HomeNews and EventsHeartbeat of American motorsports displayed in the country’s heartland

Heartbeat of American motorsports displayed in the country’s heartland

Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed is must-see stop in Lincoln, Nebraska -- and not just for the cars and engines


In the early 1940s, a policeman showed up at the Smith family home in Lincoln, Nebraska, with 12-year-old D. William Smith in tow. Like other youngsters, he had used an old gas-powered Maytag washing machine engine to power a go-kart. Problem was, he’d been driving it down one of the town’s main streets.

From an early age, D. William Smith, to become better known as “Speedy” Bill, had a need for speed. He tinkered with cars, raced them and motorcycles as well, yet went to Nebraska Wesleyan University and graduated with a degree in education. 

But instead of teaching, he borrowed $300 from his fiancé, Joyce — who later would insist that he never officially repaid that loan — and opened a speed shop called Speedway Motors in a 20×20-foot building on Lincoln’s main street, US Route 6/O Street. 

The museum is about preserving American racing history, When the Smiths acquired the garage in which A.J. Watson built his Indy cars, they wanted its display to be so accurate that they used an overhead camera to record all the oil stains on the floor of Watson’s garage so they could be copied in the museum’s display

Fast forward a few decades and the Smiths with their four sons grew Speedway Motors into a major supplier of automotive speed equipment that occupies a half-million square-foot warehouse and headquarters on a 46-acre Lincoln campus just off O Street that since 1992 has included the Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed.

The museum is a separate building just across the parking lot that fills three stores while preserving race cars, engines and historic performance accessories. For example, there’s a large area devoted to Henry Ford’s Model T, and to the parts from Frontenac, Rajo, Riley, Roof and others that, shall we say, accelerated the car’s capabilities. 

Ditto the Flathead Ford V8, with one wall covered by every cylinder head ever created to enhance that engine’s performance, including some experimental models that Ford sold to the museum by mistake and then asked for their return, which Speedway Motors politely declined.

Harry Miller’s role in American motorsports is among those featured. And did you know that Preston Tucker was part of the Ford team at Indy in the mid-1930s?
Creel Bonneville
Racing on the Bonneville Slat Flats has evolved (see cars below) since the days when Ken Walked turned a military-surplus P-38 belly tank into a racing car. In 1984 Roy Creel installed a vintage 4-cylinder engine and was the first to top 200 mph with a 4-banger
The museum has its own engine restoration shop. The museum houses around 120 cars and 600 engines
More cars and engines
French brothers Paul and Angelo Bucciali produced front-wheel drive cars in the 1920s and early ’30s. The one-off ‘Essence of Bucciali TAV-8 cabriolet was inspired by a photo of a French concept car
Smith built the 4x and it went unbeaten through 1 1/2 years of racing, even when it started dead last. Rules said the engine couldn’t be moved, but didn’t say anything about enhancing vehicle dynamics by moving the front axle forward!

But it’s not all just race cars and engines. The museum has one of the world’s largest collections of pedal cars, a couple of walls covered by the metal lunch boxes that kids carried to school in the second half of the 20th century, and a wall devoted to Buck Rogers.

Buck Rogers in a car museum? Museum tour guide Jeff Most (tours are offered at 1 p.m. weekdays) explained that Bill Smith had become a fan of the sci-fi character and early space adventurer while recuperating from Perthes disease, a relatively rare condition that impacts the hip or hips of some children, including Bill Smith, future international motorsports star Bruce McLaren, and me.

I’d heard about the vast collection of the Museum of American Speed, and especially about its collection of racing engines, but until I visited recently, I had no idea about just how impressive the collection and its display might be. 

Our photo gallery really just skims the surface of a collection that continues to expand, recently establishing a partnership with Darryl Starbird’s National Rod & Custom Car Hall of Fame museum in Oklahoma and announcing an upcoming permanent display of historic vehicles from Herzog Motorsports, including Baja and Pikes Peak winners and Jimmie Johnson’s NASCAR Busch Series racer.

Pedal cars
Buck Rogers sled
There’s even a car-themed carousel

The museum is located at 599 Oakcreek Drive, just off West O Street and Interstate 80, and near the state capitol and university. It is open Monday through Saturday in summer months but only Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays from October to April. It is closed on major holidays.

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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