Bill Smith loved auto racing as a youth. Once he finished college, rather than go into teaching which he had prepared to do in college, Smith pursued his love of auto racing. Smith opened Speedway Motors auto shop in 1952. Following years of collecting a variety of race cars, Smith and his wife Joyce opened the Museum of American Speed in Lincoln.
Since 1992, fans of racing, unique cars and toys have visited the museum, located about a six-minute drive from downtown Lincoln. Exhibits range from an autographed Indy 500 car to the world’s largest collection of pedal cars, the museum offers something interesting for everyone. Each item on three floors of displays has been collected by the Smiths and their family for more than 60 years.
I wouldn’t call Lisa or myself racing enthusiasts, but we enjoy learning about new things. The Museum of American Speed offers a look at the history of auto racing, as well as other automobiles. Exhibits identify cars in groups, including Sprint cars, Rim Riders, fastest racing circuits and master drivers.
A visit to the Indy car pit features a car which ran on the famous track in Indianapolis. The Mallard Turbo Offy made its debut for the 1967 Memorial Day weekend race. The driver logged a speed of 162.411 mph but failed to qualify. The car made it into the race in 1968 but dropped out after nine laps when a piston went out.
The museum includes a section on hot rods, such as the Red Baron, Boothill Express (a jazzed-up hearse) and Brown Bag Jazzer. I am impressed with cars being displayed in scenes, such as a hot rod in front of a gas station.
The Tucker was considered the most complete car when it debuted in 1948, with independent suspension and safety glass among its features. The brainchild of industry executive Preston Tucker, only 51 vehicles were produced.
Hollywood actress Hedy Lamar’s 1958 Cadillac is displayed. The vehicle appears to be in mint condition. Lamar gave the car to her gardener as a retirement gift. Following his death, the gardener’s son sold it. It eventually found its way to the Lincoln museum.
In addition to auto racing, the museum offers a look at land speed trials. Streamliners up to 30 feet long have raced across the Bonneville Flats in Utah at speeds up to 300 mph.
The museum looks at Americans’ love for cars beyond the race track. Home to the world’s largest collection of pedal toy cars, the Museum of American Speed pares them with other toys and games. The museum has loaned pedal cars to other museums as special exhibits.
Soap Box Derby history is shared with visitors through exhibits and models of cars.
Honoring movies based on auto racing, movie posters adorn the walls of a stairwell. Paul Newman, an idol during his heyday on the big screen, developed a love for racing when he filmed “Winning” in 1969, which also starred his real-life wife Joanne Woodward and actor Robert Wagner. Newman won several races as a driver afterward, as well as funding other drivers in races. Looking at the posters gives visitors a list of Who’s Who in the racing movie industry.
The museum looks at American pop culture with a large exhibit of metal lunch boxes. I recalled seeing a couple I had as a kid, including a “Planet of the Apes” lunch box. I enjoyed checking out a “Bonanza” lunch box and milk container. The show was a popular long-running western on television and featured Michael Landon, who went on to star in “Little House on the Prairie” and “Highway to Heaven.”
When you visit the museum, ensure you look at the autographed guitars on the ceiling on the first floor near the stairwell.
The Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed offers an interesting and in-depth look at not only racing history but a family’s love of the sport. We strongly recommend visiting the museum.
For hours and admission, please visit the museum’s website.