Step on it! Oregon’s World of Speed Museum

Petersen & Fitz Top Fuel Dragster, nicknamed -The Northwest Terror- after driver Herm Petersen

Petersen & Fitz Top Fuel Dragster, nicknamed -The Northwest Terror- after driver Herm Petersen. Courtesy World of Speed Museum

It’s not just airplanes that go fast…

There’s a new museum for horsepower hounds, speed fiends and fans of NASCAR, the Indianapolis 500 and anything with a motor that goes fast.

Located 15 miles south of Portland, Oregon, in Wilsonville, the World of Speed Museum is home to nearly 100 historic cars and motorcycles, along with race-themed simulators and a land speed record timeline.

A shrine to speed, the 80,000-square-foot museum is the first to document the history of motor sports in the Pacific Northwest. It also covers the story of motorsports that have roots in other parts of the country.

“You can see Nascar cars at the Nascar Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina. You can see Indy cars in Indianapolis, and you can see drag cars at Pomona (California),” said museum curator Ron Huegli. “We’ve got it all under one roof, including two notable hydroplanes on loan from the Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum near Seattle.”

U-60 Miss Thirftway Hydroplane Boat and U-1 Miss Budweiser Hydroplane Boat.

U-60 Miss Thriftway Hydroplane Boat and U-1 Miss Budweiser Hydroplane Boat. Courtesy World of Speed Museum

The museum’s Daytona display is a winner: a 15-foot-tall, 44-foot-wide structure built with the exact incline of the original 2.5-mile long tri-oval speedway in Florida.

_World of Speed Interior_NASCAR and Daytona Banking

NASCAR and Daytona Banking. World of Speed Museum

The four restored vehicles mounted in the exhibit are from legendary Nascar drivers, and include Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 2000 Chevy Impala, Jim Vandiver’s 1974 Dodge Charger, Terry Labonte’s 1988 Chevy Monte Carlo and Cale Yarborough’s 1979 Oldsmobile 442.

Other gems on display at the museum (some are on loan, while others are in the permanent collection) include Mickey Thompson’s famous record-breaking Assault and Indianapolis race cars. Both were built by Rolla Vollstedt in the basement shop at his home in Portland.

Rolla Vollstedt Indy Car  driven by Len Sutton in the 1965 Indy 500.

Rolla Vollstedt Indy Car driven by Len Sutton in the 1965 Indy 500. World of Speed Museum

“We also have ‘Old Number One’ on display in our showcase salon area,” said Huegli. “It’s a 1929 Bentley built as a race car that took first place at the 24-hour Le Mans race in 1929 and 1930. It’s not something many people have seen beyond looking at it on the Internet.”

1929 Bentley-Old Number One- built  as a race car. In 1929, the car took first place at Le Mans with Woolf Barnato and Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin behind the wheel.

1929 Bentley-Old Number One- built as a race car. In 1929, the car took first place at Le Mans with Woolf Barnato and Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin behind the wheel. World of Speed Museum

In addition to three real race cars set up as simulators (a 1962 Lotus Formula racing simulator, Adrian Fernandez’s 1995 Lola Indy Car and Johnny Benson’s 1998 Nascar Ford Taurus) the museum also has a gallery celebrating classic songs about fast cars including Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88,” The Beach Boys’ “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” and Commander Cody’s classic “Hot Rod Lincoln.”

Gearhead factor aside, there are some broader themes the World of Speed Museum is hoping to drive home.

“Motorsports represent American ingenuity,” said Huegli. “You’re presented with a problem and you solve it in a quest to go faster, which is the whole idea behind racing.”

There’s also the business side of motorsports. Nascar’s top earners pull down more than $170 million in aggregate earnings, endorsements and other income streams, and Nascar itself commands billions from television rights, in spite of faltering viewership.

“It’s huge,” said Huegli. “It’s hard to add it all up, but there are ticket sales at events, the billions of dollars generated by manufacturing related to motorsports, the budgets of all the race teams and the billions of dollars companies spend on sponsorships and advertising related to motorsports racing.”

Add in Formula 1 racing, which had revenue last year of close to $2 billion alone and, said Huegli, “the zeroes just keep adding up.”

(A slightly different version of my story about the World of Speed Museum first appeared on CNBC.)

Another way to travel: by outhouse

Outhouse Races Conconully

Conconully, on the sunny side of Washington’s North Cascades, is about four blocks long, with an official population of less than 300.

Once each year, though, the tiny town overflows with up to 2000 people – and more than a dozen outhouses.

The potties that pop-up downtown are definitely portable.

But they’re not put there for folks who need a place to ‘go’ on the go.

Mounted on skis and, more often than not, built without doors or walls, these outhouses are constructed for speed and are strictly for racing.

Outhouse races

Yes, racing. For almost 30 years now, Conconully has held its annual Outhouse Races on a gently sloping, snow-covered course down Main Street, right in the middle of town.

After being inspected by the judges, outhouses take the course two at a time, with teams made up of one rider (officially known as “the sitter”) and two pushers.

Prizes are awarded to teams that make the best time in a variety of divisions (family, kids, seniors, etc.) and to the winners of the Extreme Challenge Race, in which outhouses are maneuvered along an obstacle course.

There’s also a prize for the winner of the Bucket Race, which requires pushers to wear white buckets over their heads while the sitter shouts directions telling them where to go.

During the 2010 races, 83 year-old Max Ehinger of Ephrata served as a ‘sitter’ in the senior race division, which requires each three-person team to register a combined age of at least 125.  Over the years, Ehinger and his wife have had three generations of their family race outhouses, winning trophies with Butt Hutt 1 and Butt Hutt 2.

“The obstacle race is especially entertaining,” says Max, “They get all tangled up and sometimes veer off course into hay bales on the sidewalk.  I’ve never seen anyone get hurt, though, and it’s all just a lot of good, clean fun.”

Potty preparations

Sound like a party you want to part of? Spectators are welcome to paper the sidewalk, but if you want to enter a homemade crapper in the contest, you’ll need to follow a few rules:

Each non-motorized, non-steering privy must be made out of wood or wood by-products, mounted on two skis (fiberglass or plastic only), have 3-sides and a full roof and be at least 5 feet tall and 2 1/2 feet by 2 1/2 feet square. “Our insurance agent also prefers that all sitters wear helmets,” says Marilyn Church of the Conconully Chamber of Commerce, “And of course, every outhouse must have a toilet seat and roll of toilet paper on a toilet paper hanger.”

The poop on the Outhouse Races:

Conconully’s Outhouse Races are held each year on the third Saturday in January and the 2011 races will held on Saturday, January 15th.  There’s a $25 registration fee for each outhouse, but each outhouse can be entered in multiple races. Conconully is located about 20 miles northwest of the towns of Omak and Okanogan. For more information, see the Conconully town website or call (877) 826-9050.

Conconully Outhouse races

Photos courtesy: Marcia Ehinger and Conconully Chamber of Commerce

This story first appeared in in December 2010.