Photo from IMS Museum website
As the elevator reached the bottom floor, I felt I was entering hallowed ground. My Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Basement tour was just moments away. The museum recently began offering tours of what had until now been a very exclusive area of the building. It was like the Speedway’s Forbidden City. People I know who had the fortune to see it seemed sworn to secrecy about its contents. Some of its treasures have been revealed in the From the Vault collection exhibit running currently on the main floor. The exhibit rotates items. there were a few new vehicles upstairs this trip.
My knowledgeable guide, Dennis, and I walked down a quiet hallway past large solid doors with big security combination locks on them. It lent an air of mystery and somberness to the area. We stopped in front of a set of double doors. Dennis opened them. It was pitch black. When the lights finally came on, the hair on my arms stood up and I felt a chill. For someone like me who loves classic cars, I thought I had gone to heaven.
My excitement was tempered a bit when Dennis said I could not take pictures. Since I was already there, I decided to proceed with the tour anyway. Just to the right of the door as we entered were three Formula 1 cars. The first one was Michael Schumacher’s rookie car. next to it sat one of Mario Andretti’s F1 machines, the Parnelli Jones owned car. Dennis took a picture of me standing next to the Schumacher car.
I’m not sure how many cars reside in the basement, but there were double rows of automobiles, race cars and passenger cars, all around the perimeter walls. Dennis told me some car will be sold because the museum’s future focus will be cars that have some relationship to the Speedway. others belong to the Hulman-George family and will be returned to them.
One of the race cars that caught my eye was a dirt/speedway car from the early 1950’s. Jimmy Bryan drove it to second place in the 1954 Indianapolis 500. Jim Rathmann, Bob Sweikert, and A. J. Foyt also drove the car. it wears the livery of Dean Van Lines. This car compares to the Boyle Maserati in having a string of outstanding drivers in the pilot’s seat. The Maserati was driven by Wilbur Shaw, Ted Horn, and Bill Vukovich.
Some other vehicles of note are Mary Hulman’s Rolls-Royce, which she drove just one time to the grocery store. The car attracted so much attention that she hired a chauffeur to drive it after that. I liked the early 1900s Apperson and the Duesenbergs that reside in the depths of the museum. There are also several of the actual pace cars. Of note is the original 1996 Dodge Viper that was scheduled to pace the field, but was pulled at the last minute because it contained Japanese parts. Another version of the Viper, which also sits in the vault, led the field to the green that year.
A single row of vintage cars along the wall to the right includes an 1886 Daimler and a Benz of the same year. these were basically carts with bench seats and a rudder for steering with a tiny motor in the back. Some other cars along that wall, from 1916, have roots in the Hulman-George family. Tony George was driven to school in one of them.
The 30 minute tour costs $100 and online reservations are recommended at indyracingmuseum.org. I had planned to just visit the museum and make a reservation for the tour another day. Since it was early and they had no tours scheduled, I got to take the tour immediately. .