributed By Barber Motorsports
The hum of the vehicles circling the track becomes much like the relentless hum of a bumblebee swarm, a flight that keeps going and going and going.
It’s a rush like no other — quite literally — to feel the energy of a motor race and the crowd waiting in anticipation to see who will finish first.
But you don’t have to travel all the way to the Indianapolis 500 to experience this kind of a rush. It’s available right here in Alabama at the Barber Motorsports Park.
Located in Leeds, about 25 minutes east of downtown Birmingham, the Barber Motorsports Park and Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum rest on nearly 900 sprawling acres of greenspace. According to its website, the multi-purpose space opened to the public in 2003 and features a compact, 2.38-mile road course with 17 turns and varying elevation.
It’s a 21st-century park, but its story begins decades prior.
If the Barber name sounds familiar, it might be because you’ve likely seen it plastered across milk jugs, sour cream containers and more at your local grocery stores. It isn’t a coincidence, though; Barber Motorsports Park founder George Barber Jr., a native of Birmingham, Alabama, also happens to be the son of Barber’s Dairy founder George Barber Sr.
The younger Barber succeeded his father as the leader of his dairy empire for a while before selling it to Dean Foods in the late 1990s. It was then that he shifted his focus to one of his true loves: motorsports.
“George Barber’s zeal for speed ignited his vision for today’s museum,” the website reads.
Barber himself was once a racecar driver, earning 63 first-place finishes racing Porsches in the 1960s. But he traded his racing suit for a business suit after that and wouldn’t reignite his passion for motorsports until the late 1980s.
Having been a Porsche driver, Barber was more of a car enthusiast at the time. But since numerous impressive car collections already existed across the globe, Barber heeded some advice from a motorcycle-enthusiast friend of his and began leaning more into the motorcycle craze. The same friend gifted him a couple motorcycles of his own, one being a rare 1952 Victoria Bergmeister. From then on, Barber was hooked on motorcycles.
“That superb gift — the Bergmeister — inspired Barber,” the Barber Museum website reads. “Marveling at the Bergmeister’s beauty, he appreciated motorcycles for much more than just fast machines. They were also works of art.”
So, in 1994, Barber founded the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. It opened to the public in 1995 at its original location on the south side of Birmingham, according to the website. The collection didn’t just honor the beauty of these machines, though; it also showcased “the engineering, balance and unique design” of each motorcycle.
Efforts to promote the museum with a racing program proved successful both on and off the track. The program’s mere existence, coupled with its success, turned the motorcycle museum into a “living museum,” which took Barber and his team to places they hadn’t dreamed. It was a lightbulb experience for Barber, who began to realize he could create something special, something one of a kind — right in his hometown.
“Consulting with world champion racers John Surtees and Dan Gurney, uncommon precision drove the design of the complex,” the website continues.
The Barber Motorsports Park officially opened in September 2003, and 11 years later, the Barber Proving Grounds were added next to the racetrack and soon became the grounds for Mercedes Benz’s “Brand Immersion Experience.” According to the website, the proving grounds are also used for various product debuts, kart racing, driving schools and safety instruction.
What was once just a vision is now what Barber intended it to be: a world-class facility to showcase what those beautiful machines can do.
“The track is unusual in having no general-access spectator seating at the start/finish line,” the website says. “The area outside of the front stretch, bounded by the track on three sides, is occupied by the multi-level Paddock building.”
This powerhouse of a building features a media center, race control area, track offices, garages, as well as some VIP viewing areas.
Camping for events is mostly available around the Paddock building, though occasionally there are spots in the upper hilltop, subject to availability and with limitations. More information about camping is available at www.barberracingevents.com/track-day-faq.
In contrast, the main spectator area is along the back stretch between the eighth and 11th turns. Most of the track is visible from this viewing area. Along other areas of the track, visitors can find a couple more spectator areas, as well as a food and souvenir vending area.
According to the website, some have referred to the track as “The Augusta National of Motorsports.” Since its inception, the Barber Motorsports Park has hosted various races including the Grand-Am, Pirelli World Challenge, AMA SuperBike, the IndyCar Series and Vintage Racing Series events. The North American Porsche Driving School also calls the track home, though those practices are closed to public viewing.
The website notes that there are about 60 to 70 open track days each year.
“Track days provide a great opportunity for anyone to experience first-hand the excitement and passion for motorsports,” it reads. “Whether you prefer two wheels or four wheels, regardless of your experience level, there are plenty of opportunities available for you.”
Of course, the racing track isn’t the only big draw to Barber Motorsports Park. The Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum is a destination in its own right, as it holds the Guinness World Record for the “World’s Largest Motorcycle Museum.” The website also notes that the nonprofit museum is considered to be the largest philanthropic project undertaken by a single person in the history of the state.
“Since 2003, Barber Motorsports Park and the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum have been the premier travel destinations for motorcycle and car enthusiasts,” said Executive Director Brian Case. “We welcome you to visit and take your journey through motorsports history with us.”
According to the website, the museum sees about a quarter of a million visitors each year from near and far. Even for those who are not so enthusiastic about cars, motorcycles or racing in general, the museum takes care to tell the motorcycle’s story from a historical perspective. There is also something to behold in the designs, colors and craftmanship of each vehicle.
The 245,000-square-foot museum boasts more than 1,000 different motorcycles on display at a time — though the collection totals over 1,600 — as well as over 60 Lotus racecars. A few other cars are on display as well, including the 1964 Ferrari F-158. The website noes that the motorcycles have been acquired from as close as Birmingham to as far as New Zealand, and 220 different manufacturers are represented from a total of 22 countries.
“Efforts are made to restore each machine to its original specifications,” the website reads. “Some machines bear period modifications. With the diversity of the collection, some inconsistencies are inevitable, yet we continuously add to our research library and discover and correct inconsistencies.”
The museum includes the Barber Advanced Design Center, a new addition that serves as a space for industrial designers to collaborate and inspire others. The center has hosted various guest speakers who have shared their knowledge.
The museum also partners with various local and national charities to benefit the community, such as Birmingham-area Boy Scouts of America, Camp Smile-a-Mile’s Camp SAM Motorcycle Ride and the Honda manufacturing of Alabama-hosted Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation (PBTF) Birmingham Ride for Kids.
The Barber Motorsports Park and Museum hosts three big annual events.
One of the most popular is the Barber Vintage Festival, a three-day event held each fall. This year’s event is scheduled for Oct. 6 through Oct. 8.
Attendees can expect racing, camping opportunities, parade laps, swap meets, a Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club (VJMC) gathering and much more. There is also a special “Motorcycles by Moonlight” dinner on the first night.
This year’s grand marshal for the event will be Fujio Yoshimura, son of famed motorcycle tuner Hideo “Pop” Yoshimura.
“At an early age, Fujio Yoshimura quickly learned about engines and racing from his father, Pop Yoshimura,” Barber Motorsports Park wrote on social media. “His career really blossomed when he took over and helped Yoshimura R&D of America become a leader in sport bike performance technology. He now oversees all Yoshimura divisions and we are excited to welcome him to @barbermuseum”.
Another annual event is the Barber Small Bore, which is dedicated to small street bikes and dirt bikes. Basically, if it’s bigger than 200cc, it’s too big for this event. The next one is set for May 31 through June 2, 2024.
“Everybody is super friendly and you just want to talk and hang out,” Johnny Cintron, an event regular from Athens, Georgia, told Bike Exif earlier this year. “In any state you’ll find clubs but Barber Small Bore is where everybody goes.”
The third annual event is the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix, which has been going on more than 13 years. Another three-day event, this one held in April is a big draw for visitors from all 50 states and various countries around the world, according to indyalabama.com, as it features the same cars and drivers as the Indianapolis 500. So, for this event, the excitement of the Indy 500 really does come to you here in Alabama.
Despite all the buzz already in Birmingham, Barber Motorsports Park has no plans to slow down anytime soon.
“In its commitment to preserving the history of motorsports, the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is excited about the future,” its website reads. “Barber says he wants ‘to use the museum as a tool to help bring more people to Birmingham.’ Being dedicated to interpreting and exhibiting motorcycles and vintage vehicles, the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is a destination that is truly amazing.”
This issue of LIVE Lee coincides with Barber Motorsports Park’s 20th anniversary this fall, but the fun will keep on going through the rest of the year. The park is gearing up for several more electrifying events this fall and winter. The rest of the 2023 schedule is as follows:
• Oct. 6 – 8 | Barber Vintage Festival
• Oct. 14 – 16 | Sportbike Track Time
• Oct. 28 – 29 | Chin Track Days
• Nov. 4 – 5 | Sportbike Track Time
• Nov. 11 – 12 | Rezoom Motorsports
• Nov. 18 – 19 | Just Track It
• Nov. 20 | JZilla
• Nov. 25 – 26 | N2 Track Days
• Dec. 9 – 10 | Chin Track Days
• Dec. 16 | Ady’s Army
• Dec. 17 | JZilla
For more information on each event, visit barberracingevents.com/upcoming-events.
Read more about Barber Motorsports Park and the Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum, or start planning your visit, at www.barberracingevents.com. You can also find them on Facebook as “Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum,” or on Instagram and Twitter/X