If you are an Indianapolis 500 fan, it’s a must-see.
If you’re not, you might become one if you pay a visit.
Racing fan or no, if you’ve so much as heard of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, you’re bound to find something of interest at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
Home to a priceless collection of racecars, artifacts, memorabilia and the iconic Borg Warner Trophy, the sprawling facility is a shrine to racing in general and the Indy 500 in particular.
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Located between Turns 1 and 2 inside the famous 2½-mile oval, the museum features everything from the first car to win the Indy 500 (Ray Harroun’s Marmon Wasp) to the most recent winning car (Juan Pablo Montoya’s Dallara Chevrolet) to scores of cars in between.
Cars from NASCAR, Formula I and a host of other race series — dating from the dawn of racing to the present day — also are on display.
“It appeals to everybody. It’s obviously very visual,” said museum spokesman Steve Shunck, noting the array of colors, wheel sizes and chassis shapes and sizes during a recent tour.
Established in 1956 by late Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony Hulman, and celebrating its 50th anniversary in the same year next month’s historic 100th running of the Indy 500, the museum at any one time has 75 cars on display.
In total, the museum has about 350 in its collection. Vehicles rotate throughout the year.
Typically, up to 40 cars that have won the 500 are on display, including the yellow Marmon Wasp, which Harroun piloted in 1911 in winning the first Indy 500.
Harroun’s car is among a number of items on permanent display, including the Borg-Warner Trophy, which features sculpted visages of every Indy 500 winner.
Cast of sterling silver, the trophy stands 5-feet, 4¾ inches tall and weighs 80 pounds. It was forged in 1935 for $10,000.
Today, it’s estimated value today is $3.5 million. And it is but one of a wealth of treasures inside the museum, which also features vintage photos, storyboards and a 20-minute film that tells the history of the Indy 500 — a history that nearly ended with the outbreak of World War II in 1941.
Because of the war, there were no races between 1942 and 1945. There was in fact no guarantee racing would resume until Hulman bought the track from Rickenbacker, a World War I flying ace, and racing resumed in 1946.
The Indy 500 has been the world’s most famous race ever since, and it’s history is on full display at the museum — to be appreciated by race fans and non-race fans alike.
With the 100th running of the Indy 500 rapidly approaching, museum officials expect heavier than normal visitor in the coming days and weeks.
More than 250,000 people pass through the exhibits annually.
A popular attraction at the moment is the Team Penske 50th Anniversary Exhibition, which features 11 winning cars driven by Roger Penske drivers, including Mark Donohue, Rick Mears, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi and Helio Castroneves, among others.
“It’s an education. Whether you want to or not, you come in here and you learn something about the history of the 500 and the state of Indiana and Tony Hulman,” Shunck said. “He purchased the track in 1945 after World War II and saved the track.
“The race was probably not going to be run after World War II, and he bought the track from Eddie Rickenbacker for $750,000 and turned it around. That May (of 1946), they had a 500. People needed something to do after World War II that was fun.”
What: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
Where:4790 W. 16th St., Speedway, 46224
Admission: Adults $8; youths 6 to 15, $5; children 5 and younger, free
Grounds tours: $30 for adults, $12 youth
Track laps (a 1-lap narrated trip around the track on an IMS bus): Adults $8, Youth $5, children 5 and younger free
Operating hours: March through October, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; November through February, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; open every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
General information: Entrance into the grounds is free on non-event days. During race events the Speedway charges admission fee or requires a ticket to get onto the grounds. This general admission fee or ticket price does not include admission to the museum.