There's a shrine to evolution in the unlikeliest of places. It's smack-dab in the middle of the country. It even shares a parking lot with a mail-order retailer. But it's appropriate that the Smith Collection Museum of American Speed reflect the environment that made it possible. If the heartland wasn't already the epicenter of dirt-track racing to begin, then Speedway Motors certainly put it there.
The Museum of American Speed lucks out when it gets mostly complete and clean examples lik
This isn't the first time we've showcased the Smith Collection Museum of American Speed. Editor Brian Brennan showcased the museum in the Winter '11 Street Rodder Premium. In a nutshell the museum represents the preservationist side of the Smith family, the patriarch of which, Bill Smith, founded Speedway Motors in 1952. He and Joyce transformed a small business into a production and retail dynasty that their four sons, Clay, Carson, Craig, and Jason, govern today.
We used the prior story to sell you on the idea of going to see the museum. We still encourage you to go; it really is incredible. But this isn't a story about the displays. Rather this is about the things not on display.
Brennan got more than a story about a museum. He came back with a mandate. You see, the stuff displayed in a museum, any museum, doesn't stand alone. It's merely the product of a whole other world. It takes space, purchasers, organizers, researchers, librarians, restorers, and displays. In that sense the Smith Collection Museum of American Speed is a whole business unto itself.
Work can’t start without researchers like Bob Mays. Mays may joke but he’s serious about h
Naturally an operation on that scale requires a ton of space. The museum itself occupies 135,000 square feet. That's 3 acresof go-fast goodness. But there's a discrepancy: the building's footprint alone is more than halfof that figure. And it has three levels.
So what's with the extra space? "Very few things come here complete," museum operations manager John MacKichan says. "Sometimes we get a pallet with a block on it. It might be a bunch of boxes with random parts. We might not be able to use everything immediately but that doesn't mean we can just get rid of stuff. We might need a specific part to complete another display down the line. Some of these parts are incredibly rare—we have a few that we think are one of one. What do we do if we have to go out searching for such rare parts?"
And it's a real issue. Case in point, carburetors. Most prewar engines ran examples produced in relatively small quantities—Miller, Riley, and Winfield come to mind. As I marveled about a carburetor parts cache in the main storeroom MacKichan lamented the availability of complete examples. "There's a real carburetor shortage," he says. "This looks impressive but these are just parts. We need complete carburetors to display an engine."
Most of the truly rare stuff comes in like this pair of Maxi overhead-valve conversion hea
Here’s what it takes to make it look like the Adams-Moeller that Don Clark and Clem Tebow
New arrivals go in one of two places: immediately on display or in storage. Storage means
1. The storage rooms are nothing if not impressive themselves. This was taken at the mid-way point of just one of them. Our local supermarket would likely fit in this one.
2. Some racers fade into history. Midget racer Dick Manny won't; his V-8/60 engine and possibly other goodies will represent him on the floor. The museum has displays for other regional racers like Johnny Gerber.
3. Rest assured this isn't a random pile of parts. Old axles take up space and a number of these boast quick-change housings. The Sprint Car chassis topside is its own proof of evolution: transverse leaf and radius-rod sockets in the rear but four-link and torsion bars for the front.
4. Here's about 70 years of wheel technology, the oldest easily a century old. There's a wood-spoke wheel at top, a cast-center clincher at bottom, a dental-drive hub laced to a drop-center rim, at least two brake-vent generations of Halibrands, and some unknown but ultra-wide cast Sprint Car wheels.
5. The museum is more than parts and cars; it's a literature repository. Among other things Antigone Jackson scans things like the entire volume of National Speed Sport News that the museum recently acquired. She's got a job ahead of her; she was working on the mid '30s when we were there.
6. A library means nothing without a librarian. That's Marvona Tavlin. She's the keeper of a wall of rolling stacks that occupy nearly two whole walls.
7. You want pistons? None of these has seen a cylinder. In fact some haven't even undergone the final machining operations necessary for their use. But they'll find homes in lonely blocks one day.
8. Around the corner … Hurst Airheart calipers. Most of these appeared N.O.S. In light of the number of '60s and '70s Sprint Car frames turning up in barns these will find new homes sooner than later.
9. We have a soft spot for Halibrand lobster calipers, even if they're impractical for street use (they use pucks rather than conventional pads and suffer kick-back and piston cock). But here's a stack of the things under another stack of what appear to be Hurst Airhearts.