500 focus: Indy museum displays dozens of historic racing cars

Facility provides a showcase for cars that have raced around the Brickyard

In the spring of 1956, a few weeks before that year’s running of the famed 500-mile race, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened a small museum in a building just outside Turn One. On display were six vehicles, including the Marmon Wasp that Ray Harroun drove to victory in the first 500 in 1911.

Not counting the crowds that arrived during the month of May, an average of 5,000 people a week visited the museum in the early 1960s. 

Indy museum moved into this building in 1976 and has plans to expand to provide nearly three times as much space

Such crowds and the acquisitions through purchase or donation of many more cars made it obvious that a larger facility was needed, and in 1976 the speedway opened a new, two-story building between the first and second turns inside the Brickyard oval to house a new museum, officially the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, a library, photo archives, gift shop and executive offices.

Subsequently, the executive offices moved to yet a newer building. Their walls were removed and the space was given over for additional museum display. Nonetheless, most of the museum’s 350 racing and classic cars (track owner Tony Hulman has assembled an amazing collection of classic cars) remain stored away from public view. 

So late last year, the museum, operated by a foundation, launched a fund-raising effort with a goal of nearly tripling the available display space and adding hands-on display with modern technology, a STEM-education area, a restoration garage and cafe.

This Indy speedway time line stretches along an entire wall

In the meantime, the museum charges only $10 admission, though there’s an extra charge if you want to include a 30-minute tour of the track that includes a stop so you can kiss the bricks. There also are 90-minute and 2-hour VIP tours available during warm-weather months.

Currently, the upper level of the display is a tribute to Mario Andretti, his career and the 50th anniversary of his victory in the 500. That exhibit ends November 10 and will be replaced by a Gems from the Vault display. 

The lower level features an array of historic Indy racing cars as well as a tribute to Penske Racing and its 50th anniversary of Indy participation and its victories in a variety of racing series. There are more displays down the hallway, including an “Offenhauser Parts Petting Zoo” and a photo opp to take the seat in an Indy car.

For more information, visit the museum website.

 

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