With the 2003 racing season just barely out of the box, Historic Sportscar Racing, Ltd. (HSR) members were presented the unique opportunity to be the first vintage–racing group to test–drive the new Barber Motorsports Park (BMP). Dubbed the Birmingham Historic Races, this short notice addendum to their schedule attracted only 120–plus entrants to scuff the virgin blacktop (this being the track’s third formal event), but the diminished numbers didn’t seem to curb the paddock’s overall enthusiasm.
Located within minutes of downtown, Birmingham, Alabama, BMP is the brainchild of ex–Alabama dairy entrepreneur, George W. Barber, Jr. His goal was to construct a motorcycle test track to compliment his new 141,000 sq. ft. Barber Museum to house his ever expanding collection of over 750 motorcycles representing 17 countries and 125 manufacturers (considered the largest collection in the U.S., if not the world). The new 141,000 sq. ft. building, which replaces the original museum that opened in 1995, will also feature (and rotate) Barber’s Lotus (believed to be the country’s largest), Ferrari and other invited collections to keep things fresh.
Barber, a former competitor in the Southeastern Region of the SCCA (amassing 63 first place wins), shrewdly hired prominent racecourse designer, Alan Wilson, and watched his initial vision expand into what we are enjoying today, a tight, technical and most challenging road circuit. Built to meet Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) standards, the 2.3–mile, 15 turn, 45 foot wide course carved within 740 woodland acres, incorporates numerous elevation changes and switchbacks more resembling European F1 parameters than standard U.S. track configurations.
Beginning with Thursday’s important track orientation, the entrants for the menu of dash races, including the new USA GT Championship (Porsche 996 GT3R/RS, 996 Cup, 993 RSR and 993 Cup cars), Historic Stock Car Racing Association’s (HSCRA) race three and four, and two one–hour Rolex–enduros, began their four–day apprenticeship of the blacktop under varying sunny, cloudy, cold and wet conditions.
And as in past HSR events, the Klub Sport sponsored “All Porsche” shootout got the ball rolling as a very competitive selection of Stuttgart offspring put on a thrilling 10-lap show to close out Friday. Jim McCormick’s 911S was victorious after grabbing the lead on lap two and holding off the hard pressing 914’s of Bill Riddell and Terry Wolters to the checkered.
Practice and qualifying sessions occupied the majority of Saturday’s log as the participants continued to grapple with what many were referring to as “the great equalizer”, since everyone was basically on the same page learning the track’s characteristics and sweet spots. Saturday also witnessed Race #3 for rainbow livered stockers from the HSCRA with Lake Speed nailing a victory and setting the bar with a best time of 1:32.370. The event’s first lengthy contest, the Classic GT/Historic, Enduro concluded the day with a flying win by the 914 of Ron Zita, taking the checker over last year’s GT Endurance champions, Eric Bretzel (2nd) and John Bourassa (1st), who finished second and third, respectively on Saturday.
With three days of hands–on studying behind them and a dry track underfoot, Sunday’s participants took the green with the following results: Rolex–Vintage enduro, Bob Snodgrass/Hurley Haywood’s 914–6 GTR; Group 7/9, Dale Phelon’s Mustang Trans Am, HSCRA Race #4, Lake Speed’s T–Bird repeating with an even faster 1:31.122; USA GT Feature, Bob Maloney’s Porsche GT3 RS; Group 5, Sean Ryan’s Camaro; Group 2/3, Bob Wagner’s Lotus 23C; GTP/Group C, Dennis Spencer/Richard Grupp’s Mazda Kudzu Rotary capitalizing on the Mazda’s quickness through the turns. A very jubilant Spencer noted that they “utilized a calculated strategy that the big guys wouldn’t have enough leg room to get up to speed.”
Superficially, the Barber Motorsports Park might be the period to a dream by a man who simply began collecting sports cars over a decade ago, but beneath the spectacular façade rests one of George Barber’s primary objectives to generate an improved, long–term economic impact to the Birmingham area. Barber’s attention to detail, ecological sensitivities and acute vision of sculpting the park’s terrain by redistributing the earth and rock within the park’s envelope not only creates a unique multi–tiered paddock and vast viewable arena for the spectators, but a stunning road course that fuses perfectly in its natural cradle. Add two million dollars worth of flowers, shrubs and trees to the volumes of praise from the HSR gang, and Barber undoubtedly will surpass all his goals with America’s newest and best purpose–built road course which is living up to the hype as, “the Augusta of race tracks.”......Walter Pietrowicz