Journeys of Discovery: Birmingham showcases world’s largest motorcycle collectionJourneys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer | February 6, 2020

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Jeff Ray, executive director at Birmingham, Alabama’s Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum talks about the $100,000,000 investment in the State of Alabama’s largest philanthropic enterprise.

George Barber decided to dedicate a portion of his dairy industry fortune showcasing the world’s largest collection of motorcycles (1,600), including super rare stream-powered bicycles dating from the 1860’s. Barber is also home to The Porsche Track Experience; the world’s largest factory sponsored driving school.

Barber hosts the annual IndyCar Honda Grand Prix of Alabama and sponsors the Annual Barber Vintage Festival, attracting more than 80,000 participants.

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From Dream To Reality: Barber Vintage Motorsports MuseumJeff Thornton/Herald Publications | January 27, 2020

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It is now 2020 and I hope you are thinking about motorsports like I am. What are your vacation plans like this summer? I wanted to share a secret place you should think about visiting in Birmingham, Alabama called the “Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum.” Last April, Herald Publication photographer Greg Junge and I revisited the museum before we attended the Spring NASCAR Talladega race just one-half hour east of Barber.

Our first visit to the museum was in 2017 when we attended our first Talladega race. The museum is five floors of motorcycles along with Lotus, Indy, Formula One and other collectible cars that Mr. Barber has included from his collection. The museum also houses one of the largest collections of racing memorabilia in the country. If you had a toy Indy car when you were a kid, it is likely they have it or several of them.

In 2017, Greg and I took three hours and rushed through the museum and did not even get to visit the track on the grounds that host the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama each year. Last year, we got to the museum just as it opened at 10:00 a.m., took an hour for lunch, and were the last visitors to leave as they closed at 6 p.m. The question you may have is “did you see everything?” The answer: “No, we did not see everything.”

We did spend some time walking around the grounds. We found that there have even been some weddings that have occurred there. It is a very beautiful setting.
During our visit in 2019, we were able to watch some of the Porsche teams practice for their event. We definitely got our money’s worth for the $15 admission.
The museum actually grew since we visited the site in 2017. The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world’s largest motorcycle collection. They have 1600 motorcycles spanning over 100 years of production. There are over 200 different motorcycle manufacturers from 20 different countries. The museum also has the largest extensive collection of Lotus Cars in the world. The amazing part about the vehicles on displayed is that 98 percent of them are in working condition. The museum has many more items that are not displayed and they continue to restore and add to their collection each year.
Why did the museum start? It was fueled by passion! A young George Barber’s zeal for speed ignited his vision for today’s museum. Mr. Barber raced Porsches in the 1960’s. He had 63 first place wins. He went into business as he got older and was very successful. He then rediscovered his motorsports passion in 1988 and began collecting and restoring classic cars.

One of his close friends, Dave Hooper suggested he should shift his focus from cars to motorcycles. Mr. Barber took his friend’s advice and did what no one else had ever done and built the world’s “best and largest” motorcycle collection.

In 1997, Mr. Barber got a call from New York’s Guggenheim Museum requesting 21 motorcycles for an exhibit called “The Art of the Motorcycle.” The thrill of this event sparked a bigger dream for Mr. Barber. He asked himself this question: ‘Why can’t we do this in Birmingham?” This set in motion the plans for his vision for a road course racing facility and a “living museum” to share the quality of his collection with the general public.

After acquiring 880 acres outside of Birmingham, the dream became reality in 2003. The road course developed was a 16 turn, 2.38 miles racetrack opened to the public. The track is home to the Porsche Sport driving school and numerous automakers have chosen the park as their stage for vehicle debuts and to film commercials.
As Greg and I found out, you can make a whole day of very interesting entertainment by visiting this unique treasure of motorcycle and auto history. One man’s vision has turned a dream into reality and a chance for future generations to enjoy history.

A Timeline of Jefferson County in Pictures 1819 – 2019The Birmingham Times | December 13, 2019

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Founded with the state of Alabama in 1819, Jefferson County grew from a sparsely settled agricultural county to a powerhouse of industry fueled by entrepreneurial drive and rich deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone. This community has fought for justice and equality, made medical breakthroughs, advanced technology, and founded award-winning restaurants. With an adverse population, extensive green space, vibrant communities, and ongoing innovation, the county this month celebrates 200 years.

 

2003 — The Barber Motorsports Park, an 880 acre, multi-purpose racing facility located on the eastern fringes of Birmingham opens. It is built by George Barber and includes the Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum, which has been named “World’s Largest Motorcycle Museum” by the Guinness World Records.

 

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Academic research paves a safer roadNick Patterson/Southern Automotive Alliance | November 15, 2019

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There is a test track at Barber Vintage Motorsports and Museum in Birmingham Alabama, set apart from the public areas of the sprawling complex.

At this particular test track, wheeled vehicles that resemble cars are sent speeding along a relatively short stretch of pavement directly toward a barrier with the goal of making sure there’s a crash. There’s often, if not always, a crash test dummy in the driver’s seat. The point of the effort is to figure out how to make real drivers safer.

Running the program is an acknowledged expert in highway traffic safety innovation: Dean Sicking.

“For more than 30 years, Sicking has been a leading figure in highway safety research. His designs have reshaped guardrails and other roadside barriers throughout the United States,” as noted in an article on the website of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where Sicking is on the faculty. “He was also one of the developers of the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barriers that are used on NASCAR and Indy Racing League tracks around the world. In 2012, Sicking joined the UAB School of Engineering as a professor and the vice president of product development.”

In the same article, Sicking describes the impact of his work, which predates his arrival at UAB: “Over the years, we have generated dozens of safety devices, to the point where it’s virtually impossible to drive more than a mile on any major freeway in this country without encountering one of our systems…. Our roadside safety devices save hundreds, if not a thousand, lives per year without getting a whole lot of attention, but when we build a device that saves one or two racecar drivers, everyone wants to know about it.”

In fact, as noted in a Wikipedia article about Sicking, he holds 30 patents, including, for “the first energy absorbing guardrail terminal, the first crash cushion without sacrificial energy absorbers, the first guardrail capable of containing large SUV’s, a trailer mounted impact attenuator,[6] and NASCAR’s Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barrier.

“These technologies have revolutionized their respective markets. They have been adopted around the globe and produced major reductions in the number of serious injuries and fatalities along highways and race tracks,” the article notes.

Sicking is a graduate of Texas A&M university with a degree in mechanical engineering. The road from there, to recognized highway traffic safety expert was neither direct nor quick. But it was ironic when you consider how it happened.

“There were 495 mechanical engineers graduating the same day I did, and a fair number of them were like me and engaged to be married to someone who was stuck there,” Sicking says. “So, my wife wanted to go to med school, a solid med school upstate.  And so I was anchored to College Station and there just weren’t many jobs around.  This was literally the only one I could get in town.  I took a job as a research engineer at Texas Transportation Institute.”

Sicking recalls working on whatever tasks were put in front of him at the institute, “because I was a brand new bachelor’s degree and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. So they hired me and trained me, and like all their engineers [I] need to be trained up. And I spent 12 years … trying to get out of this field.”

Even as a young man, Sicking was seeking a challenge. “I had a philosophy of life — I wanted the path of greatest resistance, and so …this area seemed pretty easy to me; it was very simple.  And I wanted… more challenge.  And so I spent twelve years educating myself,” he says. Sicking earned a PhD, and along with it became knowledgeable about damage in airplane wings, including fighter jets.

“When I graduated, the Office of Air Force Research identified my research topic as one of their priorities for the next couple of years,” he says.  “So, armed with that and a PhD from Texas A&M University, I could get a job and do research for the university in aerospace composites.  But I didn’t factor in the peace dividend.”

In other words, peacetime means downtime in military spending and development.  “The government cancelled every weapons development program underway at the time — every one of them,” he says. “And there were literally hundreds of people in aerospace composite research that had done it for years walking the street because they got laid off by the defense industry.”

He found himself competing for work against people who had many more years of experience than he did. He thought he had jobs — then for several reasons, didn’t. Eventually, Sicking reached a sobering conclusion.

“That’s how I came to the realization that the good Lord wanted me to keep working in the automotive safety area.… I finally realized that, if you’re really good at something and you’re good at a job that not everybody is, that may be your calling.  And it turned out I found that not everybody could do the stuff we do.… Staying in this field was the best thing that ever happened to me.  And I just knew the good Lord’s hand was in it because I gave the best of my efforts to get out of this field and I couldn’t do it.”

In fact, while Sicking was earning his doctorate, becoming an expert in airplane wing composites, he was simultaneously studying highway safety. “When I was doing my coursework, my dissertation… during that whole period I was doing highway safety research, and I had made significant advancements during that period from 1980-1992; I was well-known in my field. I just didn’t want to be in the field,” he says.

He took a job at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where the director of a research program (the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility) had just died, suddenly, six months into an ongoing project. “So I…in desperation applied for the job and I got it,” Sicking says.

He found the program to be, in his word, “disorganized.”

“The first time I did a crash test when I was there…they were about ready to start the test and I said, ‘Time out…wait a minute.’  There was a guy standing six feet from the impact zone.  Tow a vehicle up to 60 mph and hit this impact zone  the guy is standing six feet away from it.  I said that’s not going to happen.”

Apparently, as Sicking recalls, the plan was for a researcher to stand near a camera close to the impact zone so he could turn it on to record the test. Then, when the car was three seconds away from the collision, the researcher was supposed to run to a safer spot.

“I said, ‘I don’t care, we’re not going to do that anymore.  Maybe it was the way you’ve been doing it all along, but we’re not going to do that anymore,’” he says.

The reason for the dangerous technique? Cost, apparently, he recalls.

“I said, ‘Well, how much would it cost to have an extension cord on that camera 500 feet?’” The answer came back, ‘That would be a couple thousand dollars!’  And I said, ‘Well, you’re worth a lot more than a couple thousand dollars to me, so we’re going to get one of those before we run this test.’

“And so, anyway, there was a system shock; we were all involved.  I was shocked; they were shocked,” he says.

And that wasn’t the only thing he said to take his new colleagues by surprise.

“When I got there, I told them… ‘When I come here, I think we can be number one…in the United States in this research field within ten years,’” he recalls, adding that “jaws hit the floor.” “And two of them, I know, went out to start looking for a job because they thought I was crazy…. But we learned to work together, and it allowed us to do a lot of good work,” he says. “I spent 20 years in Nebraska.”

He worked with a great team in Nebraska, Sicking says. Within the first 10 years, “we were widely acknowledged as being the leaders in the industry.  So, we did achieve our goal,” he says. By 2008, the research program was being asked to provide data for clients and Sicking became responsible for bringing work in. “People would call us up and say, ‘Can you do some work, some research for us?’  I said, ‘Yes.’  Gave them outrageous bids and they funded them.

“I basically worked my way out of a job because there wasn’t any need for me drumming up more work, and I was sort of sitting on my fingers.  My wife says, ‘You’ve got to get out of here. You’re going crazy.  Doing nothing is driving you crazy.’  So, I decided to take on a new challenge and came to Alabama.”

Long before moving to Alabama, though Sicking and his team­—working on a barrier to reduce injuries and fatalities in race car driving in 1998. By 2000, his team had created a steel barrier for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After testing it through March 2002, the barrier was deployed for use in May of that year.

A NASCAR official watched one of the crash tests of the Indianapolis barriers. The result left a positive impression; NASCAR had run five crash tests in New Hampshire where there had been two serious high-speed wrecks.

This example of a SAFER barrier is the outside wall of the Milwaukee Mile race track. The wall on the right is concrete. The wall on the left is steel box channel. In between are bumpers made of foam.

The NASCAR tests up to that point had not gone particularly well, and had even proved dangerous. Seeing what Sicking’s team accomplished in Indianapolis led NASCAR to engage their effort to make their drivers safer. The Steel And Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) Barrier has been installed on oval tracks and other high speed sections of road and street tracks.

As noted on the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility website, the SAFER Barrier “has absorbed more than 50 significant impacts thus far, with outstanding safety performance. Even though some of impacts with the barrier have been extremely severe, no significant driver injuries have occurred. Phil Casey, Senior Technical Director, of the Indy Racing League has stated that SAFER Barrier is ‘the greatest achievement for safety in automobile racing that’s been made’.”

Sicking’s career in safety innovations didn’t stop there. Over the years, he’s taken on a project to create barriers to make hockey safer for fast-moving players who otherwise might end up hurt by crashing against an unyielding wall. And he’s also looking into improving the safety of football helmets, in an era of increased focus on sports-related head injuries and post-concussion syndrome.

Even so, for now, the automotive realm is where his work has had the most impact, whether in the U.S., Europe, or Australia. He’s working on improvements even now at his test track at Barber Motorsports.

“I’m convinced there are thousands of people whose lives are saved every year because of my designs,” Sicking say

VJMC Recap of the 2018 Barber Vintage FestivalMike Fitterling, Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Magazine | December 13, 2018

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Arriving in Birmingham in the afternoon on Thursday, 4 October, I found almost all preparations had been completed by VJMC volunteers already.

The VJMC site in the park could not have been better, with three acres of space just inside the first gate into the park, across from the north end of the Museum.

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Recap of the 12th Annual Barber Vintage FestivalMichael Fitterling, The Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Magazine | January 20, 2017

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The weather couldn’t have been more cooperative for this year’s premier vintage motorcycle event. Attendance was around 73,000, up from the 65,000+ the year before, making for a lively and bustling festival.

The VJMC was once again at the huge grassy area just inside Gate Ten, with a beautiful view of the museum across the road at the exit of Turn 9.

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Barber Motorsports Park can get your motor running in Alabama this springZarinah Shahid, Alabama News Center | March 28, 2016

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Springtime in Alabama invites us to get outdoors and enjoy time with family and friends. Why not add some horsepower into the mix?

Barber Motorsports Park reintroduces itself to Birmingham, the state and the nation each spring as it hosts the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama April 22-24, the same time everything is back in bloom in what has been called “the Augusta National of racetracks.”

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At the Barber Vintage Motorsports MuseumAndrew Kohn, asphaltandrubber.com | January 5, 2016

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Overwhelming, but in a really good way. That’s the best way to describe the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. Officially categorized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest motorcycle museum, the collection at Barber contains over 1,400 motorcycles with over 650 on display at any one time.

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