Barber Motorsports Park prepares for Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, tops out museum expansion

Barber Motorsports Park prepares for Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, tops out museum expansion
The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum at the Barber Motorsports Park is moving closer to completing its expansion and has added two pedestrian bridges over the racetrack. (contributed)

Construction of the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum hit a major milestone Wednesday as the Barber Motorsports Park prepares for its biggest event of the year.

BL Harbert International held a “topping out” ceremony on the 85,000-square-foot expansion, signaling the core structure of the building is complete with only the exterior (“skinning” the building) and the interior buildout left.

Plans are to complete the construction later this year.

“We’ve reached the pinnacle of construction,” Parker Evans, senior project manager with BL Harbert, said. “It’s going to be used to display some of the rest of the 800 motorcycles that Mr. Barber has that are now on display now.”

Officials discuss Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum expansion and Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama 2016 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum houses George Barber’s personal collection of motorcycles and racecars recognized by the “Guinness World Records” as the largest in the world.

The original 144,000-square-foot, five-story museum isn’t large enough to showcase Barber’s complete collection. Barber, the former milk magnate and real estate developer who founded the racetrack and museum, said he hopes that will be possible when the expansion is complete.

“It will mean that we will have 85,000 square feet of additional space to put stuff in,” he said. “I think we will be able to show the entire collection.”

Even as the museum construction hit the milestone, Jeff Ray, general manager of the museum, said Barber is always dreaming up new projects to grow the park.

“I don’t believe there’s going to be a final finish,” Ray said. “Twelve years ago when we moved out here and opened up, I never would have dreamed we would have added to the museum, much less continue to add to the park and what we do for the state and what we do for the city.”

The expansion will make the museum more of an attraction, Ray said.

“The collection continues to grow,” he said “Believe it or not, we actually have more motorcycles in storage right now than we have on display.”

The added space will allow for new ways to showcase the motorcycles and race cars in Barber’s collection.

“The presentation concept is continuing to evolve,” Ray said. “Right now, we do a gallery presentation. We hope with the new expansion we can spread out a little bit and do some more reviewing the history of the vehicles, do some interactive exhibits and kind of go more in-depth with the motorcycle or the car itself.”

For the construction crews that have been building the large expansion right next to the Barber Motorsports Park racetrack, it has required extra focus to keep from watching cars from the Porsche Sport Driving School or Indy cars taking practice laps.

“It’s a little bit of a distraction, but it makes it interesting and a fun place to come to work every day,” Evans said.

The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama race weekend takes place April 22-24. It is the largest racing event held at the park each year and has become one of the largest stops on the Indy circuit in the U.S.

“I think we’re looking at 80-90,000 people for the weekend, which is good,” Barber said. “People from all over the world and all over the United States come for this event.”

Ray said the museum expansion will force race organizers to plan around the construction.

“The racing’s better than ever with Indy car,” Ray said. “We’re looking for good weather, a good crowd. The museum, with the construction on, we’ve got a couple of disadvantages there but we’re going to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

This will be the first Indy race with the completed pedestrian bridge that extends from the museum over the racetrack. A second pedestrian bridge is under construction and should be completed in time for the race. However, that bridge will be only for members of the museum.

Since it opened, Barber Motorsports Park has added a proving ground for Mercedes-Benz, which recently added a training center with classrooms. A new 6-mile off-road course is used by Mercedes and Porsche and a Motocross motorcycle track is in place.

What’s next?

“I haven’t dreamed of it yet, but I’m sure there will be something,” Barber said. “I think maybe we need to sit back and take a deep breath for a while.”

Even as he said that, Barber talked about plans to add a waterfall and English walking paths with gazebos.

The landscaping has been something visitors have noticed since the beginning, earning it comparisons to a famous golf course in Georgia.

“We really need to keep doing that,” Barber said. “We have over 800,000 bulbs in the ground, 18,000 azaleas, 16,000 crape myrtles, on and on and on. That’s the reason they call us ‘the Augusta of racetracks.’”

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