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.