In 10 years, the Barber Festival has grown to become the largest vintage motorcycle event held anywhere in the U.S. Two sets of numbers tell it all: 6,000 — that’s how many people attended the first event in 2005; 69,264 — that’s how many people Bruno Event Team, the event management company charged with corralling the annual Barber Vintage Festival, says attended the annual three-day event in 2015 — a 1,054 percent increase.
That growth is hardly surprising to the Barber faithful, and it’s likely largely thanks to them that it’s occurred. Simply put, once you’ve been, you’ll tell everyone you know that if there’s only one show they can attend, it has to be Barber — and as the event’s growth curve suggests, people are listening.
2015 marked the 20th anniversary of New Zealand engineer John Britten’s death. The designer and builder of the now-legendary V-1000 race bike, Britten left an indelible mark on the motorcycle industry, and the Barber crew was determined to honor his legacy by getting as many as possible of the 10 V-1000s built together at Barber. They succeeded brilliantly, with nine on hand.
Britten’s widow, Kirsteen, took the spotlight during the annual Friday night charity dinner, held this year in the Barber basement, the nine Brittens prominently displayed in the adjoining restoration workshop. That was Friday night, and it got even better Saturday and Sunday when five of the Brittens took to the track. The wail of even one Britten, its 999cc quad-cam V-twin pumping out 166 horsepower as it romps down the track, is incredible. But to hear five at once was utterly magical. It was the experience of a lifetime, and everyone watching knew it.
American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association vintage racing on the Barber Motorsports Park’s 2.38-mile track is a signature piece of the event, and the races here draw more riders than at any other vintage event, with racers vying for top honors in 42 different classes.
The Ace Corner returned, taking its now regular place inside Turns 14-17. A joint effort between Ace Café North America and Dime City Cycles, the Ace Corner draws a larger — and younger — crowd of classic bike fans every year. This is no small thing, as there were more 20-40 year olds attending the festival than ever before.
New blood is a good thing, and the Ace vibe is so much more than just Tritons and caféd Hondas. It reaches back to an era people wish they’d witnessed, inspiring artists like Makoto Endo, who set up with a BMW R75 sidecar rig as his model in the Ace vendor area and demonstrated his art of painting motorcycles using nothing more than chopsticks and ink on a 6-foot by 4-foot canvas — on the ground. Amazing.
We had the honor of announcing the winner of the Motorcycle Classics/Santiago Chopper charity custom bike build, which raised over $13,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The 1979 BMW R90 went to Kiley Owens, who, thrill of thrills, was actually in the audience when we announced his name. Talk about a happy guy.
Even if you didn’t make the Corner, you’d never run out of things to do, including taking in the annual Lap of the Century for bikes 100 years old or older, the Wall of Death and the Globe of Death stunt riding exhibitions, plus a swap meet that’s one of the best in the country.
We held our annual Barber Vintage Bike Show, with Norton our featured marque to celebrate 40 years since the last Norton, the Commando 850, was sold in the U.S. Almost two dozen Nortons lined our show area, sharing space with a nice selection of classic European, British and Japanese classics. And if you wanted to see more bikes, all you had to do was grab a tram and take a trip around the perimeter road to find the Antique Motorcycle Club of America and the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club shows, or stop at the amazing Barber museum.
Didn’t go? Next year, listen to your friends. We’ll see you there for the 12th Annual Barber Vintage Festival, Oct. 7-9, 2016. MC
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