When I think of racing and automobile museums, I normally don’t think of going to Nebraska. How wrong I was. I was wondering how to spend the day before the Iowa 300. The Knoxville Sprint Hall of Fame looked like a great place to go. But before I left for Newton, I saw that my friend Janay Martin posted on Facebook that she was going to the Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Nebraska. I asked her if I could tag along.
The museum began as a project of Speedway Motors owner “Speedy” Bill Smith, who began collecting anything racing or automotive related a long time before opening the exhibit hall in 1992. The three story, 150,000 square foot building is virtually an American speed and auto time capsule. Smith’s Speedway Motors began as an engine shop, then also did fabrication, and now sells all auto parts for road cars and race cars.
The Museum is an even three hour drive from Iowa Speedway. We got there when the museum opened at 9. As soon as we walked in, six year old me came back to life. I couldn’t believe what I saw.
The first car inside the entrance is a 1960’s Indy roadster, a Shrike from 1965, and Al Unser’s 1970 winner. Then I came to the gate above. If I saw nothing else in the place after I walked through that gate, I could have gone back to Newton happy.
There sat Bill Vukovich’s 1951 rookie car, the Central Excavating Special. The car sits outside a mock up of the old IMS garages. The car started the race in 20th. Vukovich moved quickly to seventh before retiring after 29 laps.
I got the same chills I get whenever I see the Boyle Maserati and the Fuel injection Special at the IMS Museum. I find it thrilling to be in the presence of cars driven by such legends.
The IMS area also contains other memorabilia from the Indianapolis 500, including engines, uniforms, and a lot of photos. Because of our limited time, I couldn’t linger here. This was just the beginning.
Two other areas of note on the first floor were a room dedicated to engine builders. There were tribute plaques honoring Harry Miller and Fred Offenhauser.
In the opposite corner is a tribute to A. J. Watson, whose cars ruled at IMS in the late 50s and early 60s. the car Jim Rathmann drove at Monza is the centerpiece of this space.
The first floor also has a diorama dedicated to the SAFER Barrier, which was developed at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and a sprint car area. The star of the sprint car gallery was the Black Deuce, Bobby Grim’s famous car.
Another section had engines, including the 1994 Ilmor Beast that powered the Penske cars which dominated the Indianapolis 500 that year. Other engines in the collection include a Gurney Weslake and a Judd.
The classic car area featured a rare Tucker, the short lived car of the late 40s.
The third floor is mostly dedicated to toys and very realistic pedal cars. I saw a toy car I had as smaller kid. There is an alcove between the second and third floors lined with vinyl album covers which had automotive related themes. There are some signed guitars, including this one signed by the original Beach Boys. I was not allowed to play it.
The walls of each floor are lined with cases of auto parts from hood ornaments to manifolds to cigarette lighters.
I highly recommend that while you are waiting for the hopefully later start to the Iowa race, that you drive over to his beautiful place. It’s a trip back in time.
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For more information on the museum,