Shooting the IMSA Mazda Prototype Challenge race this weekend, I had a little downtime. So I took the opportunity to run over to the Barber Motorsports Museum. Integrated into the fabulous Barber Motorsports Park, the museum’s true claim to fame is the incredible motorcycle collection. It is truly, like no other.
The collection had its humble beginnings in 1988 when George Barber purchased a trio of Honda V-Fours. A friend then gifted Barber with two of his own motorcycles. One of these bikes—a rare, exquisitely detailed 1952 Victoria Bergmeister—instantly won Barber’s affection. The quest for more was on.
In 1992, Barber established the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum as a 501(c)3 non-profit foundation. The museum opened to the public at its original Southside Birmingham location in 1995. The Barber Museum collection showcased the engineering, balance, and unique design of each piece.
In 1997 a call from New York’s Guggenheim Museum was a defining moment for the Barber Museum. Sending 21 bikes to exhibit at the original New York show, “The Art of the Motorcycle,” Barber continued to make the connection between motorsports and art. "The Art of the Motorcycle" exhibit also traveled to Chicago and Bilbao, Spain.
The New York exhibit sparked a much bigger dream for Barber. “We can do this in Birmingham!” he maintained. Barber set out to create a one-of-a-kind, world-class facility. Going even further, he imagined a road course as well, where the “living museum” quality of the collection could be demonstrated.
By 2003, a sprawling Birmingham landscape was acquired to accommodate the large scale of Barber's dream. Consulting with world champion racers John Surtees and Dan Gurney, uncommon precision drove the design of the complex. In September 2003, the 830-acre park, with its world-class 16-turn, 2.38 mile 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.
Today the museum draws 270,000 visitors annually, including more than 3,000 visitors from other countries. In April 2014, Barber was officially recognized by Guinness World Records as being the world's largest motorcycle collection.
To stand in the middle of this place is mind boggling. Everywhere you look you end up mindlessly wandering over to behold another spectacular piece of machinery. But it’s not just machinery. These are human creations. They are odd, they are marvelous… they ignore conformity. You are beholding human creations that push the envelope in so many different ways. Unlike the automobile, motorcycles seem to beg for the unorthodox. They are definitely the fruit of creative genius… which, as we know, is a very close neighbor of insanity.
If you have the chance, go. Make sure you have time… you won’t want to leave. I promise, no matter how long you stay, your mind and imagination will never leave. It is truly inspiring. It stands as a testament to man’s ingenuity and creativity.