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Safety Through The Years

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For Day Three of Racer Appreciation Week, the Speedway Motors team paid a visit to the Museum of American Speed, conveniently located just across the street, for a look at safety through the years.

We open with Tim, Museum Curator, and Pat, resident Street Rod & Muscle Car Techhere at Speedway Motors.

The first car that Tim and Pat talk about is a 1935 Miller-Ford Race car. Something built purely for speed; Tim equates the car to the modern X-Games and street racers of today.

Next to receive a visit is number 45, a barn fresh unrestored single seat racer. Tim tells us that this would have been one of the first cars to have seat belts installed in it, though not for what you would think. Back then, the method of thinking was in the event of a wreck, you should bail out. The reason the seat belts were installed in this particular car, was because of the track. Tim said the driver, Joie Chitwood, installed the belts because the track was so bumpy he couldn’t keep his foot on the gas pedal.

The guys move over to the display case housing the helmet collection. Seeing some of the older style helmets, things that look to be nothing more than a simple hard-hat, you can get an idea of how much the science of helmets has evolved through the last 70 years.

The guys visit over the evolution of the race car in general, from the open cabin cars of the first racers, to the roll-bar protected cabins, and into the current fully-caged chassis currently in use today.

The guys spend some time slowly touring the Museum, talking about various things from the hidden squirrel hanging out in a display, to Tim’s personal favorite, the Art Garrett Dry Lakes hot rod. Another neat thing that is on display is the suit that safety pioneer Bill Simpson of Simpson Racing used to demonstrate the level of protection. Back in 1989 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Bill suited up and had a crew spray him down with gasoline. The, he lit himself on fire to show the protection his suits offered. While on the subject of fire, Pat does touch on the fact that some classes of racers may now require an on-board suppression system.

Moving through the Museum, Tim and Pat stop to talk a bit about the streamliners in the Museums’ care. One in particular is the MacKichan/Schulz Streamliner that set the record for the fastest Small-Block Chevy, 347 miles per hour. Prior to that record though, the car was involved in a rollover. Tim said he likes to think the extensive safety measures built into the car is the reason the driver survived.

A sort of culminating point the guys visit on was the 24 Hours of LeMans Cadillac the Museum has on display. These cars were essentially engineered to blow to pieces in a wreck, all the while protecting the drivers in a safe cocoon. The guys also talk a bit about the NASCAR vehicles they have on display through the years, from David Pearson’s Daytona 500 car from 1976, to the 2010 Kasey Kahne Ford Fusion outfitted with a full containment ButlerBuilt seat.

Wrapping up, if you ever find yourself near Lincoln, Nebraska, you should stop in. They guys only showed you about a quarter of the first floor. That leaves 2 complete floors full of automotive memorabilia and history for you to enjoy. For more information on museum tours, events, and more, please visit

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