We celebrate 50 years of the Norton Commando as Wes Cooley hands out awards at the Barber Vintage Festival.
It’s pure conjecture, but we’re fairly certain that had it not been for a certain Hurricane Nate, the 13th Annual Barber Vintage Festival, held Oct. 6-8, 2017, would have set yet another attendance record for what has become the single largest vintage motorcycle event in North America. The 2016 event witnessed a claimed 73,000-plus total attendance, and while Barber is not issuing attendance figures for 2017, a seat of the pants assessment says Friday’s crowds were the biggest ever. Unfortunately, with Hurricane Nate knocking on the door and threatening to make landfall Saturday night, the Barber folks made the only decision they could: cancel Sunday entirely.
They made the right choice. Although Friday’s weather was picture perfect, by Saturday morning the sky had taken on an ominous tone, and by mid-afternoon we were getting hit with sporadic light rain as we handed out awards for our annual Barber Vintage Bike Show. And as if on cue, at 7 p.m. Saturday, the skies let loose a pouring rain that didn’t stop for the next 24 hours.
The cancellation was definitely a drag, but up until Saturday afternoon the festival was everything we’ve come to expect, with AHRMA racers working the park’s 2.38-mile track in the National Historic Cup Roadrace and playing out in the woods in the vintage offroad series. Contributor John L. Stein was among those offroad riders, riding a Rickman that he bought at the swap meet before burning the midnight oil to prep it for the Saturday race.
Friday night saw the return of the popular Motorcycles by Moonlight museum fundraising dinner, which took a hiatus during construction of the museum’s new, and now complete, 86,000-square-foot addition. Two-time 1979 and 1980 AMA Superbike champion Wes Cooley was this year’s special guest, interviewed during the dinner by 1977 Daytona Superbike race winner Cook Neilson. Neilson and Cooley raced against each other several times, and it was a treat to listen to the former competitors share their track stories from an era many look back upon as a true Golden Age in AMA racing.
Cooler yet, Cooley made time to come by the Motorcycle Classics tent to hand out awards for our bike show, sharing more stories with our assembled crowd. Cooley walked away from the racing scene following a devastating 1985 crash, and has only just recently come back into the fold. Clearly humbled by the attention enthusiasts pour over him all these years later, Cooley’s presence at our tent was a high honor.
The Norton Commando was our featured bike, and 18 of the model filled the space around our tent, sharing the limelight with a bevy of fantastic vintage bikes. Special thanks to the folks at BikeMaster, Randakk’s Cycle Shakk, Z1 Enterprises, Mikes XS, B’laster, S100, Spectro Oils, Pecard and Hagerty Motorcycle Insurance for making it happen. See you there next year. MC