How to raise your spirits when in Alabama -
By Fergus Oglivy:
What did they enjoy most? Commemorating its eleventh anniversary, the three-day Barber Vintage Festival, October 9-11, drew its largest crowd yet, almost 70,000 attendees.
This historic motorcycle extravaganza has been the principal power in historic and vintage motorcycle matters for over a decade. Located at George Barber’s magnificent 830-acre parkland estate at Leeds near Birmingham, Alabama, it is a treasured preserve for enthusiasts, collectors and racers. Before its creation, few of us had realized just how great the void it would fill.
In 2014 the exquisite Barber Motorsport Park and Museum became the number one tourist attraction in Birmingham. The museum contains the world’s largest motorcycle collection—in excess of 1,475 examples. In addition, it is widely recognized for its array of historic Lotus race cars and other rare vehicles, not to mention its research library that contains over 7,000 motorcycle books.
For this year’s Festival, the weekend’s activities included a celebration of John Britten and his racing motorcycles, which were featured in wonderful track parades each day. One of the five bikes in action was ridden by Barber’s chief restoration specialist and former Matchless G50 racer, Chuck Huneycutt. “These are my lucky leathers,” he chuckled, which didn’t easily explain their numerous scuff marks, evidence of dubious track encounters!
It is twenty years since Britten, the acclaimed New Zealander, died of cancer at the premature age of 45. His wife, Kirsteen, and family as well as notable Britten riders, Andrew Stroud and Stephen Briggs and other team members, had all journeyed to the Festival from their North Island birthplace down-under.
Britten was a phenomenon—a man of extraordinary vision with prolific and fascinating ideas. He began productive life as a sculptor, a maker of decorative glassware and as an architect. America’s influential technical writer Kevin Cameron said in 2007 he was still disappointed and angry over his death. From the design stage and the pouring of the original raw castings, the Britten V-1000 progressed from a concept to operational in six months. Not only was the 94mm by 72mm, 60-degree V-twin engine unique so, too, was the carbon fiber-reinforced plastic chassis and swing-arm. Every part of the race bike showed remarkable innovation. Ridden by Stroud, Brittens won the 1995 inaugural British European American Racing Series, two Superbike races at Daytona as well as the Battle of the Twins at Daytona 1994, ’95, ’96, and ’97.
Back at the Festival, the jollification was further extended by hundreds of racers from all over the United States and abroad, descending upon the 2.38-mile 17-turn race track to participate in the AHRMA (American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association) 30-race program. Practicing was held on Thursday and Friday and competition began at 8am Saturday and Sunday.
Over the racing weekend, the fastest rider on track was AMA Superbike star Jake Zemke from Paso Robles, California. The 2006 Daytona 200 winner and the only racer to defeat Mat Mladin and Ben Spies from 2005-’09, Zemke is a refreshing individual. His pace was fast, smooth and rhythmic.
But there is another facet to this much-liked man, perhaps even more admirable than his abundant race craft and that is his geniality. One couldn’t help but compare his cheery, sincere manner to that of the talented Spies. Like Zemke, the now retired Spies was fast but frequently presented a different demeanor, particularly at TV interviews during his MotoGP career. Often the image that Ben projected resembled that of a Hollywood idol: his reversed hat and its prescribed angle completed with the adornment of dark glasses and slow measured speech—the inverse of Zemke.
Thoughts on cultivating the image takes one back to the early 1980s when three-time 500cc World Champion Kenny Roberts was asked if he had observed any meaningful differences between his approach to racing and that of the former World Champion Barry Sheene. Tellingly, Roberts acknowledged that Barry had created an image of such glamour – a distraction that needed constant nurture – while his own mind was free of competing interests and thus freedom to devote full application to his racing.
Over on the southeast side of the track, spectators enjoyed On the Edge Stunt Shows, a Wall of Death Thrillshow, and the Globe of Death riders in the Fan Zone plus a giant swap meet across the access road.
For pictorial account of the event: Click here.