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The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Museum

It is hard to understate the impact the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its signature race: The Indianapolis 500, has had on Indiana. It has ingrained itself into Indiana culture as no other event has. For over 100 years, it has held a wide range of events, from hot air balloon races to the iconic Indianapolis 500 itself.

For the first time in about 20 years, I returned to the track to take a tour of it and visit the onsite Museum. Getting to the Museum involves driving underneath the track, in a surprisingly sizeable multi-lane tunnel. Arriving in the infield, you are presented with a large infield, beyond it is the imposing Museum. I headed inside and for $22 I had a ticket to the Museum and a ride on a trailer around the track (complete with a stop at the start/finish line.) The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is famous for its early days of being paved in bricks, now only a strip at the start/finish line remains.

Located just outside of downtown Indianapolis, the track was founded in 1909 on farmland; in fact, one of the farm’s original barns remains at the track today. Today, it is surrounded by suburbs. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway contains an oval, a road course that uses parts of the oval, and even a dirt track in the infield.

The Track

There are two ways to take a tour around the track: A bus ride, or the open-air “Kiss The Bricks” tour that takes you around the track on an open-air trailer and makes a stop at the iconic brick-covered start/finish line. Literally kissing the bricks is a tradition for victorious race teams since the 1990s. The tour gets you close to some of the “landmarks” of the Indianapolis Speedway. When the tour made its stop at the start/finish line, I was able to get a great look at the newly-installed elevator platform that raises up the winner’s car, the Pagoda, a tall, distinct building that houses race officials as well as broadcasters, and a glimpse into the garage area. 

It is hard to appreciate the size of the track just by seeing it on tv. It is longer than many major oval tracks coming in at 2.5 miles. Standing at the start-finish line and looking towards the previous turn makes it appear to almost disappear into the horizon. To put into perspective just how big the track is, there are several holes of a golf course within the infield of the course compete with water hazards and the branching routes that make up the road course. The shape of the oval stands out as much as its length, with four straights, as opposed to the typical two. There is also very little banking in the corners, especially compared with similar NASCAR tracks like Talladega and Daytona.

As we went around the track; I was blown away by just how big the grandstands are. As you round the final corner to the start/finish line, you become aware of just how many people this track can hold as large grandstands rise on both sides to tower over you. The tour naturally has a stop at the start/finish line, still paved with bricks. Interestingly, the bricks aren’t flush with the track and would undoubtedly be noticeable to racers. 

The Museum

After going around the track, we headed into the Museum through a side door. We were greeted by a cross-sectioned example of the latest Indy car, showcasing the many technologically advanced features of a modern Indy Car. There is also a row of tires, from the earliest tall and skinny tires that looked like they belong on a horse-drawn buggy, to modern wet and dry weather tires. Beyond that was a row of Indy cars and a classic hot rod. The next section was a room with smaller items, including a letter from Enzo Ferrari (in Italian naturally.)

Moving on into the main room, on display were many cars from the Museum’s “vault.” These include both race and non-race vehicles, and some of them had close ties to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Notable cars on display were a Ferrari 250 LM, an early exam of a mid-engine Ferrari, and a Ford GT40. Another iconic race car on display was the 50s era Mercedes-Benz W196. Unique to the W196 is that it is essentially an F1 car with a full body on it, right down to the driver sitting in the middle of it. The body had been added to make it eligible (in its day) for sports car racing, while still maintaining the advantages of an F1 car. The “vault” also included two vehicles owned by Indy 500 super fan Larry Bisceglia. Mr. Bisceglia, who had attended Indy 500 races for decades, was famous for being first in line when the gates opened at the track for the race, even if it meant camping in his vehicle. He was well known enough at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that he was given a key for the track, good for any time, and was even presented with a new Ford Van to replace his old, even for the time, DeSoto on the starting line. Both of those vehicles are on display. There are also some non-racing related vehicles there, such as the 1932 Mercedes-Benz owned by Faisal 1: the former King of Iraq.

The first car to win the Indy 500, the 1911 Marmon Wasp.

The Museum’s main section dedicated to Indy cars spans from the first car to ever win the Indianapolis 500 to some of the most recent. The winning car of the first-ever Indy 500, held in 1911, was one of two cars on display that are part of the National Historic Vehicle Register. The first car to win the 500, a 1911 Marmon Wasp was innovative in that it is believed to the first race car with a rear view mirror. The rear view was actually a concession in the name of safety as the car was entered as a single-seater, with no riding mechanic. In the early days of Indy Car, a mechanic was normally required to ride with the driver. One of the riding mechanic’s jobs was to be an extra pair of eyes for the driver. The other car from the National Historic Vehicle Register is a 1938 Maserati 8CTF.

1938 Maserati 8CTF, another vehicle in the National Historical Vehicle Register.

Since the Museum features over 100 years of Indy cars, it is easy to trace their evolution, from a high center gravity and tall tires to today’s low and sleek cars. The main entrance features a large trophy with the faces of Indy 500 winners on the side. In the early years, both driver and riding mechanic are included on it.

A Mercedes Benz W196, more or less an F1 car with a full body.

The Experience

One of the unique things about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is that you can experience the reason for the Museum onsite. There are multiple races throughout the year, but even if there is no race going on, if you are a motorsports fan, there is bound to be something you’ll enjoy. After visiting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was down to Kentucky’s green hills to the National Corvette Museum, which is the subject of my next blog. You can check out the Speedway’s official website here: indianapolismotorspeedway.com. You can also visit the Museum’s website here: https://indyracingmuseum.org/.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Museum

It is hard to understate the impact the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its signature race: The Indianapolis 500, has had on Indiana. It has ingrained itself into Indiana culture as no other event has. For over 100 years, it has held a wide range of events, from hot air balloon races to the iconic Indianapolis […]

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cars museum travel

The Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum

One of Auburn, Indiana’s great car museums is the Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum. This museum was my third and final car museum stop of the day, having already been to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum and the National Automotive and Truck Museum back in town. It is dedicated to Ford Flathead V-8s and the vehicles that were powered by them. It is incredibly well set up; its displays are far beyond what is often seen at a typical car museum. Being a car museum in Auburn, Indiana means there is stiff competition, however, The Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum holds its own. Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum is located just outside of Auburn, on the other side of the expressway that hosts the Auburn Fall Classic Collector Car Auction. Part of the building itself is made to look like a set of gears and is a replica of the “Ford Rotunda” used at the 1933 Worlds’ Fair. The Ford Rotunda was a gear-shaped building that held the Ford exhibit at the World’s Fair. On the inside of it, there stood a giant globe showcasing Ford factories and resources around the world. It is not far from RM Auctions, which hosts the famous collector car auction in Auburn.

    The Cars

The beginning of the Museum features some of the many cars powered by the flathead V-8 through the years. They even have a cutaway engine on display. Although it is a slight deviation from the V-8, there is also an impressive Lincoln V-12 on display. What surprised me about the Flathead Ford V-8s was just how long they were made. I had always associated them with the 1930s, but they were used in Fords in the U.S. from 1932 until 1953. For perspective, that is the year the Chevy Corvette debuted, and just two years out from the Ford Thunderbird. Although well before the Flathead V-8, there is even a 1904 Ford Model B there. One of the most elegant cars on display is undoubtedly the burgundy V-12-powered 1937 Lincoln Zephyr coupe.

The 1936 Ford Dealership.

A large section of the Museum is dedicated to a replica of a 1936 Ford dealership, complete with every model of car (and pickup) that Ford offered in 1936. A fact that shocked me was that in 1936 the only engine available in Fords was the Flathead V-8. It speaks to how well it was designed, providing both performance and economy, with fuel economy being critical to potential buyers as the depression dragged on. There is even a stainless steel 1936 Ford there. It was the result of a collaboration between Ford and Allegheny Steel. The car was one of several stainless steel concept Fords made over the years. There is a striking contrast between the classic 30s body style and the shine of stainless steel. Unlike the famous stainless steel sports car the DeLorean, the body of the Ford has a chrome-like shine to it. For one year of cars there is a lot of variety, such as the woodie station wagon and the delivery van. To top it all off, there is a period-correct cash register.

The Speed Shop

On the other side of the building is The Speed Shop. It includes a replica of a vintage Indy Car complete with a seat for a riding mechanic (once required for the Indianapolis 500), a hot rod, an early stock car, and some other unique vehicles. There is even a Turbine-powered Ford tractor. There is a large selection of period-correct aftermarket parts for Flatheads and high-performance Flatheads on display. Since so many Flathead V-8s were made, it naturally found its way into hot rods and race cars, which meant there was a strong demand for performance parts.

The Experience

Although The Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum is one of several car museums in Auburn, Indiana. It takes its narrow focus and does it incredibly well, from showroom stock on one end to heavy-specialized race cars on the other end. It does not take long to get through, but it is easy to be drawn in, especially at The Speed Shop. It leaves you with an appreciation for the longevity of and how widespread the Flathead V-8 was, from passenger cars to race cars. It is a name synonymous with V-8s, well before the 426 Hemi or the 350 Chevy Small-block. The Flathead V-8 no doubt influenced engines and helped shape the American car culture for years to come. You can check out their website at fordv8foundation.org. You can check out my blogs about two other great car museums here: Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum and the National Automotive and Truck Museum. Have you been to the Museum, or know a car museum or event I should go to next? Let me know in the comments!

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cars museum travel

The National Automotive and Truck Museum

The National Automotive and Truck Museum, an impressive collection of cars and trucks, is located in Auburn, Indiana. It is an unassuming building neatly tucked away behind the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. It could easily be missed if you were not paying attention. However, not going to The National Automotive and Truck Museum would be doing yourself a major disservice if you are already at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. It is a separate building, although you can get a Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum/National Automotive and Truck Museum combo ticket if you want. It also includes one of the most valuable American vehicles ever made, but more on that later.

Dodge Tomahawk
The Dodge Tomahawk concept bike. Note the VIper V-10.

Pre-war classics and a unique “barn” find.

Once you get your ticket and leave the gift shop, you’ll come across a room chock-full of die-cast cars representing countless brands and models and a collection of pedal cars. Some of these antique pedal cars are nearly identical to their full-sized counterparts, many of which can be found in the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum across the parking lot. Just pass that room; you will find yourself in a large section filled with early 20th century cars. These cars include a 1935 Cord that goes far beyond what would be considered a typical “barn find.” It was buried for years and only dug up in the 1980s. Despite the effects of about 50 years, pressure, dirt, and water, the body is surprisingly intact, given the circumstances.

A picture of a rare painted DeLorean.
A rare red DeLorean. It was part of a factory test to see how paint would work on the stainless steel body.

The Car Room

Exiting that room, you come upon the main room for the car section. It is filled with an incredible amount of variety, from the massive, iconic GM Futurliner, to the diminutive pre-war Austin 7. There’s the replica of the Essex Wire Shelby Cobra race car. There are also some interesting stories behind some of the cars. The 1981 DeLorean with a red paint job? As per the Museum, it was part of a test to see if the paint would work on the unconventional body. The red stands out as almost every DeLorean is the same unpainted stainless steel. The unassuming 1995 Ford Crown Victoria? It belonged to Hollywood Icon Katherine Hepburn. There’s also the legendary concept bike/quad, the Dodge Tomahawk. It is essentially a four-tire motorcycle powered by a Viper V-10 engine. As of writing, I’ve been to this Museum three times, and they keep the cars in rotation.

A picture of a Futurliner.
The Futurliner, notice the central position of the driver.

The Futurliner

At the far edge of the room sits a 1953 GM Futurliner, one of just a handful made. These trucks, which look like an RV mixed with a semi truck toured the country showcasing new-for-the-time technology. They are roughly the size of a full-size RV or a city bus, and the fact that they don’t have side windows them look even larger. One side of the Futurliner opens to show the display, and lights extend up out of the roof, forming a sort of wordless marque. Interestingly, the driver sits in the middle and very high up. When looking up at the Futurliner from the front, it makes you appreciate just how high up the driver is. The engine sits forward, under the driver. Surprisingly, for a vehicle of that size, it does not have two rear axles common in modern city buses and RVs. Instead, it has eight wheels, two at each corner. The front bumpers follow the round front and back of the Futurliner and blend seamlessly into the sides of it. They also have a display example of the type of straight-6 that powered it. One of these sold at an auction for 4.1 million dollars. For a while, this was the most expensive American vehicle ever sold at an auction. You can learn more about the Futurliner on the website Futurliner.org.

A horse drawn fuel tanker.
A horse drawn fuel tanker.

The Truck Room

The basement floor is the truck section, and it takes up almost every bit of space that the ground-floor car level does. It features over 100 years of personal and commercial trucks and even a land-speed record holder semi-truck that did well north of 200 mph. One of the things that immediately catch your attention is the row of fuel-haulers, in ascending order by age, starting with a horse-drawn one. The horse-drawn fuel-hauler is a perfect wordless metaphor for the transitional era of the early 20th century. Walking through the trucks, I was impressed by just how many early 20th century trucks there were, a chain final drive in place of a driveshaft is not an uncommon sight there. A cool thing about the trucks is that some of them come from the area. There is even a bus that was made in Auburn called a McIntyre. The 1911 model they have is far removed from what would constitute a modern bus: Three rows of seats and not a roof or window in sight, but it did what was made to do. Like the car floor above it, the truck section goes way beyond the Big Three, featuring brands like Studebaker and highlighting early examples of familiar truck brands like International.

An antique truck.

The Experience

One of the great things about The National Automotive and Truck Museum is that you can take as much or as little time as you want. The Museum is divided up into several large rooms, and you don’t have to walk far to see it all, despite the size of the collection. However, time permitting, you may feel like digging deeper, reading the stories of the cars and trucks on their plaques, and checking out more of the extensive Futurliner exhibit. If you find yourself at The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, the trip across the parking lot to this Museum is a worthwhile one. The Museum truly is a companion to the ACD Museum, as opposed to an afterthought. You can check out the Museum online at natmus.org. Also, you can view my blog about the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum here: https://carsandadventures.wordpress.com/2020/07/10/the-auburn-cord-duesenberg-museum/. I’ll be writing another blog about the final car museum I visited that day: The Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum. Have you been to The National Automotive and Truck Museum? Let me know in the comments! As always, thanks for checking out my blog!