Once I had caught the fragrant whiff of Castrol R and then heard the rasping bark of two-stroke engines, I felt that all-enveloping anticipation that washes over you when you know you’re about to have a really good time.
This was set up the day before the event opened. The friendly banter of stallholders and people setting up items to sell at the swap meet section rang through the already warm morning air. Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum Founder George Barber was hosting the 16th Barber Vintage Festival, and momentum was gathering, poised with the promise of yet another enjoyable annual event.
The festival is held mid-October at the Barber Motorsports Park and Museum in Leeds, Alabama. It attracts thousands of racers and attendees from all over the US and beyond.
The Grand Marshal for this 16th Annual Barber Vintage Festival is pioneering motorcyclist Mary McGee. McGee was the first woman to road race—on a 125cc Honda CB92—and hold an FIM license. After husband Don introduced her to automobile racing with the Sports Car Club of America in 1957, Mary raced various cars, including a Porsche Spyder, AC Bristol, and Ferrari. This was when she first sported her unique pink polka-dot helmet.
Motorcycle road racing was Mary’s attempt to improve her car-racing skills, and once she started, two-wheels became her passion. Mary was encouraged to try the Baja 500 solo by actor and motorcyclist Steve McQueen. Mary was the first woman to finish the Baja 1000 and race motocross in this country. She rode the first motocross races at Carlsbad Raceway and Saddleback Park—two iconic Southern California circuits. Mary is now a much-respected and loved ambassador for motorcycling and, in 2018, was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
Stallholders chitchatted cheerfully, even though many were working around some muddy patches afforded by a downpour from the night before. Lemons are being freshly squeezed and poured over an icy drink by a lady with the widest smile. The heat set in early, so I simply had to have that cool refreshing drink. Wowser! It really hit the spot.
The vintage items up for sale at the Geico Swap Meet section offered a nostalgic, dreamy trip back through time. We perused the wide variety of cherished old motorcycles, hard-to-find parts, and motorcycles requiring various degrees of tender, loving care. Enthusiasm was high, and everyone was friendly.
Most paddocks are pretty restricted these days. However, once I signed a waiver, I could immerse myself in the excitement of being amongst the action in the AHRMA (American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association) paddock. I’d consider this a rare opportunity these days. I could get up close to the comings and goings of racers and their race machines. This access is included in the festival ticket.
Step inside the cavernous, calm Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, and you’ll discover a mix of modern and vintage machines displayed at all sorts of angles and in original ways. Event tickets don’t include admission to the Museum. Still, if you’re here for a few days, then it’s a great chance to take advantage of being on-site and browse the amazing motorcycles and cars in the Barber Collection—a general admission ticket is $15.
I was able to take a relaxed stroll in the air-conditioned facility and feast my eyes on the fabulously stocked motorcycle museum displaying many one-off motorcycles. Associated art and memorabilia drew my eye to ceilings and balconies. There are many amusing touches, such as the F1 racecar on top of the large glass elevator—no area is left unused.
The whole space itself reminded me of a huge well-polished multi-story car park, but don’t get the wrong impression—it’s nice. Each time you walk around the polished concrete ramps which take you up or down a level, you get a different view. Bikes are stacked, fanned-out on walls, suspended mid-air, and mounted on tasteful crate-type displays. The extensive selection of motorcycles is stunning.
Complete information is shown for the exhibits. All the while, as I wandered, I was aware of the daylight let in by the massive glass floor-to-ceiling exterior windows affording views of the racetrack outside and the superbly kept grounds with more interesting sculptures and art pieces.
On the top floor of the Barber Motorsports Museum is Barber ADC (Barber Advanced Design Center). It’s a multi-disciplinary creative space featuring clay modeling, prototyping, laser scanning, CAD, and 3D printing.
Here, the ADC revealed its new concept motorcycle to a flourish of interest. Thirty years after the Ducati Supermono was designed, the new, much-awaited Supermono Project was unveiled. Advanced Design Center Director Brian Case has been working in conjunction with Pierre Terblanche with over 250 3D parts printed so far, and still going. This is the first project undertaken in the Barber ADC. It’s an original concept design, with Filippo Corticelli assisting. The Supermono Project is entirely 3D printed here in the Barber ADC, and there is plenty of inspiration on display on the doorstep!
Additionally, on the agenda was an evening event at the museum. The Motorcycles by Moonlight evening dinner and presentation started with a cocktail reception and silent auction. Music from Cashmere Williams, a two-time Alabama Music Awards Best Male Jazz Artist award winner.
Although I didn’t attend the event, a conversation I had with Neale Bayly of Neale Bayly Rides enlightened me to the delights of the evening. Table wine came from Biltmore Estate Winery, and for $10, you could have Firefly Distillery Sweet Tea Vodka in a souvenir glass.
There was the opportunity to ask questions of the special guest and Grand Marshal Mary McGee. This event also hosted renowned watercolor and oils racing artist Kevin Paige. Kevin created a piece of artwork live depicting Mary, which was up for auction, with proceeds benefiting the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum.
Outside again, I sought out the Fan Zone area, where there were vendors, concessions, and entertainment. This is where you can smell the rubber and see the daredevil riders of The Wall of Death who skillfully ride around the inside of a huge 30-foot diameter round building shaped like a washing-machine tub. Spectators can look in from a walkway around the top and get a close-up experience of the thundering machines, feel the wind-rush as they pass only a few inches away. It’s absolutely thrilling!
In another outside area, the VJMC (Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club) had good support. Proud owners were displaying their cherished motorcycles, and several awards were up for grabs. Certainly, I was taken back to my misspent youth as I marveled at the condition of these classic machines. It was great to chat with owners who had more often than not kept their own first motorcycles and now found themselves vintage motorcycle owners. Guess that makes us vintage, as well!
New motorcycles were represented by BMW, Indian, Royal Enfield, and Yamaha. Demo rides were available from 8 a.m., so there was plenty of opportunities to try a motorcycle you fancy.
I had a blast over these few days and highly recommend booking a reminder in your diary for next year’s Barber Vintage Festival. Not only do you get the chance to see all these fantastic machines, but many of them are also actually being raced; it’s super exciting. Whether on your own or with friends or family, it’s a great spectacle of an experience.
Photography by Teejay Adams and Arthur Coldwells