03 Jan In its 15th year, Barber Motorsports Park runs laps around other venues
When it comes to the Barber Motorsports Park and Museum, Birmingham has few rivals.
“We can do this or that and we’ll have to compete with Atlanta or Nashville or Memphis because they have the same sort of thing,” Don Erwin said, recalling the words of founder George Barber. “’I want to do something for Birmingham where Birmingham won’t have to compete with those other cities.’ He built something that’s a little bit unique.”
Erwin and others opened the gates of the motorsports park to media for a look inside one of the most popular attractions in Alabama. Like most days of the year, there was other activity, including testing by IndyCar drivers preparing for one of the venue’s signature events in a few weeks.
Barber Motorsports Park and Museum turn 15 years old this year. The park opened in January 2003 and the museum opened in October of that year. The U.S. product debut of the Porsche Cayenne sport utility vehicle was the first event on the campus.
“This facility is set to operate forever,” said Erwin, vice president of corporate development for Barber Companies. “It’s not something that’ll go away when George goes away. It’s a permanent sort of thing. That’s George’s intention.”
George Barber is the visionary who dreamed up the park and museum that sit on the eastern edge of Birmingham, adjacent to Leeds. Erwin recalls Barber telling him the aim was to “create something for which there would be no rival.”
The facility employs about 95 people at the Barber Museum, Barber Motorsports Park, Porsche Sport Driving School, Mercedes-Benz Brand Immersion Experience, Five Star Catering, Event Operations Group, T.C. Maintenance and Zoom Motorsports, which manages events.
The museum and park generated 95,423 hotel room-nights of occupancy in 2017. From 2003 to 2016, the facility had a $1.6 billion tourism impact with more than 2.75 million visitors.
It also generated $149 million in state tax revenue and $41 million in local tax revenue.
“When you have a unique attraction that’s very high quality, it gives you more leverage in terms of attracting things,” Erwin said. “If you go to TripAdvisor.com, as long as I’ve been looking at the website, they’ve had the Barber Museum ranked as the top tourist attraction in Birmingham.”
In January, USA Today ranked the Barber Museum as the top Alabama attraction in its poll of readers. Google Trips, which last fall didn’t have the Barber venue ranked in its top 10 attractions, recently had it ranked No. 2 behind the Birmingham Zoo.
Guinness World Records recognized the Barber Museum as being the largest motorcycle museum in the world. The Porsche Driving School is the largest such school in the world, 30 percent larger than Germany’s.
And the venue boasts the largest collection of Lotus racecars.
The park and museum’s popularity comes despite being not well known to many in metro Birmingham. People know of events, like the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama that annually draws about 80,000 spectators in early April, but they often don’t know the rest of the story.
“Most people don’t realize things are happening on the track 270 days a year,” Erwin said. “And things are happening in the museum virtually every day of the year, sometimes multiple events.”
He said many people come to Alabama for the 150 to 160 days a year that Porsche is having its driving school.
“People are flying in from California, New York, Texas and all over the place to take a driving school in Birmingham, Alabama,” he said. “Probably the ultimate is the Barber Vintage Festival in the fall, where we have 75,000 people over three days and 85 percent of them are from out of state.”
The best views of the track are available from the two new bridges to the museum. Other additions are a waterfall, proving ground, and obstacle and off-road courses.