Archived Story

Motorsports park ‘an Alabama state treasure’

Published 7:32pm Monday, April 9, 2012

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to watch Australian driver Will Power win his second consecutive Grand Prix of Alabama race at the Barber Motorsports Park.

If I was a fan of the IZOD IndyCar Series, it would have been thrilling to watch the race – Powers started the race in ninth place and managed to edge his car into first place with 16 laps left, a position he held to the finish line.

But like most Alabamians, I’m clueless when it comes to open cockpit auto racing. I’ve watched the Talladega 500 NASCAR race before, and I’m almost as clueless about that sport. I drive a pickup truck and often race to get to meetings on time, but that’s the sum total of my personal experience trying to beat the clock, or other vehicles, on four wheels.

Instead, I got my thrills by just being there – there being Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds just outside of Birmingham – surrounded by an action and noise and color and very cool cars and motorcycles and lots of people on a gorgeous spring afternoon. It was almost sensory overload. There were interesting things going on 360 degrees around me the whole time.

For those of you who haven’t yet visited Barber Motorsports Park, it’s time to add that destination to your Alabama bucket list. It truly is an Alabama state treasure, a place that would be interesting to the whole family.

The park itself covers 740 acres of rolling, manicured hills with the 2.38-mile race track weaving back and forth in a way that makes seats optional. On a day like last Sunday just walking around or spreading a blanket on a hillside and enjoying a picnic while the cars zoomed by would be a wonderful experience.

On the road that wraps around the track, trams hauled people past even more to look at. There was a giant-sized statue of a girl swimming in a pond, just her head and knees above the water.  Not far away was a Ferris wheel … and a zip-line.

And if the noise or the crowds or the weather drove you inside the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, you’d be in for a real treat. The museum hosts the world’s best collection of motorcycles. It’s the largest motorcycle collection anywhere, with more than 1,200 different bikes. According to the museum guide, more than 600 motorcycles are on display at any one time. Heck, the museum has so many different bikes that motorcycles are stacked on shelves, beautifully lit and displayed. There are motorcycles that look like something Darth Vader would ride, and motorcycles that look like they couldn’t beat me in a footrace. This is a place where you can see the entire evolution of the motorcycle from bikes built in 1902 to those built this year, 110 years later.

The sleek, modern museum is a wonder and I found myself with my mouth open in amazement time and again as I walked through the building. Open cockpit race cars were on the floor where you could touch them, some were standing on end in near-vertical displays. There were cars that won races, information about drivers … the point is, even though I didn’t really understand what I was looking at, I found the experience immensely impressive and interesting. It’s sort of like visiting the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center, which if you haven’t visited should also be on your Alabama destination bucket list.

I’d go back tomorrow and still wouldn’t be able to take it all in.

The park is the creation of Alabama native George Barber and it’s been open since 2003. Yet I’ve mentioned my trip to a number of Alexander City residents this week and I’m struck by how many of us haven’t ever made the short drive up Highway 280 to visit it.

You should.

We all should.

It’s one of those places that would make you proud of being an Alabamian.

Boone is publisher of The Outlook.