Watkins Glen, NY – May 2018 – Let’s Go Racing

Watkins Glen International Raceway is one of the most famous race tracks in the world. Opened in 1956 it for many years hosted the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix, although they haven’t raced that series here for a couple of decades.

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We were in the area and I wanted to go by to see if I could get in to check out the track, only to have the pleasant surprise that they were racing – and I could get in for free!

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The people racing there are part of an organization called ChampCar – a low budget racing series that allows many who otherwise couldn’t afford to race the chance to get on the track.

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For this Friday afternoon they were practicing with the full compliment of course workers to keep things in order.

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The pits and garages were open.

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As noted pretty much any car with the correct safety gear can race – including what appeared to be an old surplus German police car.

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The Watkins Glen track is 3.4 miles long up and down the New York countryside hills.

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With 11 turns offering a variety of views.

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The air was filled with the buzzing of small engines cranking at max RPMs.

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Many cars did have sponsors to offset the costs.

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It was a nice afternoon of racing.

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Columbus – April 2018 – SCCA Tech Day

For more than 70 years the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) has lead the effort for grass roots road racing across the country. While it does promote professional racing, it is best known for making racing somewhat affordable to all who want to race.

The Alliance Autosport team is based on the west side of Columbus in a nondescript industrial park building (on the outside – inside it is great). On this cold Saturday they were holding a ‘Tech Day’ to get ready for the upcoming season and hold an open house to encourage others to check out racing.

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Alliance Autosport offers ‘Arrive and Drive’, the ability to rent race cars, thus avoiding the high cost of ownership. Their collection of cars were neatly stacked on pallet racks

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Most of the cars they have run Spec Racer Ford Generation 3 engines. The theory behind these engines, and the car setup in general is that by prohibiting modifications it makes all the cars equal, as well as keeps the cost down.

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A couple of the cars were down on the floor with their covers off for closer inspection…

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While the racked ones gave an interesting perspective. Everyone at the event were passionate about racing and very welcoming for a couple of people wandering in to check it out. It’s time to go racing!

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Springfield, OH- August 2017 – Wake on the Lake

A beautiful sunny Saturday was perfect for boat racing in the prairie, specifically at a man made lake that used to be a quarry, at the county fairgrounds, in Springfield Ohio.

The boats started from the ‘beach’, which meant their support team has to hold them in place then try not to get blasted by the water when they take off.

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While focused on the boats, in the end the water spray patterns added to the photos.

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There were two classes of boats, all with great paint jobs.

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The boats could corner at nearly 100 MPH.

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This boat lead his entire race until the last lap.

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When he got caught up in lapped traffic and was passed down the final straight.

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Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky Mountains – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 9

It was a very winding road from Boone, North Carolina passing through Mountain City on the way. Mountain City had numerous Christmas tree farms preparing the trees for delivery to the holiday sale lots. The two lane road curved through the hills with gorgeous views of trees in autumn colors and valleys with low lying fog.

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Our travel continued to the South Holston Dam, an earth-and-rock filled dam 285 feet high reaching 1,600 feet across the South Fork Holston River in Bristol, Tennessee. Construction of South Holston Dam began in 1942 and was completed in 1950 by the TVA to serve as a hydroelectric facility.  We drove across the top of the dam to reach the visitor center which had a lot of information for us to learn about the history of the TVA and the South Holston Dam.  The height of the dam also offered a beautiful scene of the sun shone through the trees with the fog settled over the river and giving a misty look of the colorful hills.

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A short drive from the dam is Osceola Island and Weir Dam Recreation Area. The weir dam (a dam designed to pool water behind it while also allowing water to flow over) helps control the water along a river, allowing engineers to measure the amount of water moving along the river, and also helps oxygenate the water.  It also makes for a pretty sight.

On an average day water gently tumbles over the ends but this isn’t always the case. The nearby South Holston Dam releases water from time to time as part of their hydroelectric operations. When this happens, three things happen: a loud siren plays a sound that echoes for miles down the river, bright yellow lights begin to flash on a sign cautioning visitors about the sudden increase in flood waters, and the water starts to rage across the top of the weir dam.

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The weir dam was built by the TVA for the purpose to revitalize the river by adding oxygen to the water to promote a healthy environment for fish, insects, and the river. The weir dam had rows of concrete horizontal barriers across the width of the river with interlocking wooden timber walls. The water that flows over the top of the weir falls over its side and acts like a natural waterfall creating oxygen that is added to the river.

The weir is an interesting sight that also attracts fishermen.Men were fishing from the footbridge and within the river. The fly fishermen stood thigh high in the river casting their lines in a rhythmic wave even though it was only 29o F. A short walk across the rusty metal footbridge is Osceola Island with additional walking trails but we crossed the bridge to the island only for new photo angles of the weir dam.

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Afterwards we drove into the town of Bristol, Tennessee, or perhaps Bristol, Virginia since the state border between Virginia and Tennessee divides the town. A sign straddles State Street so that south of the street sign is the state of Tennessee and property north of the street sign is Virginia. Flags of each state hung on their respective sides of the street. Having recently seen the Geico commercial we tried to spot the painted marker on State Street, but did not find it.

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Then off we raced to Bristol Motor Speedway to see an old NASCAR racetrack that was built in 1960. The structure looks like a football stadium from the outside but has a capacity to hold 162,000 spectators. Bristol Motor Speedway is the fourth largest sports venue in America and the eighth largest in the world.

Finding the stadium open we walked into the bleachers amazed at the size of this immense stadium.  The concrete oval short track was set below in the center of the stadium. It must be deafening to be here for a race with the noise of the crowd on metal bleachers and the thundering roar of the car engines within these enclosed walls.

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The Natural Tunnel in Duffield, Virginia was next on our list to see. A trail at the visitor center led us downhill to the creek and train tracks. Natural Tunnel State Park is a Virginia state park, centered on the Natural Tunnel, a massive naturally formed cave that is so large it is used as a railroad tunnel through the Appalachian Mountains.

It is the first tunnel that I have seen that was not man-made and bricked. The Natural tunnel, which is up to 200 feet wide and 80 feet high, began to form from a small river, now called Stock Creek that was diverted underground and continued to erode the tunnel over millions of years continuing to this day. Time will eventually wear away the rock ceiling until it falls and forms a gap between the hills of the mountain.

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Local folklore of the area tells of a Cherokee maiden and a Shawnee brave who had been forbidden to marry by their respective tribes, jumped to their deaths from the highest pinnacle above the Natural Tunnel. The place is now known as Lover’s Leap after the couple sneaked away at night to climb the peak waiting until morning to jump from the cliff so that they could be together in the afterlife.

This seems to be a popular tale because we have heard this story before with multiple peaks known as Lover’s Leap. We hiked to the pinnacle of Lover’s Leap overlooking the park. Looking down over the edge at Lover’s Leap from this point most definitely certified death should anyone jumped from this cliff.

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After we hiked back, we went to McDonald’s for our usual order of chicken sandwiches with sweet tea before continuing on to the town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, the southeastern end of the famous passage of Cumberland Gap that led west. The Cumberland Gap is a National Historical Park located in Middlesboro, Kentucky at the border of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. The Cumberland Gap is a natural break in the Appalachian Mountains.

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We started our adventure of this park by driving a four-mile road to Pinnacle Overlook, an elevation of 2,440 ft. This overlook provided a great view of the tri-state park and the Cumberland Gap. The Cumberland Gap was a trail used by elk and bison to the salt springs. Native tribes marked the trail before Dr. Thomas Walker who worked for the Loyal Land Surveyors documented the route through the gap in 1750.

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The Appalachian Mountains made it difficult to move westward but the Cumberland Gap allowed westward passage beginning in the 1770’s. Daniel Boone who was born near Reading, Pennsylvania made his first passage through the gap in 1769. Boone with thirty men was commissioned to mark out the Wilderness Trail from the Holston River in Tennessee through the Cumberland Gap in 1775. The significance of the Cumberland Gap was dubbed as the “Gibraltar of America” by Ulysses S. Grant.

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The Object Lessen Road was a path that brought attention to the importance of a road through the Cumberland Gap to people in the 1920’s. We hiked the Object Lessen Trail until we reached the intersection of Cumberland Gap and the Wilderness Trail. A large boulder at the crossing of these trails had a bronze plaque mounted on the face of the rock dedicated to Daniel Boone. Since the sun was beginning to set we left the park and traveled through the mountains to reach our hotel in Hazard, Kentucky.

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Detroit and Beyond – August 2016 – A Weekend of Spectacular Automobiles

Sometimes it seems we get on a theme for a period of time, and I realize we often find events with wheels, but the third weekend in August was the best weekend of automobiles we have had. The main event of the weekend was to go to Detroit for the Woodward Dream Cruise. We had been to this a few years earlier passing through, but this year I wanted to spend the day checking out the events.

We left Columbus before dawn, arriving in downtown Detroit by 9 AM. Most of the cruise takes place in suburban Oakland County, but I had read that the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant had an event the day of the cruise. The Piquette Avenue Plant is a museum in the second home of Ford, and is known as the birthplace of the Model T. It is the oldest automobile factory building in the world open to the public, and has been open as a museum since 2001. On this day they were going to have a cruise of classic cars up Woodward through the city to Oakland County.

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As I drove up in my Audi S5 to the front of the factory the attendant said ‘are you cruising with us today’? When I commented that I thought it was for classic cars, he said mine was easily cool enough to come along, which of course brought a smile to my face. But still initially we parked in a vacant lot across the street (being inner city Detroit there are many vacant lots), crossed the street where we signed in, and followed a lady inside to see the factory. Little did I realize we were going to start out on a freight elevator, the same elevator that took finished Model T’s out a hundred years earlier!

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Already mesmerized we walked out onto the old wooden floors to see a large collection of Model Ts, Model As and others displayed down the production floor. For a car guy this was like being where the telephone, radio and television were perfected, only all in 1 place! I stood there imagining what it would’ve been like full of machinery, noisy and smelly, but re-inventing the world as we now know it. In addition to the vehicles the museum did a great job of displaying photos and other artifacts explaining the production there.

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On the third level were even more cars represented, this time from various periods including a 1964 Mustang and a early 2000s reproduction GT.

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As we left the building the attendants again asked if I was coming along – of course. The parking lot was filled with American muscle, from hot rods to tricked out Mustangs, as well as a few old Model Ts, which were honored to lead the parade. The Detroit Police had been contracted to lead the parade and off we went, all these classic American with my German ‘hot rod’.

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The drive up Woodward goes through much of what most people think of Detroit, blocks upon blocks of vacant lots or burned out buildings. But we also passed a couple of really nice looking neighborhoods. As we drove everyone walking along the street would wave, shout and take pictures because very few of the cars in town would come into this area.We had as much fun as they did, taking photos of the neighborhoods, going through every red light (probably a good thing), until we reached the edge of town and joined the rest of the Woodward Cruise crowd.

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As we continued north our parade did a U turn and went through Palmer Park. As we drove it seemed more cars joined in. Once you reached Ferndale the street becomes 4 lanes each way with a huge median strip for those Michigan left turns (U turns). From this point there was a traffic jam for 10 miles, but one of the best looking traffic jams you will ever see.

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The Woodward Dream cruise has no rules about who can and can’t drive up and down the street, so you get a mix of about 70% cruisers and 30% your normally frumpy Honda just trying to go to the grocery store. The cruise is the world’s largest one-day automotive event, drawing 1.5 million people and 40,000 classic cars each year from around the globe—from as far away as New Zealand, Australia, Japan and the former Soviet Union.

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Every parking lot was having some sort of event, Chrysler had a Mopar display in a shopping center, Ford had Mustang Alley down 9 Mile Road. With the afternoon getting late and rain coming in we decided to move on, but not for home as we had more cars planned for the next day.

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Leaving Detroit through the southeastern Michigan countryside, we eventually stopped in Angola Indiana for the night, stopping briefly on some country road to stand where Michigan, Indiana and Ohio come together.

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The next morning we made our way to Auburn, Indiana, first touring the National Auto and Truck Museum. This museum is in some of the remaining production buildings of the Auburn Automobile, including the Service and New Parts Building, and the L-29 Cord Building.

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The Service and Parts building, built in 1923, was used for test – driving automobiles, factory service and distribution of parts to distributors and dealers all over the world. The L29 building was built in 1928-29 for assembly and storage before shipping, and was innovative in it’s use of skylights that opened to provide ventilation.

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Also here is an extensive toy and model cars and trucks display from the 1800s to present day. In the lower level in an extensive truck display include a custom built GM vehicle called the Futurliner,  one of 12 large dual-front wheeled display vehicles that crisscrossed the country in the early 1950’s, part of a General Motors promotion called the Parade of Progress.

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Next door is the beautiful Auburn, Cord, Dusenberg Museum. This building functioned as the Corporate offices as well as an extensive showroom, with the showroom section exceeding even the Packard Museum in Dayton for a stunning display of automotive brilliance. Never have I seen more beautiful cars in a magnificent setting.

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The upper level feature more of the 3 brands over the years. The Dusenberg’s particularly were stunning cars with their long hoods and art deco feel. The upper level also houses the design studios that were used, complete with some of the original desks and designs. This museum and these automobiles truly are works of art, highly recommended to anyone who appreciates either.

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As we made our way to our last stop of the day we passed through Fairmount, Indiana, home of James Dean. They play it up, as most towns do their famous sons or daughters, but in the end it is just a simple little town in the middle of cornfields.

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Finally we reached the small town of Alexandria, Indiana where we had an afternoon of watching go cart racing through the streets of the town. These small karts can hit speeds of 80 MPH down the 3 block long straights.

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There were a number of classes for both adults and kids, with the racing close and fast. But you can only have so much fun over two days with things with wheels, and ours came to an end, so we headed off for the 3 hour drive back to Columbus.

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Marietta, OH – July 2016 – Riverfront Roar

Even though we had recently been to Marietta to visit the Ohio River Museum, we found ourselves making the trip back to far southeastern Ohio a couple of weeks later for the Riverfront Roar – power boat racing on the Ohio River. As always I looked for a different route, this time taking ‘The Triple Nickel’, Ohio 555, which provided a lengthy, twisty path through fairly unpopulated areas. Despite some borderline motion sickness for the passenger, we arrived in Marietta intact.

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After a brief visit to a small custom car show we headed down to the riverfront where the boats were performing their practice sessions. The boats were referred to as tunnel hull, outboard engine crafts, capable of speeds well over 100 MPH. The day was sunny and warm, with little winds, providing a nice smooth river without any chop that might slow them down.

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The races themselves are free to watch, but we opted to go uptown to the pits area where we paid the $10 (for insurance they said) to check them out closer. The racers had come from all over the eastern United States and Canada. The boats are light and small enough to be hauled back and forth with a small tractor.

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Once our pit review was complete we headed back down to the riverfront where we stopped in for lunch at the Levee House. Billed as the only remaining original riverfront structure in Marietta, the building was built in 1826 for Dudley Woodbridge, the first merchant of the Northwest Territory, a dealer in dry goods. A classic old building built in the federal style, we enjoyed a nice lunch outside on a patio overlooking the river.

But racing time was near so we moved down to the shore and settled in next to a couple visiting from Knoxville, Tennessee. I wasn’t aware of this as I headed back to the car to get the chairs, but by the time I had returned our new neighbor had his 600mm zoom out to take photos, instantly giving me lens envy, this was cured a week late when I came home with one.

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The races themselves took place over a mile long loop from near the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers upstream under a bridge before turning around and coming back. We had chosen a perfect spot in the middle of the straights, although the plan for sitting in the shade took a long time to come to fruition.

The first race had closed cockpits, with 5 boats racing. It was quickly apparent that the best boat and driver would jump out to a lead and the rest would trail behind, with little passing. This held true for the open cockpit boats as well, regardless on how many were racing. The best racing was always the first 3 or 4 laps.

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We watched races most of the afternoon before heading back to Columbus. All in all it was a nice drive down and back, a good lunch, and some fast boats – can’t ask for much more for a summer Sunday.

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Indianapolis – July 2015 – The Art of Wheels and Wings

The weekend of July 18th and 19th found us in Indianapolis for more things with engines. Our first event was the The Gathering of the Faithful, a loose coalition of independent MG clubs and state chapters of MG owners located in the central United States. Each Year a different state club sponsors a regional Gathering of the Faithful of MG cars. This year it was held at an airport in Carmel, Indiana.

While it was billed as Wheels and Wings, there were only a couple of airplanes there, but the ones that were present, were beautiful. The airplanes and the majority of the cars were from the 1930s-1950s.

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In addition, the owners of the cars were very friendly, much more so than most car shows. They loved to talk about their cars, the histories, and how they obtained, restored and maintained them. One of the MGs was decorated as a plane, with wings and a rear stabilizer.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art (known colloquially as the IMA) is located on a 152-acre campus on the near northwest area outside downtown Indianapolis. The IMA is the ninth oldest and eighth largest encyclopedic art museum in the United States.The permanent collection comprises over 54,000 works, including African, American, Asian, and European pieces.

While I enjoy art museums, the main reason I wanted to visit was the exhibit Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas, which featured rare concept cars from the early 1930s to the 21st century, that showcased some of the most unique vehicles ever created by top names in the automotive field. Along with conceptual drawings and scale models, the exhibition explores the evolution of revolutionary automobile design that pushed the limits of the imagination and shaped the future of the industry. Dream Cars features both American and European concept car designs.

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The experimental, concept, or “dream” car has long been a dynamic tool that allows designers to showcase and demonstrate forward-thinking automotive design ideas. Concept cars were not vehicles the public typically could purchase, but rather the testing ground for innovations that might find expression in automobiles produced years, or even decades, later. This exhibition explored the groundbreaking designs that sparked ideas of future possibility and progress.

It examined the dream car through five themes: independent makers, the impact of styling, the Motorama and the rise of the dream car, the influence of automobile shows, and the role of concept cars today.

Arriving on the second floor you were greeted by the Rocket Car. With features reminiscent of a delta wing fighter jet, the Firebird 1 originally taxied into the 1954 General Motors Motorama as the 1954 XP-21 Firebird concept

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Just a precursor of what was to come, but it was amazing. I was like a kid at Christmas. As you entered the main exhibit area you found The Voisin C-25 Aérodyne and the Bugatti Type 57 Compétition Coupé Aerolithe, two of the earliest examples. Their curvilinear shapes set them apart from the boxy car design predominant at the time.

Easily one of the most unique vehicles there was a 1936 Scout Scarab. Some people call it the very first minivan, but that  hardly does the Stout Scarab justice. Built without compromise for the fortunate few who could afford the $5,000 price of admission in 1934 (roughly the equivalent of $87,000 today), the Scarab boasted innovative features like fenders incorporated into the body, deleted running boards, rear wheel skirts, hidden hinges and flush glass, all meant to optimize airflow and reduce wind noise.

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After spending a good hour reviewing the remaining concept cars, including the Chrysler Thunderbolt and the Streamline X “Gilda” we headed out to see the rest of the museum, initially going outside for the gardens and the Lilly house. After the cars the gardens and the house, with it’s silver exhibitions seemed blasé

Returning to the main museum we toured the African art section, which had literally hundreds of intricately carved masks and statues. The IMA was well laid out, with the display situated with lighting and glass that was conducive to photography, which lead to me coming home with hundreds of great photos.

 The IMA showcases, through innovative displays, one of the nation’s largest and most significant collections of Asian art. More than 400 works of art in the gallery provide a panorama of more than 4,000 years of Asian art from China, Japan, Korea, India, Tibet, and West and Southeast Asia. The collection includes Chinese art, including ancient bronze ritual vessels, jades, ceramics, textiles and paintings, a Japanese section that features one of the finest collections of Edo-period painting in the U.S., and one of the world’s finest collections weavings by the Baluchi people of Iran and Afghanistan—one of the world’s finest such collections—are on display.

The contemporary collection includes outstanding examples of Abstract Expressionism, Color Field painting, Minimalism, Op and Pop Art, installation art, and video and light-based works. The top level included some ‘art’ that made no sense at all, a large wall with a black dot painted on it, etc.

Finally it was nearly closing time, and as we were leaving I decided to go through the Dream Cars one more time, and to my delight I had 15 minutes of the place to ourselves. What a wonderful opportunity to get even more photographs without people in the way.

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The custom car show at the fairgrounds was amazing with all of the cars, and the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village show was equally amazing, but these 19 cars, without a doubt, were the coolest cars in one place. I doubt I ever top it for the content and displaying of automobiles.

The next morning, we went to downtown Indianapolis and toured the area around Monument Circle. The Indiana State Soldiers and Sailors Monument, a 284  foot high neoclassical monument in the centerpiece of Monument Circle, a circular, brick-paved street that intersects Meridian and Market streets in the center of downtown Indianapolis. The monument is the first in the United States to be dedicated to the common soldier. The monument’s original purpose was to honor soldiers from Indiana who were veterans of the Civil War; however, it is also a tribute to Indiana’s soldiers who served during the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War. It is surrounded by the tallest buildings in Indianapolis.

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After a brief visit to the Indiana State Capital we drove out to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to visit the IMS Museum. The museum rotates a display of over 75 cars at any given time. Due to considerable space restraints, only a small portion of the total collection can be displayed. Many cars are stored in the invitation-only basement, or at separate off-site facilities.

The collection includes over thirty Indy 500 winning cars, various other Indy Cars, and several racing cars from other disciplines. Other items on display include trophies, plaques, racing paraphernalia such as helmets, gloves, and driver’s suits. A collection of models, photographs, toys, and paintings are also for view. One display exhibits a timeline of scoring devices.

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Any other time this would’ve been the highlight of the trip, but after yesterday’s Dream Cars it was just a cool side trip. The workers at the Museum were huge racing fans, and very knowledgeable. The day we were there a tour bus with Brazilian tourists came in, adding to the atmosphere, since while the Indy 500 is the epitome of an American event, more often than not it has been won by drivers from all over the world, including a number of Brazilians.

The displays give an excellent understanding of the development of the race car over the years. How they didn’t kill more people in the 1930s and 1940s cars is beyond me, since they learned how to get the speed but the safety features are nonexistent.

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Not far from the speedway is the former Indianapolis baseball stadium, Bush Stadium. When they completed the new retro stadium in downtown Indianapolis this field was slated to be torn down. Thanks to some ingenious people the stadium was saved and redeveloped into apartments, called the Stadium Lofts.

I know if I had to live in Indianapolis I would want to live here. Even the bus stop keeps with the theme as they used some of the seating for the bus stop seats.

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As we started to the east to return to Ohio we diverted slightly to the city of Muncie, Indiana, home of, among many things, the National Model Aviation Museum.

Part of the mission of this museum is remember and care for aero-modeling history through preserving the physical legacy of the sport. This means that the Museum collects three-dimensional objects relating to aero-modeling that help convey the story, evolution, and importance of the modeling experience. They have about 9,000 artifacts in our collection, including model airplanes, radio systems, engines, building tools and equipment, and memorabilia such as patches, stickers and clothing.

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The museum is located on the extensive grounds of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, with hundreds of acres of flying fields for model airplane enthusiasts. The day there were a number of people flying planes, situated in small groups staying in massive RVs with out of state plates.

Our final stop of the day was in Wapokaneta, Ohio, at the Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum. The museum highlights Ohio’s contributions to the history of space flight. Among the items on display are an Skylancer, Gemini 8 spacecraft, Apollo 11 artifacts and a moon rock.

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The museum is also home to two full-size aircraft, including the very airplane in which Neil Armstrong learned to fly.