Thursday, April 20, 2006
Finding ten things to love about the famed Barber Motorsports Park isn’t difficult. The difficulty is in limiting yourself to just ten things to praise. Here’s ours:
1. Class. Unlike a lot of tracks we could mention, Barber Motorsports Park exudes that hard to define “class”. You probably won’t see George Barber, owner of the track that carries his name, changing the name of the facility after selling naming rights to a multinational corporation, or rolling in old, rusty or leaky oil drums to be used as garbage cans in the spectator areas. Barber had one rule when he built the Barber Motorsports track and grounds: do it the best way possible and in a fashion at least a step above the norm. It shows.
2. The track. It’s really a toss-up as to which facility at Barber is nicer—the track or the museum—but, since we’re race-heads, we’ll settle on the side of the burned rubber. Although short and slightly quirky (more on that later), the Barber track remains one of the crown jewels on the Superbike series tour.
3. The museum. Everyone—um, mostly outside of Ohio, anyway—tells us that the Barber Museum is the best motorcycle museum in the U.S. and possibly in the world, so it must be true. George Barber’s monument to motorcycles and race bikes is one of the most complete collections found in the world. In one spot, you can find multiple examples of bikes used in every era of the sport, almost from day one.
True story: After visiting the Barber facility for the first time, former AMA President Ed Youngblood had to go stand outside for a while in order to get his head around the scope and size of what he had just viewed. And, while the museum might be a little too quiet for our tastes, by and large, for a bike or bike racing fan, the Barber Museum is Mecca.
4. Friendly locals. Like most places in the American South, the locals in and around Birmingham are some of the friendliest you’ll find—and not just friendly until they realize you’re not buying something from them, like in other race locations. Plus you can breeze to just about any BBQ joint in the state and see the phrase “soppin’ sauce” right on the menu.
5. The grounds. There’s really nothing that compares with the sand-swept grounds of the old turn one and two viewing areas at Brainerd if the criteria is “How To Make Spectators Filthy In Five Minutes.” Correspond that with Barber, where the kind of luscious green grass you’d presumably find on a nicer golf course is nearly wall to wall. Grass you’re not afraid to sit on, lie on or walk through, decorated with wonderful flowers and several of George Barber’s unusual statues.
6. An interesting layout. Is Barber a “real” racetrack? Opinions differ, but if we had our druthers, the place would have a wider variety of corners and an additional two-thirds of a mile of track. Like one rider put it, Barber is laid out like someone took all the components of a good track and threw them at a page of blueprint–and included too many parts. The Barber facility does allow for racing in the rain, which we are grateful for, because wet racing is such a crapshoot. Barber’s track layout is interesting, and at a facility this nice, you feel bad being critical at all.
7. Photography. The shooters say that Barber could use some more variety in the types of corners, but the access is good and the backgrounds are very nice, indeed. No victory circle hassles and, unlike Mid-Ohio, they do let photographers use the elevator when humping 100 pounds of equipment up to the media center.
8. Fan friendly. It’s hard to imagine a more fan-friendly racetrack in the U.S. than Barber. George Barber didn’t build this just for himself, and he’s made the track as friendly towards the fans as he could–from day one. A trolley circulates to pick up fans from the parking areas and drops them off in the viewing areas, handicapped race fans get dedicated access, where other tracks park some horrid row of smelly port-a-johns in one central place (usually right by the food. Hmmm.) Barber has bathrooms located all over the circuit. Admittedly, most are the port-a-potty type, but they’re clean and, in a typical Barber touch, flanked by privacy screens.
9. Bikes, not cars. Little known fact: Daytona used to have a little museum not far from the ticket office which housed a nice collection of old motorcycle race memorabilia, some of it dating back to the old Beach races (the France family promoted bike races long before they thought of NASCAR). Sadly, it was vanquished years ago when Daytona USA was built and, these days, it’s getting more difficult to see any evidence of motorcycle enthusiasm at the Speedway—even though Jim France is a huge motorcycle enthusiast. While they do, indeed, do cars at Barber–Porsche has a testing facility there—it’s clear from the moment you step into the place that Barber Motorsports Park is largely dedicated to motorcycles.
10. The inflatable church. Most tracks usually construct a canvas tent for the Christians to commiserate on Sunday morning. Not Barber…no sir. They have an inflatable church that can be erected and, um, deflated in minutes. Typical Barber approach to a problem: do it better than anyone else, with style and class.