The Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s museum, which looks much as it did when it opened in its current location 40 years ago, may be on the verge of transformation.
“The lighting, the technology, it’s vintage 1976,” said Betsy Smith, who is in her second year heading the nonprofit foundation that operates the museum. “We’re a racing museum, but nothing in here moves. Except the trophy.”
She nodded toward the Borg-Warner Trophy, the 5-foot tall Indy 500 winner’s trophy, which was rotating slowly on a sort of mechanical lazy Susan. “I’d like to get some interactive technology in here and some video so that visitors could really experience racing,” she said.
Smith, who was chief fundraiser for the Indianapolis chapter of the Nature Conservancy before joining the museum as its executive director, said board members recently gave the OK to explore a plan that would double the size of the building, a move she figures might cost $100 million.
She envisions meeting rooms, classrooms and additional event space that would draw more people and generate revenue. The additional space also would allow the museum to show off more of its storied collection.
Now, about 60 cars are displayed in the museum’s 30,000 square feet. The foundation owns 300 additional cars that for lack of space gather dust in the museum’s basement. “You never want to display your entire collection all at once,” Smith said, “but (with the expansion) we could display maybe 150 and rotate them more often.”
Instead of visitors simply inspecting parked cars, she wants to do a better job of telling the stories of the cars, possibly with video tablets placed around the vehicles that show the race cars actually racing or by other high-tech methods. “Like a hologram of Donald Davidson that you could ask questions to,” Smith said. Davidson is the Speedway’s encyclopedic historian who is known for having the most minute detail at his fingertips.