Candyland In Alabama: Porsche Driving School And A Museum

March 6, 2010/Auto By Line


After a day of learning how to maneuver high-performance cars around a track at Porsche Sport Driving School outside of Birmingham, Ala., I received an award for a free full-day course. I’m not too proud to say that the honor was bestowed for the “slowest speed” around the racetrack of the group.
I was busy taking in the scenery. Porsche’s only official driving school in North America has a staff of 28 professional instructors (past and current racing champions) and a fleet of over 40 new Porsche vehicles. We’re talking candyland. The 2.38-mile track at Barber Motorsports Park circles around beautifully landscaped green hills spotted with fabulous life-sized sculptures.
This is not your every day racetrack. Also on site is the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, an 80,000 square-foot space with five floors of 1,100 vintage and modern motorcycles, as well as a substantial collection of racecars. In my eyes, the museum is right up there with the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, and for sure, a little Disneyland.
A bit of history here. George Barber, the genius behind the museum, was a successful dairyman and former sports car and motorcycle racer who began collecting and restoring classic sports cars in 1989.
He soon became fascinated by motorcycles and began to purchase entire collections. The collections were housed in an old building that had once been used for the maintenance of milk delivery trucks.
By 1994, a non-profit corporation had been established, creating a permanent museum that was opened to the public.

When the “Art of the Motorcycle” previewed at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1998, the majority of machines in the exhibit came from Barber’s collection. The motorcycle exhibit, much to the astonishment of the museum world, was a huge success that helped produce the need for a proper motorcycle museum.
As a result, in September 2003, the collections moved to a new home at the Barber Motorsports Park. The spacious museum is considered the largest in North America.
Illuminated by floor to ceiling windows with views of the surrounding gardens, displays hang from the ceilings and walls and are stacked in colorful sculptures. Discreet works of art, like a statue of a guard standing on a landing and a racecar driver playing a piano, are displayed around the space.
Even if you have never ridden a motorcycle or don’t have an ounce of gearhead in your coding, this museum will make you appreciate bikes for their color, styling and intricate design work.
Motorcycles range from as early as 1904 to current-year production, from 16 countries and over 140 different manufacturers. And yes, even a copy of the famous Easy Rider bike from the movie film is here.
The bikes are maintained to perfection with all restorations done in house. So, you say you wanna’ ride one? The claim is that 99 percent of the bikes in the museum are in such good condition that they can be started up within an hour. Oh, and about that free day of racing instruction? It’s on my list. — Holly Reich, Motor Matters

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2010

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