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What's Next for the Indy 500 Museum

What's Next for the Indy 500 Museum
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With the 99th annual Indianapolis 500-Mile Race just around the corner in May, we figured it was a good time to sit down with Indianapolis 500 historian Donald Davidson to discuss what’s coming up soon for racing fans visiting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway “Hall of Fame” museum.  

Davidson has been the Official Indianapolis 500 Historian since Jan. 1, 1998, but his interest in motor racing started in England when he was a teen-ager back in the ‘50s. He says that racing drivers were celebrities there at that time. “I mean, you couldn’t not know who they were,” he explained. “It was Cricket, football (soccer) and motor racing - they were the Big 3 sports.”

Davidson was interested in Grand Prix racing at first. “As I got further into it, I stumbled upon this thing called the Indianapolis 500,” he recalled. “Something about id fascinated me, so I started reading more and more about it.” Since Davidson has a “photographic memory” he remembered what he had read.

“The way I was brought up you saved if you wanted something,” Davidson pointed out. “So I saved and was finally able to make a trip to the race in 1964. It was sort of a dream come true, because doors opened up for me and the drivers, mechanics and crew members gave me the red carpet treatment.” Knowing the names and histories of all those people and being a Brit made Davidson popular.

The racing fraternity treated him so well that he soon applied for a visa and green card so he could get a job here. “Andy Granatelli was one of the people I talked to about a job,” Davidson said. “I didn’t really see that working out, but a man named Henry Banks—a 500 driver and former national champion—was Director of Competition for the United States Auto Club (USAC) which sanctioned the 500. Henry said he might have work for me at USAC.”

That was in 1965, the same year that Sid Collins took Davidson under his wing and put him on the Indy Radio Network. “I was part of the Radio Network crew then and I’m still doing that today,” Davidson pointed out. “I owe a great number of people a great deal of gratitude, but especially Henry and Sid.”

On a day-to-day basis, Davidson does it all from writing a blog, to identifying drivers and mechanics in old racing photos to penning pieces for the Indianapolis 500 Programs. He is currently “massaging” the write-ups for all the drivers who’ve been inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame, which is housed at the Hall of Fame museum. “The bios need some tweaking and that’s easier said than done,” according to Davidson. “After all, there’s 148 of them.“

Davidson revealed that the museum staff is working on an exciting new project to replace the Turbine Racing Car exhibit that’s been a featured attraction. The new focus will be on the American Eagle cars made by Dan Gurney. “We’re going to have three winning cars including the Bobby Unser Eagle that won in 1968 and 1975 and the ’73 that Gordon Johncock took the checkered flag with,” said Davidson. “Then, there’s Gurney’s second place finisher from 1969 and his 1967 Belgium Grand Prix winner. That was the only time, since the World Championship of Drivers started in 1950, that an American won driving an American car.” Also anticipated is the 1967 Ford that Gurney and A.J. Foyt drove to victory at LeMans that year. According to Davidson, the exhibition featuring the American Eagles is scheduled to replace the Turbine Racing Car show next year.

Donald Davidson has been the Official Historian of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race since 1998.

The Hall of Fame has been showcasing cars that won the Indianapolis 500 for almost 70 years.

Davidson has been “massaging” the write-ups for all 148 drivers who’ve been inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

One of the museum’s longest-running attractions is the Marmon Wasp that won the first 500-mile race in 1911.

Davidson’s favorite Indy 500 racing car is the Belond Special that won in 1957 with Sam Hanks driving and in 1958 with Jimmie Bryan driving.

In addition to racing cars, the Hall of Fame has classics like this 1922 Davis touring car