New. Improved. Fresh: words that are essential to the lexicon of modern marketing. Museums on the other hand are, by their nature, dealing in the past. Filled with artifacts and archives from bygone eras, museums are still enterprises that must attract visitors and benefactors to keep the doors open and lights on. Does that mean that they, too, must also find their own path to relevancy?
“It was something that was on our minds from the get-go,” says Matt Anderson, transportation curator at The Henry Ford about planning for the “Driven to Win: Racing in America presented by General Motors” exhibit. “How do we keep the exhibit fresh? How do we stay current with not only the trends in racing, but culture in general?
“Part of the solution was to leave some expansion space within the exhibit that would allow us to bring in cars from the recent past,” Anderson explains. “But in a more immediate sense, we wanted to make sure we found ways to bring in the racing world of today. While museums are necessarily about history, and we at The Henry Ford are no different, we are mindful of conveying the idea that motor racing isn’t a thing of the past. It continues on.”
One simple, yet elegant solution is a countdown clock (ABOVE) – prominent within the exhibit – that counts down to the next race each week. It includes tent pole events such as the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, along with smaller, regional events that represent the entire spectrum of American racing. Alongside it is another digital display with a curated Twitter feed from drivers, teams, sanctioning bodies and venues that continuously refreshes with all the buzz of the moment.
Another significant part of The Henry Ford’s vision with the Driven to Win exhibit is to build new audience for the sport, which resulted in including several interactive elements central to achieving that aim. For the youngest visitors, there’s a gravity racing activity (BELOW) similar to a Pinewood Derby. For others, there are high-end motion simulator rigs that allow visitors to drive a number of world circuits. There’s also a synaptic training rig used to test and improve hand-eye coordination that was developed in conjunction with Indianapolis-based Pit Fit, renowned for training a number of current NTT IndyCar Series drivers.
“We certainly wanted interactive elements within the exhibit,” Anderson continues. “But more than just being interactive, we wanted to convey the idea that racing drivers are indeed athletes. So to that end, it’s common to hear people walking away from the exhibit with a new-found understanding and respect for what the modern day racing driver experiences, and what specific skills are needed to do what they do.”
It’s not just about physical attributes, but also the mental aptitude required by both the drivers and their technical teams. (BELOW) To showcase this aspect of the sport, a pit wall from Le Mans was recreated with all of the actual data telemetry and radio chatter from one of the GTE Pro-class-winning Ford GTs of 2016. It’s all synced with onboard video to give a complete perspective.
According to Andersen, the exhibit will also be a constant work in progress. New cars and artifacts are already in the works to cycle through, despite the display having only opened in March of 2021, proving that Driven to Win is always new and always improving.
The Henry Ford, in Dearborn, Mich., just west of Detroit, occupies a 250-acre campus with three separate attractions, including the Ford Rouge Factory where the Ford F-150 truck is made.
The new “Driven to Win: Racing In America presented by General Motors” exhibit occupies 24,000sq.ft of The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. It includes 22 racecars, 225 racing artifacts, a theater, and so much more, all helping to trace more than 125 years of American racing.
The exhibit is subdivided into eight zones covering topics that range from The Dawn of Racing to modern-day Motorsports Performance Training.
Plan your visit and get more details at thehenryford.org.