Barber Trip 5: Motorcycles

Two days of hanging around the race track wasn’t enough for me. The Chin event was over, but I still needed to go to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum.

The museum is best known for its motorcycles. They have over 1600 bikes in their collection, with over 900 on display. But that’s not why I wanted to wander through the place. You see, it also happens to have the world’s largest collection of Lotus race cars. Throw in die-cast cars, wooden toy cars and trucks, outboard boat motors, and a lawn mower and you have a pretty interesting way to spend a few hours.

Whereas the Presidential museums I visited on this trip both opened at 9:00 am, Barber doesn’t let you in until 10. Or so says the sign on the door and their website. I didn’t have anything better to do, so I got there a little early. I was hoping they’d let me drive around part of the perimeter road so I could look for more treasures. There wasn’t anybody at the gate to ask, and they had the road coned off. So I parked at the museum.

To the right of the main entrance, they have a very striking trio of sculptures that make up one piece. Is there a sculpture-oriented word equivalent to triptych? It’s called “The Chase”, and the plaque says it indicates “the super-human power and sense of achievement that one experiences on the track.” They have a smaller version of at least one of the figures on display inside.

After taking a few photos, I started walking back to my car. A guy came out the museum doors and called to me, “Come on in! We’re open!” It was 9:38. This was good news. After the museum, I’m driving to Atlanta. I had been going back and forth about whether I’d have enough time to take the back roads or I’d have to violate Rule #1. Extra time in hand is good.

When I paid for admission, the cashier told me that I was in luck – Indycar was here at the track doing some testing.

They tell everybody to start touring the museum from the top down. Take the elevator up to the fifth floor, then walk down the spiral ramp to each lower floor.

The number of motorcycles there is ridiculous. I’m not particularly interested in motorcycles, so I was a bit overwhelmed. Bikes from World War II, Italian Vespas, a bike with a wooden sidecar. I wandered randomly, perhaps working down to the cars a bit quicker than I should have.

I’ve seen large numbers of Lotus before. At the two LOGs I attended, we had more than a hundred, almost all of them road cars. At the F1 race I attended, they had a bunch of classic Lotus F1 cars that ran in a vintage race. But the collection at Barber is impressive for its breadth. I don’t think any of it was post-Chapman, and a few of the very earliest models were reproductions, but they damn near had one of everything that raced. They even had the bicycle.

After checking out the Lotus collection, I wandered out toward the track. From the museum, you can go across the first bridge (the second when you’re on the track), down to a path through the woods in the infield, and then up to the second bridge (the bridge with the hanging lady). The bridges have clear sections in the walkway – you can look straight down onto the track.

Indycars do a lap here as fast as 1:06. That means, if I were to be on the track for a half-hour session with an Indycar, he’d pass me nine or ten times.

I chatted with a couple of guys who come to the Indycar race every year. They said, “You can’t see it from here, but over there,” they pointed vaguely to the woods, “some big ants are carrying off a motorcycle.” Then we got to see Pietro Fittipaldi’s car catch on fire. He was frantically waving his arms for somebody to come to extinguish the fire, but it took a couple of minutes for the trucks to start rolling. He’s the grandson of Lotus F1 champ Emerson Fittipaldi.

After stopping by the gift shop to buy the obligatory t-shirt, I hit the road. I had plenty of time to take the back roads for a pleasant drive through the Alabama and Georgia countryside. I didn’t have much traffic until the last forty minutes or so, as I got near Atlanta.

If you’re a motorcycle lover or a fan of Lotus, the museum is worth the visit.

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