'Finest on the Globe'
George Barber became a multimillionaire in the dairy industry, but his passion has always been cars and motorcycles. First, the businessman wanted to compile the greatest collection of vintage and modern motorcycles in the world.
Next, he dreamed of building a motorsports park that would house the finest road-racing course in North America.
It looks as though Barber has succeeded on both counts.
The Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., opened for business in March, and the 740-acre complex is an astounding combination of high technology and creative landscaping. The park itself looks part Gotham City, part Disney World, and the track – 2.3 miles with 16 turns – is already being dubbed the finest on the globe.
“I’ve been to road courses all over North America and all over the world, and I can tell you this facility in Birmingham is clearly going to be the spiritual home of road racing throughout the world,” says Roger Edmondson, president of the Grand American Road Racing Association. “George Barber wanted to build the finest road racing course in North America, but this is going to be the finest course in the entire world.”
Thus far Barber has put $52 million of his own money in the park, and the investment shows. When visitors enter the complex, they first see the motorcycly and race car museum, which consists of four floors in the back, three in the front and covers 141,000 square feet. Drive toward the track, and aside from pristine grass and bushes that border the entrance, there are several sculptures, some calling to mind Gothic art, other pieces done in the shape of insects. One prominent piece is a giant spider within the road course itself.
In front of the track is race control, which will serve as the media center and can accommodate 250 people. There are also classrooms, corporate meeting rooms, hospitality and banquet facilities, as well as a covered tech garage and inspection area.
The Barber Motorsports Park will work hand in hand with Talladega Superspeedway; both facilities are planning extensive cross-promotion.
“When I came out here a little over a year ago, I called Jim France and told him he needed to get up here and look at this,” says TSS President Grant Lynch. “It’s just hard to believe.”
France, the vice chairman of NASCAR, also came up with the idea of the Grand American Road Racing Series – a series that will be an integral part of the Barber Motorsports Park.
“I think Jim’s idea of the Grand American series is similar to what his dad, Big Bill France, was thinking about when he got some people together in 1947 and started thinking about forming NASCAR,” Edmondson says. “What I think fans will find different here is the variety of vehicles we’ll have competing. It’ll be like having Winston Cup, Busch Series and Craftsman Trucks all racing together at the same time. And, of course, we’ll have left turns, right turns and sometimes cars turning around and around.”
Grand American will be the bell cow of racing at the facility. Entering its fourth year, it is designed to develop road racing for American audiences. It consists of two series – the Rolex Sports Car Series and the Grand-Am Cup Series.
The first major event at the Barber Motorsports Park was in May, part of the Rolex Series. It was one of 12 events on the Grand American 2003 slate, which began Jan. 3 at Daytona International Speedway.
“We have two main categories of cars in our Rolex Series,” Edmondson explains. “First are the Daytona Prototypes, which are cars built specifically for racing. Then there is the Grand Touring category, which are cars designed and sold by manufacturers solely for racing use.
“In the Grand-Am Cup, the cars are actually vehicles that can be bought and driven on the street, but have been modified for racing.”