Setting Top Speedand Low E.T. for Motorsports Museums

The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by Automobile Club of Southern California recently opened its new interactive exhibit hall, the Gallery of Speed, which brings to life significant moments in American motorsports and car culture.

The Gallery of Speed allows you to step back to the humble beginnings of the NHRA and experience how hot rodding and motorsports have touched our lives through innovation, engineering and design.

I believe that the new Gallery of Speed will capture the visitor’s imagination and inspire all ages for years to come. It’s an exhibit our founder Wally Parks would be very proud of.

The McMullen ’32 Ford highboy roadster. After appearing on nine magazine covers, four record albums and in several television shows and movies, this is possibly the world’s most famous street roadster. Featuring a supercharged small-block Chevrolet engine and iconic flames designed by the late “Big Daddy” Ed Roth, the car was named one of the 75 Most Significant Deuces for an exhibit celebrating the ’32 Ford’s 75th anniversary. Restored by Roy Brizio Street Rods, it’s on loan from Mecum Auctions.

“The new Gallery of Speed is not just an exhibit, but an innovative and original learning experience providing a unique look into the fascinating world of hot rodding and motorsports,” the NHRA Museum’s Executive Director Larry Fisher said. “Here we will begin to tell the stories of the great American hot rod, and those who built and raced them, in a new light. We will not only celebrate the cars, but the people, the engineering, the science and the sheer audacity of those who pushed the limits in their pursuit of speed.”

The Gallery of Speed features five focal areas: The origins of hot rodding, land speed racing, the early days of the NHRA and the influence of custom car design. The immersive exhibit offers a fascinating assemblage of historical vehicles, artifacts, interactive touchscreens, images, oral histories, life-sized sculptures designed by Weldon Exhibits and other articles of historical and cultural significance.

The Chrisman #25 dragster. Arguably the world’s oldest living hot rod, it is believed to have been built in the early ’30s as a track car. It was raced at dry lakes time trials through the late ’40s. In the early ’50s, Art Chrisman raced it at Santa Ana dragstrip. In 1953 he lengthened it and added disc wheels to make it more suited to the new sport. It became the first dragster to exceed 140 mph. It made the first run at the first NHRA Nationals in 1955. It was restored by Chrisman to its 1953 trim and was gifted to the museum by Bill Lindig and family of Houston. It’s in competition with The Albertson Olds dragster. In the late ’50s, commercially manufactured dragster chassis saved racers money and allowed them to race safely. This car, based on a Chassis Research K-88 frame, took its name from Culver City, CA’s Albertson Olds dealership. The team of Ronnie Scrima, Gene Adams, Leonard Harris and later Tom McEwen, won an amazing 12 consecutive Top Eliminator wins at Lions Drag Strip. At the sixth NHRA Nationals in Detroit, the team set Low Elapsed Time and beat 34 other dragsters to become the national champion. It was restored for the museum by noted Oldsmobile racer Don Ratican.

The Gallery of Speed will ignite the visitor’s quest for knowledge regarding this intriguing aspect of our culture. The exhibit is designed to be a fun learning experience combined with hands-on activities and touchscreens focused on S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). Visitors can customize their own hot rod, learn the language of hot rodding and listen to candid and inspiring stories from NHRA founder Wally Parks and other motorsports legends.

“We wanted to develop a new approach to learning about the history of hot rodding, motorsports and the individuals who influenced American car culture,” said Greg Sharp, curator of the NHRA Motorsports Museum. “I believe that the new Gallery of Speed will capture the visitor’s imagination and inspire all ages for years to come. It’s an exhibit our founder Wally Parks would be very proud of.”

The Beast III streamliner. In 1952, Chet Herbert, a young Southern California entrepreneur in the camshaft business, decided to build a streamliner from scratch for competition at the Bonneville National Speed Trials. Aerodynamicist Rod Schapel designed the car based on computations and the results of testing a 1:10 scale model in Cal Tech’s wind tunnel. Schapel then built the full-size body from fiberglass. Using a new Chrysler Hemi engine, it arrived a few days after Speed Week began. Driver Art Chrisman attained a one-way best speed of 238.095 mph and a two-way average of 235.991 mph, qualifying Chrisman as a charter member of the Bonneville 200 MPH Club and the Beast as the fastest single-engine car in America. The car was restored by Custom Auto of Loveland, CO and gifted to the museum by Dr. Mark Brinker, M.D. of Houston.

The museum’s newly renovated retail store offers a wide variety of unique and interesting gifts and keepsakes, providing visitors the opportunity to take a reminder of their experience with them.

The NHRA Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  For further information, visit Nhramuseum.org.


The New Gallery of Speed Brings Years of America’s Love Affair With Hot Rodding Vividly to Life

A ’32 Ford featuring the company’s first production V-8 that dominated hot rodding for decades. From the collection of John Lawson, Fresno, CA. Also featured, a ’32 under construction as a hot rod. Featuring an original ’32 Ford chassis and a souped-up Ford flathead engine, the car demonstrates what a hot rod might look like during the process of construction in an enthusiast’s garage. From the collection of John Mumford and Roy Brizio Street Rods, South San Francisco, CA.