Birmingham's long, distinguished history within the motorcycle community goes back to when motorcycle races were first held at the Alabama State Fairgrounds in 1906. Many of America's best racers came to compete on the one-mile oval dirt track and Birmingham became popular with professional motorcycle racers from across the country. Some riders took advantage of Alabama's mild winters and stayed in Birmingham to sharpen their racing skills.
One of the most important figures in those early days of motorcycle racing was Birmingham's own Bob Stubbs. Stubbs competed on an Indian motorcycle and was one of the most dominant local racers.
In June of 1907, Stubbs was elected President of the newly-formed Birmingham Motorcycle Club.
Stubbs was hired by the Indian Motorcycle Company as a factory rider prior of the 1909 Daytona Beach Speed Trails in Ormond Beach, Florida. On March 25, 1909 Stubbs set a new one-mile motorcycle record of 43 seconds. Stubbs' time was 2 seconds faster than the previous record which had been set the day prior by his Indian teammate Walter Goerke of Brooklyn, New York.
In April 1910, Stubbs set a new record riding his Indian motorcycle from Birmingham, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia in 7 hours and 5 minutes. That time broke existing Birmingham-to-Atlanta records for both cars and motorcycles.
Stubbs went on to win countless races across the country and set numerous track records along the way.
In 1912, Birmingham native Gene Walker, who worked for the Birmingham Post Office delivering mail on his motorcycle, entered and won his first motorcycle race at the Fairgrounds.
Bob Stubbs, who had become one of the largest Indian motorcycle dealers in the country and a sponsor of local motorcycle racers, recognized Walker's talent and hired him in 1913. Stubbs put Walker on a new Indian 8 valve racer and Walker began to dominate the Birmingham amateur races. Professional riders from all over came to Birmingham for the fall race series and Walker found himself competing against some of the best racers in the country.
In early 1914, William F. Specht Jr, a Harley Davidson dealer and racer from Atlantic City, moved to Birmingham and opened the city's first Harley Davidson dealership in Cliff Howell's bicycle shop at 1714 3rd Avenue North. Specht's shop was located just a block away from Bob Stubbs Indian shop - located at 1805 4th Avenue North - and thus began a rivalry that would last for several years.
In July 1914, Bob Stubbs entered a team of riders in an Endurance Run sponsored by the Birmingham Ledger Newspaper. At the end of the three-day 860 mile event his riders Gail Joyce and Gene Walker finished first and second respectively. Stubbs also entered a team in the 1915 Birmingham Ledger Cup Race and won the overall Team Championship.
When World War I broke out, most motorcycles produced by Indian and Harley Davidson went to the military. Many motorcycle dealers across the country were forced to close their doors. Many, like Bob Stubbs, never reopened.
Professional racing was curtailed during the war and Indian Factory rider Gene Walker, who was exempted from the draft as his widowed mother's sole support, found work as a motorcycle machinist at the Harley Davidson shop run by Bill Specht Jr. During the winters, Walker supplemented his income by working as a Birmingham Motorcycle Police Officer.
In 1919, Walker's former teammate Gail Joyce opened the Gail Joyce Motor Company in Birmingham and became a local distributor for both Indian and Harley Davidson motorcycles. After his death in 1934, his family continued to run the shop until the 1950s.
After the war, Gene Walker returned to the Indian Racing Team in 1919 and was again dominating the competition and even set the first officially recognized motorcycle land speed records for Indian. However, Walker was unexpectedly released by Indian at the end of the 1921 racing season for, according to Indian’s Management, failing to meet his contractual obligations by not competing in a race at Dodge City, Kansas earlier that season.
Walker returned to Birmingham, went back to work at the Harley Davidson shop and resumed his duties with the Birmingham Police Department. His story was picked up by newspapers across the country (see newspaper clipping to the right from the Santa Cruz News, December 6, 1923).
When Walker returned to racing, this time on a Harley Davidson, he again began to dominate the short track races around the country. Harley Davidson took full advantage of the publicity surrounding his wins and featured Walker in its advertising campaigns.
By the end of the 1923 season Indian had rehired Walker and he quickly rewarded them with wins at race tracks across the country.
Tragically, Walker died of injuries sustained in a crash at the half mile dirt track at East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania in June of 1924.
The track at the Alabama State Fairgrounds was closed from 1921 until 1925. Upon reopening it featured horse racing Monday through Friday and hosted automobile races every Saturday. By the mid-1930s, automobiles had taken over and horses and motorcycles were both finished at the Alabama State Fairgrounds.
Motorcycle racing didn't return to Birmingham until 2003 when Barber Motorsports Park, a 740 acres multi-purpose racing facility, opened just east of the city. Barber is home to the Triumph Superbike Classic, the annual barber Vintage Festival, the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, the North American Porsche Driving School and the Kevin Schwantz Motorcycle School.
Birmingham native George Barber had a serious interest in vintage motorcycles. The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum began in 1988 as Barber's private collection and officially opened to the public in 1994. The museum operated at its original location on Birmingham's Southside until November 1, 2002. The Museum reopened at its new location at the Barber Motorsports Park on September 19, 2003.
The museum now has over 1,200 vintage and modern motorcycles and is considered the largest motorcycle museum in the world. The motorcycle collection includes bikes dating from 1904 to present production with about half of the collection on display at any given time.
Barber is also the home of several different track day organizations for both cars and motorcycles. The 40-50 open track days at Barber each year provide great opportunity for anyone to experience first-hand the excitement of motorsports racing and helps keep Birmingham's racing tradition alive.