- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS — Peek through the double-wide wooden doors into the replica A.J. Foyt garage. Marvel at Carl Fisher’s one-of-a-kind 1905 Premier, a hulking skeleton of steel that was too heavy to race. Walk through a 100-year timeline of technology and fashion, of helmets and goggles, of silver trophies and bronze sculptures and gold medallions.

For more than 50 years, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum has shared the history of automobile racing with the nearly 250,000 visitors who pass through each year — a third of them during May, when the 2-1/2-mile track gears up for the annual Indianapolis 500, which takes place this year on May 27.

“What you see on display is not everything that they have,” said Donald Davidson, the Speedway historian, whose office is situated inside the 96,000-square-foot building that houses the designated National Historic Landmark.

“There is a rotation. They try to keep the things that you would expect to see here all the time,” Mr. Davidson said. “Like the Marmon Wasp that won the race in 1911 is here virtually all the time.”

The original museum, a small, single-story brick building on the southwest corner of the grounds, outside the track, opened in 1956 with six vintage cars from the private collection of the late Speedway owner Tony Hulman, a Terre Haute, Ind., businessman-sportsman who bought and restored the track after World War II.

The collection soon outgrew the building, and Mr. Hulman opened the current facility inside the gates in April 1976.

Visitors can view the Borg-Warner Trophy, a 5-foot sterling silver monument that bears the bas-relief likeness of each Indianapolis winner. Then there are the cars — about 85 on display at all times.

“Virtually everything you see on the cars is original,” Mr. Davidson said. “You can trace it all the way through, so we’re very, very fortunate.”

The collection includes Ray Harroun’s Wasp, built in Indianapolis and the winner of the inaugural 500 almost a century ago; Joe Dawson’s 1912 National; the 1922 Murphy Special, built by Duesenberg and the only race car to win both LeMans and the Indy 500; and all four of Mr. Foyt’s winning cars. There’s also the Belond Special that won in 1957 with Sam Hanks and in 1958 with Jimmy Bryan, the only car to win twice with different drivers.

More than 30 of the cars are race winners. Others, such as the car driven in 1977 by Janet Guthrie, the first woman in the Indy 500, mark key events in racing history.

“It’s an honor that I could have never expected,” Miss Guthrie said of her car’s inclusion. “But I guess when you break a trail, I guess it’s inevitable.”

The oldest car is the one commissioned by Fisher, one of the Speedway’s four founders, and built by Premier, an Indianapolis passenger car company. Fisher, who later drained a Florida swamp and turned it into Miami Beach, wanted to compete in the Vanderbilt Cup Race on Long Island, N.Y., America’s most prestigious race at the time, but the Premier exceeded the 2,200-pound maximum.

“So what they did was try and make the thing as light as possible,” Mr. Davidson said. “They started drilling holes in the frame.”

After 470 holes, they stopped drilling, fearing any more would cause the bodyless vehicle to collapse. The car was still 120 pounds too heavy, forcing a withdrawal.

Fisher raced the car, which cost $15,000, only once — on Nov. 5, 1905, winning on the Indiana State Fairgrounds 1-mile horse track.

Although heavy on its Indy 500 roots, the museum also pays homage to the other races held at the track each year — Formula One’s U.S. Grand Prix and NASCAR’s Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. There also are midget and sprint cars and European sports cars; the NASCAR collection includes a No. 43 Pontiac driven by Richard Petty and Indiana native Tony Stewart’s No. 20.

Martin Kieslich, a German exchange student, was pleased to see helmets worn by retired F1 driver Michael Schumacher during a recent visit, which included a museum-sponsored ride around the famed racetrack — in a shuttle bus, though, not a race car.

“You always see the Indianapolis 500,” Mr. Kieslich said. “It’s strange to think that you yourself are on that track.”

One of the most valuable cars in the museum’s collection is a streamlined 1954 Formula One Mercedes-Benz. A similar car sold several years ago in England for about $10 million, Mr. Davidson said.

One of the most exotic cars is a 1957 SS Corvette built from a stripped-down Jaguar D Type by a group of General Motors engineers who wanted to get into international competition to beat Ferrari and Maserati.

“I don’t know if they even had a budget. They just started working on the thing,” Mr. Davidson said. The car had an experimental magnesium body and set a lap record at Sebring, Fla., but dropped out of the race early. Shortly after that, GM pulled the plug on the program.

Besides the Borg-Warner Trophy, the museum displays the 6-foot silver Wheeler-Schebler Trophy, which was commissioned from Tiffany & Co. for about $10,000 and first awarded to the winner of a 300-mile race at the Speedway in 1909, the year the track opened and two years before the first 500. There also is a mammoth photograph archive — now being digitized — dating from 1909.

Ron McQueeney, the Speedway director of photography, said the archive has 4 million images.

It’s a fitting collection for the city known as the “racing capital of the world,” said Adam Wardlow, 18, of nearby Martinsville. “This is one of the main attractions of our city.”

Associated Press writers Michael Marot and Cliff Brunt contributed to this story.

• • •

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, 4790 W. 16 St., Indianapolis (between the first and second turns at the south end of the racetrack infield); visit www.indianapolismotor speedway.com/museum or phone 317/492-6747. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (closed Christmas) with extended hours in May (open whenever the gate is open). Adults, $3; ages 6-15, $1.

The 15-minute narrated tour with a shuttle bus ride around the track costs an additional $3. Also available are 90-minute tours of the grounds on selected dates; adults, $24 (includes museum admission).

The Indianapolis 500 race takes place May 27 at 1 p.m. Tickets begin at $20; call 800/822-4639.

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