18th Annual Barber Vintage Festival

18th Annual Barber Vintage Festival

The Barber Vintage Festival is for sure the festival of motorcycling love in America. It’s one of the best, most joyous, and most inspiring motorcycle event at a U.S. racetrack. George Barber, the founder of Barber Motorsports Park and Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Leeds, AL, is a patron of motorcycles and the arts. With his attention to detail, he hasn’t just built a racetrack and a warehouse of motorcycles—he has created a groomed environment where every element, including the shrubbery, adds to the experience.

Barber Motorsports Park leaves little up to chance. Unlike most racing facilities, Barber’s paddock isn’t just a giant paved parking lot. Its four tiers climb a hillside, with stairs and greenery between each. A three-story technical building adjacent to the pit lane features a winding open-air staircase with a glass-walled elevator in the center.

On the far side of the race-track grounds is the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. It’s a giant five-story building whose split-level design makes it difficult to know which floor you’re on. The interior’s center sports an oversized elevator within towering stacks of motorcycles at each corner. It’s a long walk to the top but the stairs are at a low enough angle that you won’t strain your joints.

At the southern end of the museum, a few floors up from the entryway, is the Barber Advanced Design Center, managed by Motus designer Brian Case. He’s now the museum’s director, which has been le grand choix. In leading just the design center, Case had enlivened the museum with real-world projects involving motorcycle designers and other big industry names.

The Naked Wheelers and Other Oddities

Outside, at the back of the museum, is a world-class racetrack, surrounded by the most immaculately groomed grounds east of the Pecos. A door leads from the museum onto a walkway that crosses the track twice, tying the museum directly to racing. There’s barely a view around the circuit without a sculpture or two in sight. Thankfully, a new Lady in the Lake by artist Mark Cline is installed in the pond, with only her knees and head emerging from the waters. She replaces the original sculpture that was damaged by Hurricane Sally.

Other sculptures include a giant spider, giant ants, and The Chase by Ted Gall, which is a larger-than-life three-piece sculpture of naked, caped titans, each astride a rolling wheel. They resemble those maniacs zipping through traffic on electric hoverboards—but, thankfully, those guys wear pants. Some sculptures are well hidden in the park-like setting, while others are visible only to credentialed photographers on racing assignments.

The ever-growing number of motorcycles inside the museum makes it one of the most important collections in the world. It includes the best of the best of nearly every brand you know of, and many that you’ve never heard of.

But What About the Vintage?

Everything so far described here is stuff you can see at Barber Motorsports Park during any event. Adding the Vintage Festival to the site blows the experience out of the park—pun intended. It seems as if there isn’t a square foot of usable grounds unoccupied during the festival. The event featured the Fan Zone vendor area with numerous brands, aftermarket companies, and food trucks, surrounding sponsor BMW Motorrad’s huge 100th anniversary display. Next to that, there’s usually the American Motor Drome Wall of Death and the Urias Family Globe of Death, catering to the morbid interests of those preferring a cylindrical or spherical demise. For the record, though, no such deaths have happened at Barber.

Just past the Lady in the Lake was the swap meet, which exploded with vendors. It’s like a live-action eBay auction, featuring miles of piles of esoteric bikes and parts to fulfill most collectors’ dreams. Bring cash. Continuing clockwise around the track takes you past the inflatable church, which might be the only non-denominational bouncy house in America. Maybe.

After bouncing your soul to salvation comes the entrance to what of late has been Triumph Island, positioned on a hillside outside the road course’s last turn. Farther, across the perimeter road, were the demo area, AHRMA Flat Track Racing, the VJMC meet, Concours de Competition, and more. Other events at the Barber Festival included autograph signings by Grand Marshall Fujio Yoshimura, music performances by Hot Rod Walt and the Psycho-DeVilles, parade laps and, of course, an incomprehensible amount of historic road racing. To fully appreciate the races, you really need to tour the paddock where many vintage builders, tuners, and racers still do what made them famous. It’s like a family reunion.

Making a lap around the track’s access road, facilitated by numerous trams, it quickly became obvious that a big part of the event is checking out the hundreds and hundreds of motorcycles parked along this rim road. Most of them are vintage bikes or customs ridden in by spectators. Another great feature of this event is that it attracts motorcyclists of every type and age, not just old guys who know who Fujio is.