It’s possible, just possible, that the Barber Vintage Festival is finally peaking. Not in terms of excellence — it’s hard to imagine putting a cap on the scope and quality of people and machines that define the event — but in terms of sheer size. Until this year, the event has grown almost exponentially every year, from an estimated 6,000 attendees in 2005 to more than 69,000 in 2015. For 2016, that rocketing rise finally ebbed: Just over 73,000 enthusiasts attended the three-day festival, held Oct. 7-9, making this the first year it hasn’t seen double-digit growth.
That’s hardly bad news. As the event matures it keeps getting better. Ease of access to and from the park was the best yet, and if attendance growth really is slowing it means that instead of focusing on crowd control, the Barber folks can continue focusing on keeping it the biggest and best vintage event in the country.
The Texas Tornado
Motorcycle racing is central to the festival, with AHRMA racers plying the park’s 2.38-mile track in the AHRMA/CPL Systems Historic Cup Roadrace on Saturday and Sunday. Every year the Barber crew celebrates racers and engineers past and present, and this year it was two-time world champion Colin Edwards’ turn to shine under the spotlight. Edwards raced for Yamaha and then Honda, his stratospheric rise and aggressive riding style earning him the nickname The Texas Tornado. He won both his World Superbike championships with Honda, in 2000 and 2002.
An affable, almost self-deprecating man who’s clearly more comfortable putting the spotlight on others than himself, Edwards charmed Friday night’s invitation and museum-member-only crowd during an interview with motojournalist Alan Cathcart celebrating the museum’s new 86,000-square-foot addition. He took that same charm to the track on Saturday, lapping the Barber circuit on the same Yamaha TZ250 he rode in his first year as a professional rider, in 1992.
Yet even with all that going on, Edwards found time to come by the Motorcycle Classics tent to hand out trophies and shake hands with winners in our annual Barber Vintage Bike Show. Furthering the impression of a humble man, he deferred any praise of his accomplishments, instead calling out to the crowd with a reminder that motorcycling and motorcycle racing is great only because of their support.
Joining Edwards at our tent was Barber museum restoration expert and former Norton employee Brian Slark, plus former Cycle editor Cook Neilson, who announced our award for Best Ducati. Neilson and Cycle managing editor Phil Schilling’s 1977 Daytona Superbike win put Ducati on the map, forever cementing them with the great twins from Italy. Neilson praised winners Jim and Carolyn Venable for their efforts preserving their original and running — Jim rode it into the show — 1974 Ducati 750SS, the factory replica of the bike that famously won at Imola in 1972.
As if that wasn’t enough star power, Alan Cathcart and his son Andrew also joined us on the podium. Father and son helped with judging, the senior Cathcart announcing the winner for Best Restored British while Andrew pinned the prize for Best Custom.
The Cathcarts — including Alan’s wife, Stella — were a regular sight at the Motorcycle Classics tent over the weekend. At home in Australia, Andrew and partner Brook Henry have been busy with their company Vee Two Australia, developing replica Ducati bevel-drive V-twins. Vee Two made its U.S. debut at the Motorcycle Classics tent, displaying their just-completed Ducati Imola tribute bike, the Vee Two Imola Evo. Henry started the bike regularly through the weekend, its raucous exhaust drawing crowds every time. Proving it’s a runner, dad Alan lapped the Evo on the Barber track, and Andrew and Henry discussed their project during two seminars over the weekend.
The Cathcarts are back home in England and Australia, and we’re settled back into our Kansas digs, but we’re all making plans for the 2017 event. Attendance may not have shot up in 2016 as in years past, but like every year before, the event was better than ever. MC