Fast Cars, High Speeds, and Compact Equipment

Sept. 1, 2009

You may not think about it all the time, but if you’re a contractor working in site development, the work you do is important. Whether it’s the foundation of a building that will serve as the home of a business for many years or the base of a road that thousands of cars will travel each day, the work done to develop each site is critical to making sure that the structure will adequately serve its purpose. It’s especially important if those cars are moving at 150 miles per hour.

That’s the top speed that many cars reach at Barber Motorsports Park, a road-course racetrack located in Birmingham, AL. Preparing the site for the track wasn’t only about making sure cars can safely reach these speeds; it was just as much about creating a specific type of environment. Now that it’s open, Barber Motorsports Park has been called the “Augusta of racetracks” because the grounds are so well maintained that it brings to mind the famous golf course.

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Playing a part in building the track and maintaining its atmosphere are two Bobcat skid-steer loaders. While able to reach a top speed of 11 miles per hour, the skid-steer loaders may not be as exciting as the racecars, but without the compact machines the cars wouldn’t be able to race.

Barber Motorsports Park is the creation of George Barber Jr., who has made millions in the dairy and commercial real estate industries. Barber has raced cars in Europe and decided to build a road course with the same feel as those racetracks.

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Many European road courses are set in and surrounded by nature. Barber chose an 800-acre site in the wooded, rolling foothills of the Appalachian Mountains just outside Birmingham. As with any undeveloped area, the first task in construction was to clear land. However, large areas of trees were to be preserved to achieve the desired ambiance.

Barber hired a large construction firm to build the track but saved money on the project by using his own landscaping crew for various tasks during construction. Mark Whitt, the head of operations and track manager for Barber Motorsports Park, has been working for Barber for more than 20 years, starting the landscaping crew that cared for Barber’s commercial real estate properties.

In the areas to be preserved, the large trees were kept and the undergrowth was cleared. Whitt’s crew hand-cut much of the undergrowth and used a chipper to destroy the brush.

Other debris was cleared by the crew’s Bobcat 773 and S185 skid-steer loaders, the only machines that could navigate through these areas. “We bought a grapple attachment for the machines to load the larger trunks of trees, rocks and other bulk debris into a dump truck to haul away,” says Whitt.

After land was cleared, the next step was building the track. Proper drainage is critical to any project, including racetracks. “You have to catch the water before it goes underneath the surface of this asphalt, or else the water will come up and move the asphalt,” explains Whitt. If that happened, the track would be unusable.

Getting the drainage right is a challenge on road courses, which have multiple turns in many directions and changes in elevation. The course at Barber Motorsports Park has 80 feet of elevation change and 17 turns.

To create the drainage that would preserve the track, Whitt’s crews installed 12 miles of 4-inch drainage pipe on both sides of the 2.83-mile track with the skid-steer loaders.

Using a trencher attachment, one loader created a trench for the pipe. The other loader followed behind, using a bucket to haul and place gravel on the base of the trench. Pallet forks were used on the loaders to move pallets of pipe, which was installed by hand.

“Using the loaders to install the drainage pipe was an integral part of making sure the integrity of the racetrack remains,” says Whitt.

With the drainage installed and the track constructed, the third step for Whitt was turf installation. This was another task where he turned to his skid-steer loaders. Whitt used soil conditioner attachments on the loaders to prepare the ground for sod. “The soil conditioner grinds the top layer of dirt, which loosens it. Then, when you lay the sod, you’re not laying it on hard ground. With a dozer, the ground’s going to be so hard that the roots of the grass can’t permeate the top layer of soil. We need to loosen it up and level it, all at the same time, which is just what the soil conditioners did,” says Whitt.

The crews used the soil conditioners and loaders on more than 250 acres on the site, 137 of which received sod.

Whitt says he could use the loaders on almost every area of the track during drainage work and turf installation. “The loaders could do the work we needed with the trencher and soil conditioner attachments,” says Whitt.

Barber is a collector of art and decided to place 20 sculptures, most of which are made of metal, throughout the park. It was Whitt’s responsibility to install the artwork, and he again used the loaders to lift, haul, and place the sculptures, some of which weighed up to 980 pounds. “We didn’t want to use bigger machines because the Bobcat loaders could get into the places set aside for the art without tearing everything up,” he says.

Now that the track is open, Whitt and his crew are responsible for maintaining the facility.

Like the racetracks in Europe, Barber Motorsports Park is mostly general admission, with grassed parking areas instead of pavement. Whitt says maintaining these parking areas can be a challenge, especially if it rains during one of the events. The cars create ruts in the wet ground that have to be repaired. “What I found with the hybrid Bermuda grass we have is to use the soil conditioner on the loaders to rake through it and level the parking lots. Then we fertilize and crank up the irrigation system and get the grass growing back. If it’s spring or summer, it’s back to normal in two weeks,” says Whitt.

Throughout the year, Whitt and his crew plant trees, flowers and other landscaping. The loaders are used to unload these materials from trucks and haul them to the installation areas.

“We have thousands of different varieties of plants onsite,” says Whitt. “We use a lot of azaleas, dogwoods, redbuds. We try to keep something blooming here year-round.”

In addition to the road course, Barber Motorsports Park is also home to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. This museum houses more than 900 motorcycles Barber has collected over the years, as well as a substantial collection of Lotus and other types of racecars.

A motocross racetrack for vintage motorcycles has also just been added to the facility, built with the skid-steer loaders. The track is a mile-and-a-half in length and 30 feet wide.

Whitt used the soil conditioners to break up the ground for the track and used buckets to move dirt to build the hills, jumps and other features typical of motocross racing. Motorcycles built before 1984 will race on the track.

Barber Motorsports Park is now home to such events as the Porsche 250, which can draw up to 60,000 fans. While the cars and motorcycles are the main draw, none of it would have been possible without the work completed by the skid-steer loaders, which made it possible for the high speeds achieved on the track and the picturesque environment that is drawing race fans from around the world.

For more information about Barber Motorsports Park, visit
About the Author

Eric Morse

Eric Morse is a public relations consultant in Des Moines, IA.

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