Daytona winner takes one more lap at Barber

by Doug Demmons  • 

Cook Neilson remembers well his 2008 trip to the Barber Vintage Festival at Barber Motorsports Park.

Neilson, a longtime editor of Cycle magazine who rose to fame after winning in 1977 at Daytona, had come to Alabama from his home in Vermont to make a presentation of a painting.

He had no idea what was awaiting him.

The No. 31 Ducati motorcycle that Neilson rode to victory in 1977 — dubbed Old Blue — had been sold years earlier to a collector in New Jersey who was unwilling to sell it or put it on display. So George Barber, founder of the museum and track, commissioned a replica — a duplicate Ducati right down to the bolts, the period decals and the blue paint scheme.

The bike — built in just 36 working days by Ducati restoration expert Rich Lambrechts of Fort Lauderdale — was rolled out to Neilson’s surprise during that 2008 presentation.

On Saturday, Neilson was back at Barber for one final ride on the replica dubbed Deja Blue.

“I figured this would be my last ride on this motorcycle at this track,” said the 69-year-old Neilson. “It’s just time to stop driving it and it’s been great fun.”

Last year during a visit to the Barber Vintage Festival, Neilson took a different bike out for a spin. He made it only about 25 yards when he wrecked and put himself in the hospital.

With thousands of vintage motorcycle enthusiasts at the track over the weekend for the annual festival, Neilson took the Ducati through a few parade laps to applause and cheers.

Lambrechts, who had to manufacture some of the parts himself, rushed madly to get it done in time.

“Everybody I thought owed me a favor was called to duty,” he said.

“It’s pretty spot on to what he rode in the day,” Lambrechts said. “Without question it’s the thing I’m most proud of.

“It’s a special piece of Americana,” he said. “If you’re into baseball, and you have a chance to build Babe Ruth’s bat, it’s like that.”

Neilson’s admiration of the work that Lambrechts did on the bike is such that he doesn’t mind that the original bike is locked away from sight by its owner.

“Without this guy’s truculence,” he said, “this bike wouldn’t exist.”

The festival annually draws thousands of vintage motorcycle buffs to Birmingham from around the country and around the world for three days of vintage racing, technical seminars, motorcycle club gatherings, vendor displays, a motorcycle auction and a huge swap meet.

This year’s event brought more than 50,000 people to the track and museum and packed the campgrounds.

TAGGED: barber motorsports, barber vintage festival, community, cook nellson

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