Grand Prix Plus Motorcycle Mardi Gras

The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum and Motorsports Park in Birmingham stay busy, with events scheduled for between 270 and 280 days a year. Photo by Cary Norton

Barber Motorsports Park, in Birmingham in April, held its biggest event of the season, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, attracting a total three-day crowd of about 80, 000 people and an international television audience.

But it’s far from the only thing that happens at BMP each year. In fact, the facility is used between 270 and 280 days a year, according to Don Erwin, vice president of corporate development for The Barber Companies. That includes car conventions, vehicle debuts (where manufacturers roll out a new model for the media) and the filming of commercials (Hyundai has even used the track in the production of two ads that were shown during the Super Bowl).

For many motorcycles enthusiasts, the highlight of the year is the Barber Vintage Festival in October, held annually since 2005. Erwin says approximately 70, 000 people attend that three-day event, with 85 percent of the crowd coming from outside Alabama.

“It’s a combination of motorcycle racing and a big carnival, ” Erwin says. “We have several vintage motorcycle races, including one for motorcycles at least 100 years old. But then individual motorcycle clubs come in and hold their own events. And the ACE Café out of London (a famous motorcycle venue that dates to 1938) takes over the infield. The Vintage Festival just attracts people of all kinds.”

There will definitely be some high rollers in attendance this year. That’s because the historic British auction house Bonhams is scheduled to auction classic motorcycles at BMP on Oct. 6 during the Vintage Festival.

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How high do these people roll? Earlier this year at Bonhams’ annual Las Vegas event, a rare 1951 Black Lightning race bike sold for $929, 000, the highest price ever paid for a single motorcycle at a public auction. The program alone for the Bonhams auction costs $100 to purchase.

BMP also is the site of the Porsche Sport Driving School of North America, the largest Porsche school in the world. More than 23, 000 people have attended the school since it opened in 2003, with 92 percent of participants coming from outside Alabama, Erwin says.

The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum showcases approximately 1, 400 motorcycles spanning more than 100 years of production, and is widely considered to be one of the best motorsports museums in the world. The museum recently added 85, 000 square feet of space, bringing the total to more than 250, 000 square feet.

“With everything we do here — the museum and the events — we had a total of 350, 000 visitors last year from 53 countries, ” Irwin says. “We feel like we’re bringing people to Birmingham who otherwise might never come here.”

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