Tag Archives: Barber Motorsports Park

City Hall — Mayor Kincaid Playing Hardball with George Barber






By Ed Reynolds

July 15, 2004

Mayor Kincaid Playing Hardball with George Barber

Mayor Bernard Kincaid remains opposed to giving money to the Barber Motorsports Park to bring the world’s top motorcycle racing series, the MotoGP, to Birmingham until George Barber addresses the blighted Sears building property he owns in downtown Birmingham. Barber is reportedly asking the City to kick in $250,000 per year for three years, plus another $80,000 per year for police presence at the motorcycle Grand Prix. In a July 6 interview, Kincaid said, “I will not go to the council with the recommendation for MotoGP, which I support fully. . . . I will not do that until we have gained some site control of the Sears building, a blighting influence in our city.” Kincaid said he was not asking any more of Barber than he has of other developers of blighted property in the City, including the Peerless Saloon and the City Federal building. “And those [other developers] aren’t coming to us asking for our support [as Barber is]. But the City’s support of the Barber Motorsports Museum was tied to our getting that completed and then getting some closure on the Sears building. And until that happens, I’m not prepared to make a recommendation. I hope it doesn’t come to that, because I would not like to lose that event—some 230 million people across the world might view Birmingham. But the Sears building is a blighting influence, and if we don’t do it now, I don’t know that we ever would.”



MotoGP is a worldwide racing circuit that stages 16 motorcycle races in different countries during the racing season. It has not held a United States Grand Prix in a decade, and the Barber Motorsports Park is reportedly the leading candidate to land the race in 2005, 2006, and 2007. The 2005 race would be scheduled the weekend before the May NASCAR race at Talladega and could draw up to 100,000 people to the Barber racetrack and museum located off I-20 in Birmingham near Leeds. The Grand Prix has a worldwide television audience of more than 200 million that is broadcast to 200 countries. Although Birmingham is leasing the 700 acres to Barber for $1 a year, Barber has spent $55 million of his own fortune to build the facility, and the dispute with the City centers on whether or not Barber committed to doing something about the Sears building in exchange.

“I stand with the Mayor on this issue,” said Birmingham City Councilor Carol Reynolds, in whose district the motorsports park and museum lie. “[Barber] has a lot of blighted area in District Two,” much of which is in the Eastwood Mall area, Reynolds said. Councilor Valerie Abbott agrees with Reynolds. “[Barber] made a commitment,” said Abbott. “I don’t care how wealthy he is, and I really don’t care what opportunities he has over there, he needs to do what he promised he would do. The City already bought all that land out there and gave it to him for a dollar a year until the point at which he chooses to purchase it. These people think they’re heavyweights and can throw their weight all over the city of Birmingham.”

Dial 311

A year after approval by the City Council, a 311 telephone number is now available to report non-emergency situations to the police department, fire department, mayor’s office of public assistance, and the department of public works. According to Mayor Kincaid, the police and fire departments receive approximately one million calls a year (that’s one every 31.8 seconds), with nearly 45 percent of those being non-emergencies. “The 311 call center will allow citizens to have a service to call for non-emergencies and receive real-time action from the respective departments,” said the Mayor at the July 6 meeting of the Birmingham City Council. Kincaid added that 311 would also be a “management tool” that lets the City know what reports have been made and how timely the response is. “It gives us an ability to see if we need to shift resources to one area or another,” Kincaid said.

John Wade, who oversees the City’s department of information management, explained that the primary goal is to take the load off of 911 to allow for “true emergencies” to be addressed. Wade said close to 200 calls have been made using 311 since May. He explained that the City began testing software for 311 a year ago, and then implemented it in November 2003. In May, a call center manager was hired. Wade said the service number would be extended to other city departments in the future, including the traffic and engineering department, so that residents can report malfunctioning traffic lights and damaged traffic signs.

Motorcycles Return to Barber Track

Motorcycles Return to Barber Track

The AMA Chevrolet Superbike Championship returns to the Barber Motorsports Park on May 14 through 16.


Praised by racing experts as “the Augusta National of motor racing circuits” for its lush 700-acre forest whose centerpiece is one of the most technically challenging race tracks in the world (Formula One Grand Prix, Indy 500, and 24-Hour of LeMans racing legend Dan Gurney helped design the course), the Barber Motorsports Park gears up for its first high-profile event of the 2004 season. The AMA Chevrolet Superbike Championship will take place at the 2.3-mile twisting road circuit May 14 through 16. Attendance at last year’s AMA event was an impressive 48,000 for the weekend, as motorcycle enthusiasts from across the country trekked to Barber’s, where they lined up their cross-country bikes around the track in a dazzling array of chrome and sheer mechanical beauty. And those weren’t even the ones racing. 

The AMA Chevrolet Superbike Championship returns to the Barber Motorsports Park on May 14 through 16. (click for larger version)


The number of patrons forced the Barber facility to extend parking a mile from the track to a field next to Interstate 20, where the Leeds school system loaned school buses to serve as shuttles to transport spectators into the racing facility. The elderly women driving the buses looked less than pleased about pulling extra Sunday afternoon duty (which was not considered overtime, according to one grumpy driver), but they did offer a quick smile and “thank you” each time a dollar bill was dropped into the tip jar each maintained at the front of her bus.

One irresistible attraction for the tens of thousands invading Barber Motorsports Park in May is the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, home to 750 motorcycles—the largest collection in the world. The museum also houses the most revered assortment of Lotus race cars on earth. The manufacturer’s latest creation, the 2005 Lotus Elise, a sleek automobile billed by Road and Track magazine as the “finest sports car on the planet” was unveiled at the Barber track in March, The racing facility is currently in negotiations to bring the MotoGP, the number-one motorcycle series in the world, to Barber in 2005. The worldwide racing circuit has not staged a United States Grand Prix in a decade, and if George Barber can lure the motorcycle equivalent of Formula One Grand Prix automobile racing to Birmingham, his already well-heeled reputation in the international racing community may reach legendary status. For more information call, 956-6693 or visit www.barbermotorsports.com. &

The Jet Set

The Jet Set


Hurley Haywood has been racing automobiles, namely Porsches, for more than 30 years. Having won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times and the 24 Hours of Daytona five times, Haywood is revered as one of the greatest endurance racing champions ever. “Because I’ve won Le Mans so many times, when I walk down the street [in Europe], people come up and ask me for my autograph,” says Haywood. “Whereas in the States, nobody knows me unless I’m in a racetrack environment.” The racing champion’s cool, professional demeanor doesn’t mask his excitement as he preps his Brumos Porsche Daytona Prototype for the Rolex 250 Grand American race on Sunday, May 18, the first public event at the new Barber Motorsports Park racetrack.

“It’s a fantastic facility,” gushes Haywood, who also serves as chief instructor at the track’s Porsche Driving Experience, a driving school that leases the track several days each week (after moving from the world-renowned Sebring and Road Atlanta racetracks). “We haven’t had a brand new [road racing] facility built in the United States in probably 20 years. And when I first laid my eyes on that racetrack I knew it was going to be a special place. . . . Technically, it is one of the most difficult racetracks I’ve ever been on anywhere in the world.” The 2.3-mile road course has been compared to Europe’s finest road tracks, and it has sports-car aficionados salivating.

Haywood won his first 24 Hours of Daytona race in 1973, when he teamed with Brumos Porsche racing team founder Peter Gregg. “Peter Perfect,” Haywood recalls with a laugh. “He was a real detail-oriented person. Every single bit was planned and practiced. Nothing was left to chance. He was better prepared than everybody else . . . he set the standard.” Gregg purchased Brumos Motors in 1965 and built it into the top Porsche dealership in the nation. An eye injury later eroded his driving skills and he took his own life in 1980. Before Haywood, the legendary Gregg briefly teamed up with another co-driver, a Birmingham dairy and real estate tycoon named George Barber who is, by all accounts, as much a perfectionist as Peter Gregg was. Barber co-drove a Porsche 904 with Gregg at the 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Daytona races in the late 1960s. The number 59 white Brumos Porsche is as familiar to road-racing fans as the late Dale Earnhardt’s black number 3 Chevrolet is to NASCAR devotees. Barber later met Haywood when he purchased a couple of motorcycles from the Le Mans racing legend. Barber is also the high-rolling businessman who shelled out $54 million to build the Barber Motorsports Park.

Chauffeuring a reporter around his new facility as the driving school’s silver Porsche 911 sports cars zip around the track, George Barber laughs at how he has been portrayed in the press. “For so long, I was a magnate, a mogul, a king, a baron . . . now I’m a magnate again.” Barber invited AMA Superbike champion Aaron Yates to test the track’s surface with his racing motorcycle. Yates told Barber that the track was better than 90 percent of the tracks he had driven on, and the racer pointed out a couple of minor flaws in the surface. Rather than repair the blemishes, Barber the perfectionist had the entire 2.3 miles repaved. After another test run, Yates pronounced it the best surface he had ever raced on.

In 1989, Barber began collecting and restoring classic sports cars. Motorcycles soon followed. “Cars are a beautiful paint job with hubcaps, but you can’t easily see the engine, the suspension,” he says, explaining his fascination with motorcycles. The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum has the largest collection of motorcycles in the world, showcasing over 850 motorcycles and race cars. It first opened in 1995 near the Lakeview district in downtown Birmingham, drawing 10,000 visitors yearly (despite being open only two days a week). The new four-story, 141,000-square-foot facility includes a 72-seat theater, a machine shop, and a restoration shop with observation areas. Any motorcycle in the museum can be run on the track with a couple of hours preparation time, and a bike can almost be built from scratch at the shop. Barber was the largest contributor of motorcycles to the Art of the Motorcycle exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in 1998. “The main purpose of the track is to feed the museum,” which Barber expects to draw 250,000 visitors annually.

The racetrack grounds reflect the reportedly $2 million spent on landscaping. Rhododendrons, azaleas, dogwoods, and magnolia trees share the grounds with giant spider and ant sculptures that are eerily reminiscent of creatures from a sci-fi film. One gargantuan insect clutches a mannequin in a racing uniform. Perhaps it’s Barber’s dig at environmentalists who protested runoff into Cahaba River tributaries during construction. Or maybe it’s just a little dark humor from a wealthy, idiosyncratic man who enthuses over his racetrack as if he was a kid with the world’s greatest slot car set. The natural amphitheater setting offers a Sunday afternoon picnic atmosphere for race patrons, who are encouraged to bring folding chairs and blankets. Barber frowns on notions of building a permanent grandstand. “I don’t want people confined to 18 inches of concrete.” The track layout was designed by preeminent racetrack designer Alan Wilson, who notes that the Barber facility has “a British garden party sort of atmosphere.”

But Porsche is the million-dollar name here (the Porsche Driving Experience school costs $1,600 per day). The German sports car has long been a badge of wealth and adventure for automobile enthusiasts. For example, one of Porsche’s latest models is a Carrera GT (Grand Touring) car that may be purchased off the showroom floor, ready-to-race, for $350,000—$400,000. According to Porsche officials, the sports car’s aim is to “bring the driver of the Carrera GT as close as possible to a full-blown racetrack experience on the road [zero-to-62 mph in 3.9 seconds, zero-to-124 mph in 9.9 seconds].” The Barber facility is where Porsche unveiled its Cayenne sport utility vehicle ($55,000 to $88,000, depending on whether one desires a turbo engine) and every Porsche dealer in the country has visited the park.

The Barber 250 race will be the feature event at the park the weekend of May 16 through 18. The Grand Am race includes the Daytona Prototype racers sharing the track with two classes of Grand Touring cars in the weekend’s feature event. The Prototypes are futuristic, closed-cockpit, tube-framed coupes that have engines built by Porsche, Ford, Toyota, and Chevrolet. The Grand Touring sports cars include BMWs, Ferraris, and Corvettes. The Barber Park Twin 250s in the Grand Am Cup series, featuring two Grand Sport and two Sport Touring classes, will also be staged. Other races in the weekend schedule include a FranAm event, a developmental league for drivers trying to make it to the Indy Racing League, and the CART champ car series. FranAm features Formula Renault open-wheel race cars that look similar to Indy cars.

The Saturday race feature at Barber will be of particular interest to NASCAR fans. It’s the Stock Car Championship Series (SCCS), a racing league “that combines the excitement of stock car racing with the driving challenge of world class road course venues,” according to SCCS officials. The goal is to bring new fans to road racing, and the SCCS has joined the Grand American circuit as a support race during the 2003 season in order to reach a larger audience. SCCS cars include the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix, Ford Taurus, and the Dodge Intrepid, the same late model racers found on small speedways across the country on any Saturday night.

Hurley Haywood admits that the success of NASCAR is a template of sorts for making Grand Am racing more popular. “Everybody wants to duplicate what NASCAR is doing as far as making the cars very equal, and making the drivers of those cars into stars and household names . . . I think curiosity is gonna bring people out to a new facility. If you go back over the last 50 years, the core group in sports car racing has remained pretty much the same. It’s not the kind of sport that really is able to grow. There’s sort of a base group that follows sports car racing and that remains pretty much the same number from year to year. Where we’re having a problem right now is that there’s so much other stuff out there that the core group has got other things to do. So we’re trying, with the new Grand Am set of rules, to bring this group back to us with good kind of racing and interesting cars to watch. And drivers who people recognize. Unfortunately—or fortunately—I’m one of the few recognizable names in sports car racing that’s still racing. And that comes from the days when Camel cigarettes were supporting our sport and spending tons of money on the advertising side, and they really made me a star.”

Haywood predicts that despite slower speeds, the racing at Barber will be more exciting than at other road tracks. “The actual overall speed of the racetrack, what we do in a straight line, is a little slower than most tracks. Most tracks have longer straightaways. But this has basically four straightaways that you get up to a pretty good clip on, and I would imagine that the cars that we’re gonna be driving in May will go maybe 140 miles an hour tops . . . but that bunches the cars up [for close racing]. It’s an extremely busy racetrack. And I have not been on many racetracks that require the kind of absolute total concentration that this place does. If you have a little lapse of concentration, you’re off in the bushes. That’s how precise you have to be. With a lot of other tracks that have long straightaways, you get a little bit of time to rest and relax, but not so with Birmingham. You’re working your ass off every moment.” &

Several races are scheduled at the Barber Motorsports Park for the weekend of May 16 through 18. Call 967-4745 for details or visit www.barbermotorsports.com.