The race fans of New England have waited a long time for a premiere racing museum to open in our midst, even though we are one of the hot beds of local racing. On Monday, I finally got to visit the museum headed by Dick Berggren and I was thrilled with the final product.
Sometimes an auto museum is crowded with shiny objects that talk about all the successes related to a car or piece of engineering. If you recognize the team or driver as a fan, you get that little thrill from being up close and personal with the familiar paint jobs, driver’s suits and even trophies. But as we know, racing is not about the pursuit of perfection. It is rather about always pushing the envelope as we seek to fly higher and faster than any that have come before. Progress is not attained in a vacuum of computers and test tubes, but in the wrenches, steel, and combustion of gas and air.
The North East Motor Sports Museum celebrates the entire journey of motorized speed with a wide ranging collection of cars and bikes that at least attempted to surpass the limits of technology. Yes, you will find familiar names along the walls, over the doors, and on the huge trophy collection, but what is far more interesting are the samples of one-off vehicles that don’t exactly look like they sat on the podium.
There’s Doug Gore’s winged modified from 1978 where he moved almost all the weight of the engine and driver onto the left side of the vehicle. You’d recognize many of the innovations on the Mods that visit tracks up and down the East Coast, but this one was the first one. And it didn’t work perfectly, either. The original design was nearly impossible to drive and after adjustments, it only lasted a few short laps before wrecking.
Gore’s machine sits proudly next to Bill Binnie’s LOLA that won the Le Mans 24 in 2004; the car that tried and the car that succeeded. This philosophy of attempts and triumph is repeated throughout the museum’s main floor. Driver’s helmets line the cases, many bearing scrapes and dents from multiple trips into the wall. There are pictures of road races, board racing at Rockingham, and roadsters on Old Orchard Beach.
If any visitor thought that they were going to visit a NASCAR museum, due to its location at the corner of New Hampshire Motor Speedway property, they might be disappointed. There is a Talladega winner, Joey Logano’s first rain-win, and reference to many Busch North drivers, but stock cars are merely a sideline.
There’s a Christmas tree positioned in front of a pair of drag racers. The walls have been covered with blown-up images of the empty strip rolling out before these competitors poised to race off into the distance. Dotting the other wall is a life-sized picture of the grandstand from the New England Dragway filled with fans.
Factory-built motorcycles and ragged racers fit into the corners. Here and there you’ll find a folding chair with a team jacket tossed over the arm, like the car’s pilot wandered off while the team readies the ride for the next feature.
There are no pedestals, but detailed descriptions of each piece and its importance in the frame of motorsports in the region.
I believe my favorite car is the Bannister Dragster from 1954 to 1959. Its bare bones configuration, primer black paint, and chalk-marked racing number speak of a rush to get it to the line. However, the monstrous power plant did manage a very respectable 131 mph when it was unleashed. Ugly? Oh, yes. But the rumble of its engine can still be heard beneath the chatter of museum visitors as they swap stories about their own days at the track.
NASCAR has created a very pretty product that is easily consumed on our big-screen televisions. Even when historic names are mentioned during the weekly broadcasts, it’s easy to believe that race drivers have always climbed from their cockpits in a shiny, embroidered suit ready to smile at the camera. The North East Motor Sports Museum left enough of the dents, grease, and rust around their displays such that the true racing enthusiast shall always know exactly what it takes to be the fastest–a little bit of guts, but a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears.
In the corner of the library of the North East Motor Sports Museum sat a collection of memorabilia that had not yet been prepared for display. Overhead hung a Sam Bass rendering of Ricky Craven’s fabulous photo finish win at Darlington in 2003. I looked back down at the stuff in the corner. In a pile sat the trophy…THAT trophy. Like a little gem hidden away left just for me to discover.
That was a racer’s win–full of grinding sheet metal and fury.
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