My dad was a gearhead. He had an annual subscription to “Car and Driver” magazine. He insisted that I know how to change the oil in my own car. And on Sundays, he’d take the whole family to the car dealership down the street just for kicks. That love of cars was passed down to me and now my children. So a family visit to the World of Speed Motorsports Museum in Wilsonville with my husband and sons, 15 and 17, was a must-do activity.
Oregon’s racing roots
Located 25 minutes from downtown Portland, World of Speed is a state-of-the-art museum that aims to not only educate and entertain but also inspire motorsport enthusiasts. It tells the story of all kinds of racing — drag, road, land speed, open-wheel (like Formula and Indy), NASCAR, motorcycle and hydroplane — and the drivers who’ve pushed the limits. But the museum also explores the nostalgic side of America’s love affair with cars.
But why here, in Oregon? Racing fans might expect a museum of this caliber to be in Indianapolis or somewhere in NASCAR country. The Portland area actually has a deep history in racing with local tracks like Woodburn Dragstrip and the Portland International Raceway. In addition, the area is home to many private collectors who enjoy sharing their love.
Play spaces for all ages
As you walk through the doors, you’ll find the rotating featured exhibit, which hosts cars on loan from private collectors. On the right side, you’ll find the Start Line Club. This learning-play space is perfect for little ones with hands-on experiments and — yes, cars to drive.
Big kids (and grownups too) have their own play space in the center of the museum, where you’ll find three race car simulators. Again, helpful volunteers are here to show you the ropes. You can drive a 1962 Lotus Formula car that shifts using your left hand, a 1995 Lola IndyCar which shifts with your right hand or a 1998 NASCAR Ford Taurus with an automatic transmission. Having been taught to drive a stick by my dad, I got a kick out of seeing my own kids learn the art of shifting. You navigate the car through a realistic racetrack projected on a video screen in front of you. It’s not easy, but the 12 minutes of racing were definitely the highlight of my kids’ visit and well worth the extra $10 ticket. My youngest son and I liked the IndyCar, while my older son (at 6-foot-2) preferred the roomier Lotus. And my husband opted for the even roomier NASCAR.
Leave ‘em in the dust
If you’re looking for some head-to-head competition, go toward the back of the museum, where you’ll find a Christmas tree. Not the kind with ornaments, but the kind used as a starting system in drag racing. A Christmas tree has two columns of red, yellow and green lights. The simulation pits two drivers against each other to see who has the quickest reflexes and hence, the fastest start. My youngest son left us all in the dust with a stunning start of .001 seconds!
These cars aren’t just fast, they’re extremely rare, too. On one of our visits last year, one of the visiting cars was a shiny, cherry-red 1959 Ferrari TR, one of only five of its kind. Its price tag: $47 million. It was on loan to the museum from a private collector in the Pacific Northwest. New cars are on loan all the time — a rotating cast of awe-inspiring machines.
Get those road tunes ready
Other exhibits at the museum not to be missed include the Land Speed Racing wall, which tracks record setters from 1898 to 2010; and the Women in Racing exhibit, which highlights the accomplishments of well-known female drivers like Danica Patrick and up-and-comers like 18-year-old Oregonian Lindsay Barney, of Eagle Creek.
But my favorite may have been the Wall of Sound. This exhibit — lined with album covers and guitars plus old-time televisions, radios, record players and 8-track players — is a celebration of car culture. As you move along the wall, you can listen to car-inspired songs through the decades. I stopped in front of the album jacket for “Shut Down Volume 2”from the Beach Boys, a record that I recognized from my late father’s collection. I found myself thinking about how much he would have enjoyed this place, and how glad I was to have shared it with his grandsons.