Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at the Henry Ford Museum of Innovation located in Dearborn, Michigan, is the first to admit that the rollout of the museum’s newest permanent exhibit didn’t exactly line up with the theme of the display.
BY MIKE PRYSON, Auto Week
Driven to Win: Racing in America Presented by General Motors exhibit will open to the public on March 27, about nine months later than originally planned. Such is life in a pandemic, even when it comes to a museum exhibit celebrating fast cars.
Based on the some of the first images, the exhibit—originally slated to open in conjunction with the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix last June—is going to be worth the slower-than-anticipated unveiling, especially to race fans.
And, yes, the museum is open seven days a week to a currently mandated 75% capacity.
“Last year, March and the virus happened and we kind of realized, one, there probably wasn’t going to be a Grand Prix, and two, we had to stop physical work on the exhibit so it wasn’t going to get done in time anyway.” Anderson told Autoweek. “We’ve been in a holding pattern for a little while. We were able to resume work about August or so last year, and then we’re going to end up opening up virtually.
“Now, people around the world who might not have been able to travel physically to Detroit can be a part of it. The opening will be a virtual event, and then people will be able to visit in person the next day on March 27.”
The 24,000-square-foot display covers nearly one-third of the Henry Ford’s existing automobile space. Many of the cars in the exhibit come from the museum’s own collection. Many of the cars have been seen either on the floor of the museum or at different promotional events through the years.
“We are fortunate in having a collection of some fantastic race cars, including a couple early ones—Henry Ford’s 1901 Sweepstakes car that launched the Ford Motor Company in a roundabout way,” Anderson said. “Then there’s the Old 16—the first American car to win the Vanderbilt Cup (in 1908). Those are two we know we wanted to feature right away.
“Then there are the obvious kind of all-stars, if you will, the winning Ford GT Mk IV from Le Mans in ’67, the Jimmy Clark Lotus from Indy in 1965. We acquired some new things for this exhibit, too. We had some holes in our collection that that we wanted to fill with new pieces.”
You won’t, however, find any Formula 1 cars at the Henry Ford.
“We do talk about it briefly, but we don’t have any F1 cars,” Anderson said. “For whatever reason, that series has just never taken off in the U.S. There’s certainly been American drivers and American cars that have done very well over there, but it’s had a hit-and-miss success with fans here.
“Really, from the beginning, our goal was to feature the forms of racing that are the most popular in the United States,” Anderson said. “Stock cars are certainly No. 1, drag racing, as well. But then you think about the kinds of racing that are special to the United States, like land-speed racing. Americans love their speed, and Bonneville is such a unique environment for that sort of thing.”
The Driven to Win exhibit also features Pike Peak and America’s greatest hill climb.
“We’ve got hill-climbing, too,” Anderson said. “That still happens more often in Europe, but here, Pikes Peak is one of the best events in the world. The exhibit is a good mix.
The exhibit features IndyCar and NASCAR, as well as plenty of interactive displays. Test your reaction time next to an NHRA “Christmas Tree.” A 15-minute movie in what is billed as a “multisensory theater” takes visitors to the racetrack and puts them behind the wheel.
“We had to re-write part of the exhibit to address the pandemic,” said Anderson, who spent many a day at the local dirt track growing up in Michigan. “We were always going to have these six simulators in there for people to drive different cars. The simulators took on new relevance when NASCAR drivers were driving simulators in a regular series for a few weeks last year. It’s a new part of the story now.”
Anderson hopes that visitors will enjoy the variety of cars in the collection.
“There are certainly more museums that go deeper into more specific forms—the museum at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is fantastic, the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. We like to say that if you come to us, you get a broader view of all the forms of racing that are popular here in the US.
“We’ve got cars that are worthy of those other museums, but you can see them here alongside cars from entirely different racing series and racing forms.”
It’s a place where visitors can get a little closer to the memories of racing legends like A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Wendell Scott, and Lyn St. James.
“This is the first exhibition of its kind, giving our guests a front row seat to the world of racing,” said Patricia Mooradian, president and CEO, The Henry Ford. “From the smell of the tires, the sound of the vehicles starting their engines, the innovative advancements that have been made over the years, to the various tracks these vehicles have raced on, our staff and partners have certainly brought this exhilarating sport to life on our museum floor.”