2006 Barber Vintage Festival

Southern comfort

| March/April 2007

For the past two years, the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Alabama, home of what’s arguably the largest and most important collection of classic and vintage motorcycles in the world, has been moving into hosting classic events. 2005 witnessed the museum’s first Barber Vintage Festival, and with the second festival now under its belt, held Oct. 20-22, 2006, it’s clear that a new, “must see” vintage event has been created.

Quickly emerging as one of the most important classic motorcycle events of the year, it’s hard not to draw comparisons between Barber and the AMA’s Vintage Motorcycle Days, which for the past 12 years has been the largest and most successful vintage motorcycle gathering in the country. Like Vintage Motorcycle Days, the 2006 Barber Vintage Festival was a mix of vintage racing, a motorcycle swap meet, classic bike shows, an auction, seminars hosted by motorcycling legends and numerous special events held throughout the weekend.

But what really sets the Barber event apart is the accessibility attendees have to the pieces that make up the whole. The track, arguably one of the most beautiful in the country, is also one of the easiest to see, with track-side viewing points liberally spaced around its perimeter. The museum, overlooking the back of the track, can be reached from the pits by bike in minutes. The various classic bike shows, held in the Expo area, overlook the track and share line of sight with the museum. And the swap area, while hardly as large as VMD, is itself a one-minute walk from the track and only a few more minutes from the museum, and all of it is accessible by foot, motorcycle or shuttle.

Pulling it togetherThe 2005 event was pulled together in short order, but following the interest shown then, the Barber folks started planning immediately for 2006, and it showed. While 2005 was limited mostly to AHRMA (American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association) vintage racing, a swap meet and a few small shows, for 2006 the schedule of events tripled. The AHRMA races are still the anchor, but for 2006 the swap meet more than doubled to an estimated 350 vendors. The museum, oddly quiet during 2005’s event, scheduled an array of events, from seminars presented by motorcycle stylist Craig Vetter to an auction of classic bikes held in the museum basement on Saturday night.

The unquestionable star of the weekend was John Surtees, the only man ever to win world championships on two wheels and four. The museum dedicated a special exhibit to Surtees on Friday night, and the star also took laps of the track both Friday and Saturday, driving the Ferrari 158 F1 he took to a world championship in 1964 and one of the MV Agustas he rode to victory in the late 1950s.

Attendees had the rare opportunity to speak with Surtees, who earnestly greeted fans as they filed into the museum. And whether he was signing autographs or recounting old experiences, Surtees was engaging and at ease, clearly enjoying the opportunity to mix with the crowd. Recalling his racing days and speaking to the importance of the festival, Surtees said, “It was an affair of the heart, and none of it could be justified on a financial term, and that’s here. Today is all the better because of the past, and the past is here with us today.”

Also new for 2006 were vintage motocross races (see sidebar), factory Triumph demo rides, and a classic motorcycle charity ride sponsored by Motorcycle Classics that took riders on a breathtaking tour of the Alabama countryside. As with last year the Antique Motorcycle Club of America held a show in the Expo area, but this year they were joined by the Motorcycle Classics Concours d’Elegance, the Penton Owners Group, the Bridgestone Owners Club, the BMW Veteran Motorcycle Club of America, the Time Warp Vintage Motorcycle Club and the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club.

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