Preserving the rough and tumble history of auto racing is the mission of the Virginia Motorsports Museum & Hall of Fame in Stuart.
The museum is housed in the Patrick County site of Patrick Henry Community College. It is open from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and other times by appointment, according to Dink Gardner, a retired probation officer who was the first community leader named to the Martinsville Speedway’s 500 Committee, a group of area residents who help during race weekend.
There is no admission fee at the museum, but donations are welcome, Gardner said. The museum is operated by volunteers and runs on donations.
“We are taking donations. We look for the economy to get better and we hope to find somebody who believes that we can’t let this (history) die” and will help it cope with financial difficulties, he said. “We can’t let this get away.”
Gardner talked about the history of auto racing and NASCAR in Virginia and the memorabilia in the museum on Thursday during Patrick County for Motorsports Day activities. About 100 people attended the program.
Just inside the museum’s door, a working still is set up as it would have been back in the early days of racing, Gardner said. It is a bow to Motorsports humble beginnings, he said.
Although moonshine was produced before, Gardner said that after World War II, servicemen came back home after having grown addicted to the dangers of battle.
Moonshining, he said, “gave a lot of them an outlet” for those feelings, because the illegal whisky was produced in the woods and then transported by cars and trucks to its destination.
Along the way, manufacturers and drivers had to dodge authorities.
Many returning servicemen learned they could continue to experience danger, thrills and fun by moonshining, Gardner said. “And they learned they could make a little money” in the process.
As hauling moonshine became more prevalent, Gardner said bets were made on “who was best” at driving and avoiding detection. “That is what became NASCAR,” he added.
In those days, Gardner said there were no paved tracks. Often, someone “would do a little grading” and drivers would “get up and go” on the surface.
Some races were held on what was “basically nothing but a football field,” he said.
Besides the still, the museum also is home to racing artifacts, including decades-old posters, a display that shows “the evolution” of uniforms worn by pit crews, photographs, racing programs and even a piece of original concrete from the Martinsville Speedway that was part of a larger piece that “chunked up with Jeff Gordon five or six years ago,” Gardner said.
Several cars are housed in the museum, including “a 1950-something” Chevrolet that looks like “they just turned it off” after a race, Gardner said of the car that was driven by Bob Combs.
For more information about the museum or to make an appointment for a tour, call 694-8778.
Patrick County for Motorsports Day also included a showing of “Hey Pops: the Curtis Turner Story” and a tour of the Wood Brothers Museum. Harold Smith of Bassett, who owns two cars in the museum, talked about his 60 years in racing, and Howard DeHart of Meadows of Dan, who is remembered as the genius of regional engine building in Southwest Virginia, was present.
Patrick Henry Community College motorsports displayed the cutaway car, and 20 to 30 students from Patrick County High School attended. The event was a collaboration between the museum, Patrick County Recreation Department and PHCC.