Barber is the biggest vintage motorcycle race event of the year on the AHRMA schedule. The track is world class, the grounds rival those of any country club, and the museum houses the finest collection of motorcycles anywhere. This year was going to be the best yet out of the 7 years of the event. Through an effort spearheaded by Jamie Waters, with additional support from myself and REV’IT! Sport USA, we brought over a group of New Zealand vintage racers and their 500 premier class race bikes. The Kiwi team included Ken McIntosh and two of his stunning Norton Manx race bike; the 350cc raced by Ken’s son James, the 500cc raced by none other than former world GP champion Kevin Schwantz. The New Zealand team also included Bruce Verdon from TT Industries, who made our magnesium 6-speed gear box on the Seeley. From the UK we had Kenny’s friend Maria, and Martin Page from Minovation Racing. To round out our group we had Gregor, Chris, Peter, and Todd from Spannerland.
The race weekend started out on Wednesday. I met Jamie at Spannerland in the afternoon, where we had assembled all of the bikes we would be taking down for the event: Seeley MK2 Norton 750cc, Seeley MK4 Norton 750cc, McIntyre Matchless G50, Matchless 7R G50, and a Norton Lowboy 500cc. Chris was making a last minute repair on Jamie’s Seeley MK4 which needed a stress crack welded on the head stay. We picked up James McIntosh at the train stop a few blocks away and began to pack up all five bikes into our van and trailer along with all of our race supplies. Todd was there as well packing up the Seeley G50 that he would be racing into his own van. Kenny had left the day before with his Seeley MK2 Norton 750cc and one of Jamie’s Norton Manx 500cc. By 7pm we were all loaded up and Jamie, James, and myself hit the road for the 16 hour drive.
We had stopped for the night somewhere in Virginia after putting in 6 hours on the road. Thursday 6am and we were back on route 81 south with another 10 hours to Birmingham, Alabama. 5pm we rolled up to Barber, picked up our credentials at the gate, and headed down to the pits. With so many of us together at the track Jamie had arranged for a 40ft canopy for all of us to share. It only took half an hour to unpack and arrange all of the race bikes. After a long day we all headed out for Mexican and a few beers.
Friday started off at dawn. We never have enough time to be ready for events, and so there was a lot of last minute setup to be done on the bikes. With a total of 18 motorcycles in our pit there was non stop activity with bikes coming in and out of the practice sessions on the track. The motor on the Lowboy failed early on and was retired. The Manx that Kenny was riding also had some issues with the alloy tank. The vibration from so many years of racing has made the seems brittle and a hairline crack was starting to weep fuel. Our new Seeley Norton was running strong though… the only issue was a little chatter in the front end while healed over in the corners. With the motor running so well the bike was being pushed harder than ever. Chris Cosentino was on hand and was able to tune the front suspension. After a few sessions on the track almost everything was tweaked: pre-load, damping, rebound. The final adjustment was to raise the forks another inch in the yokes. With the bike mechanically sound I stripped the tank and body work to give the frame a polishing with Scotch-Brite and WD40. The bike had been sitting for over a month and the patina of rust had returned.
It wasn’t a good day for everyone. The large number of race entries create a lot of excitement, and maybe a bit too much enthusiasm. By noon there were more red flags than there had been all year for practice resulting in some serious injuries. A special racers meeting was called to get people to settle down. AHRMA may have found its limit when it comes to hosting a bunch of amateur racers.
Saturday again started off again at dawn. It was going to be a bright sunny day. Kenny was busy with his own races, as well as prepping bikes for other people. It would be up to Maria to race the Seeley Norton in the BEARS class. Practice ran throughout the morning with a break for lunch, including an air show with WWII fighters. It was great to be pitted right next to Ken McIntosh and Schwantz. They ran their bike like a pro team with 2 dedicated mechanics running through the bike up on a bench every time it came off the track. Their bike was immaculate and looked as if it had rolled off a showroom floor in 1962. Schwantz was the star of the show this weekend and took 1st in the 500 premier class. The BEARS class was the last race of the day. It was a bit confusing having more than one class on the track at the same time, but it was clear that our bike was doing well. As the white flag came out it was Tim Joyce in 1st, with Maria on our bike in 2nd. On the final lap Tim went out with a mechanical and we got the win! It takes a season to get a bike well sorted and race ready, and the win shows that the Seeley Norton has reached that goal. It was a great day for everyone in our pits, and the crowd had a huge turn out. Just to leave Barber took over an hour at the end of the day with all the traffic.
Jamie had arranged a dinner for 75 friends at the Dreamland BBQ in downtown Birmingham. Fantastic southern food and it was nice to show all of the Brit and Kiwi guests what it was all about. I wish we had time for a shower, but with the food smelling so good I’m not sure if anyone noticed.
Sunday followed the same schedule which reduced the confusion some on who was racing when. The sky had become overcast with a drop or two of rain, but the track stayed dry for the day. The battle between Tim Joyce and Kevin Schwantz in the premier 500 class was great with the two of them swapping places on the last two turns on the first 3 laps. In the end Schwantz came out ahead and got the win. Todd had a good showing on the Seeley G50 taking 4th. Mr Barber past by our pits at one point, it was good to seem him so involved. Martin Page also spent some time in our pits checking over Jamie’s new G50 motor that he manufactures. Again, the BEARS class was the last race of the day. Maria was off line on the first turn falling to 5th place. The Seeley Norton was still running strong and she was able to reel in all but Tim Joyce by the final lap. Taking 2nd was still an achievement. The pits emptied out quickly, but packing up took a lot longer and we weren’t ready to go until 9pm. Overall it was a good weekend of racing. It took months to plan all the details, but I think the effort really added to the growing significance of Barber.
I would also like to thank Gregor Halenda for all the amazing photos at Barber, as well as throughout the build and out on the loading dock at Spannerland. Be sure and check them out in the Gallery.