A museum by its nature is intended to procure, care for, study, and display matters of interest. By definition, the Museum of American Speed lives up to its billing, but there's more, much more. Located on the corporate campus of Speedway Motors in Lincoln, Nebraska, the museum represents a lifelong dream of "Speedy" Bill Smith that began back when he was a young boy.

His early formative years were spent studying to be a teacher but his passion rested elsewhere, so it was onto racing and the beginning of what is today an immensely successful business. Joyce, his wife, loaned him the $300 to get Speedway Motors started in a 20x20 square foot building near downtown Lincoln. Bill likes to tell this story about borrowing the money and never paying it back. (Editor's note: Joyce tells us she hasn't forgotten the debt and has kept track of the interest accrued over the past nearly 60 years! Careful there Bill.)

The officially registered museum opened in 1992 in a portion of Speedway's warehouse located near the speed shop. The museum moved to its current 135,000 square foot, three-story building and opened to the public in 2001. There are several other Speedway warehouses that accommodate numerous parts and cars that someday will be restored and eventually find their way into the collection. There's so much in the current museum that a number of cars await rotation, as they all can't fit at once. We found numerous identifiable cars of fame, including a magazine project car; STREET RODDER Project SpeedRodder is waiting its turn to visit the museum floor.

Many museums have items that are faithfully restored with some that are displayed "as-is" giving a well-rounded feel. The Museum of American Speed takes this to another level. Many of the automotive and nonautomotive artifacts are literally "as-is" with their original packing material and boxes, some still bolted to their original crates, like a Tucker engine, and many displayed in dioramas made from original accessory items of the day.

The museum collection is eclectic but there's a deep-rooted cultural significance that weaves a connection between the items. For instance, you will find a collection of rock 'n' roll album covers, guitars autographed by virtually every significant artist of the past 50 years, car club jackets and plaques to go along with virtually every kind of American-bred race car-Bonneville, dry lakes, drag race, dirt track, asphalt, Indy, board track, and even Soap Box derby cars. Do you see the common thread? The denominator is "Made in America" and this cultural tie brings racers, rodders, and car lovers together to enjoy each facet of the museum. Car fans enjoy many forms of Americana and because of this the museum offers something of special significance to each. There are collections of pedal cars, childhood lunch boxes, car movie posters, and toy cars, and it's a safe bet to say car guys from every facet of racing and rodding have enjoyed most, if not all, of these endeavors during their lives. Walking (slowly is best!) through the museum is akin to going back to various times in our lives and bringing back memories of our childhood, young adulthood, and even what we might be doing today. Think of this museum as "time standing still" giving you the opportunity to catch up on what you may have missed the first time around.

How did all of this arrive? Lincoln, Nebraska, isn't exactly the cultural hub of America, so why here? Nebraska is linked to the heartland of America making it easily accessible to the early days of many forms of racing and a natural spot for the Museum of American Speed.

Speedy Bill's penchant for "wheeling and dealing" discovered his early pieces of speed equipment, which included a Hal overhead-cam conversion for a Model A four-banger. It was discoveries like this that got Speedy Bill into truly scrutinizing these early speed parts and developing a true appreciation for the ingenuity and engineering of the early pioneers, like Robert Roof, Joe Jagerberger (Rajo), and George Riley.

Bill will tell you, "When you consider what those guys did, it was really amazing. They didn't have much money or the backing of some big corporation, but they had the desire and resourcefulness to create products that made mass-produced engines more powerful and efficient. These guys literally laid the groundwork for the entire performance aftermarket industry."

It doesn't take you long to realize that Bill's racing career and the promotion of his business afforded him the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the country. It was during this time Bill found numerous pieces, but also made the personal contacts that have served him well over decades of collecting.

Bill tells us, "Back in the '50s, '60s, and '70s, a lot of these old parts and engines were considered obsolete junk. People were throwing some of this stuff away. But I could see the historical value and significance in these items. I felt it was important to save and preserve them so we would have a record of where the industry came from."

Bill and Joyce are no strangers to the likes of Hershey and numerous other well-known swap meets. He's an avid reader of national classified ads; any form of communication that would lead to a vintage piece of speed equipment has Bill's attention. As Bill's collection of engines and parts grew, his collecting became more deliberate.

It should be noted there are specific days and hours the museum is open; once-weekly tours on Fridays at 2 p.m. from October through April; from May through September there are daily 2 p.m. tours Monday through Friday. It's best to call and make an appointment and there's a $10 charge per person for a guided tour, plus the museum is available for special club and group events throughout the year. You will be hard pressed to get more for your money anywhere else than this two-hour tour will provide.

We spent a day and a half and still felt as if there was much more we should have looked at more closely. The attention to detail within the museum is truly amazing and it is here the real car enthusiast will want to spend his or her time. Enjoy visiting the past like no other place can offer.

SOURCE
Museum of American Speed
402-323-3166
www.museumofamericanspeed.com
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