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.”
A Daytona Prototype costs approximately $400,000 and weighs between 2,000 and 2,075 pounds, depending on engine size.
GT Supers weigh from 2,400 to 2,700 pounds and include Saleen S7Rs, Dodge Vipers, Turbo Porches, Ferraris, Moslet MT900Rs and Marco Manteras.
The GTs weigh between 1,850 and 2,650 pounds and do not allow turbocharging. This series is home to BMW M3s, Ferraris, Corvettes and a variety of Porsches. The Grand-Am series runs the gamut of makes and models, from the Dodge Neon RT and Ford Focus to Acura RSX and Lexus IS300.
“We’ll also have an open-wheel element, which will be a proving ground for many young drivers moving up from go-carts,” Edmondson said.
In May, many of the top road course drivers converged on the country’s newest motorsports facility.
Last year series champions included the likes of Scott Maxwell, John Shreiner, Jeff Lapcevich, Jean-Francois Dumoulin and Will and Wayne Nonnamaker.
And while most pilots in Winston Cup and Busch call North Carolina home, those who race Grand American and Grand-Am live and work all over the world. Mauro Baldi, for example, hails from Monte Carlo, while Joao Barbosa was born in Valongo, Portugal, and Mark Craig calls Weir, Quebec, home.
Several two-wheel competitions will be on the schedule in 2003. But the best is likely yet to come.
“The quality of this facility will make it the destination of motorcycles worldwide,” predicts Edmondson. “This facility will eventually be the home of the greatest motorcycle races in the world, and I guarantee every motorcycle series is going to flock to the Barber Motorsports Park.”
The facility has already pulled off a coup of sorts by bringing the Porsche Driving Experience to Alabama after a two-year stint at Road Atlanta. This provides Porsche enthusiasts with the opportunity to enhance their driving skills under the guidance of an instructor.
The Porsche Driving Experience assigns roughly 20 drivers their own 911 Carrera Coupe for the entire program, but also allows them to get behind the wheel of other Porsche models.
Instructors include such racing legends as Hurley Haywood and Jack Baldwin.
The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum officially opened to the public in 1995 and now displays nearly 750 vintage and modern motorcycles as well as a substantial collection of Lotus and other race cars. The cycles represent 17 nations and 125 manufacturers.
Meet the Drivers
Hometown: Joplin, Mo.
Drives the Havoline Dodge for Chip Ganassi/Felix Sabates Racing.
McMurray, in line for Rookie of the Year honors in Winston Cup this season, is also running a full slate of NASCAR Busch Series events. Last year he took over for an injured Sterling Marlin and shocked the motorsports world by winning his first Winston Cup race in only his second start. Incredibly, he also won his first two Busch races in a span of four weeks. His Busch win last October gave him the distinction of becoming the 100th driver to win a race in that series.