Make Tracks to The North East Motor Sports Museum
Story & Photo by Mark Okrant
Much like a treasure chest, New Hampshire is home to a number of jewels in the form of historic museums. One of the gems awaiting the auto racing enthusiast, or any traveler seeking something different, is the North East Motor Sports Museum (NEMSM), situated at 922 Route 106, in Loudon. As you approach the New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS) grounds from the south, you will see a big blue-and-white sign on the east side of the road. You owe it to yourself to visit this facility.
Opened on June 10 of 2017, the museum’s mission is to preserve the northeastern U.S. racing history, with a focus on New England. Walking through the door, you can’t help but be inspired to continue your visit. Visitors are greeted by the museum’s executive director, Tom Netishen, or volunteers from the board of directors, who willingly donate their time as docents. The enthusiasm of these people is infectious, and you will soon find yourself being guided through the impressive collection housed inside.
A few steps from the entrance, visitors encounter two of the museum’s showpieces, a 1915 Duesenberg race car and a Stanley Steamer car dating back to the 1890’s. Like the other objects in the museum’s collections, it is apparent that a great deal of time and effort has been expended to keep these in mint-condition and properly displayed.
Other than the two classics described above, a wealth of motor sports history awaits. There are cars with a New England background from virtually every racing discipline. At the far end of the building, there is a display showing two vintage dragsters pre-staged at the starting line, waiting for the Christmas tree to signal them to begin the race. Another highlight is one of Joey Logano’s orange and white sprint cars. Logano is New England’s most successful driver, having won the 2018 NASCAR Cup Championship—the equivalent of a golfer winning the Masters.
A number of racing motorcycles also are on display. Other items of interest include cases of championship trophies, and a case filled with driver helmets that enables one to see how design and technology have improved the safety of drivers. Mounted on the museum walls are posters and a number of action photographs. There is even a soap box derby display that will be of particular interest to young visitors.
Built entirely by donations of money and services from the motor racing community, the museum attracts an audience of approximately 5,000 visitors annually. Many of the people who were on site the day I visited were seniors. As a long-time tourism industry researcher and educator, I’ve witnessed the decline and demise of hospitality businesses and tourism attractions that failed to recognize their audience was aging. I asked Director Netishen how he planned to ensure that the museum would survive and thrive.
Netishen didn’t pause for an instant to answer this question. While the museum’s primary purpose is to preserve the region’s racing history, he told me his board’s intention is to “inspire a wider audience to be involved in motor sports.” To accomplish this, the museum has begun to reach out to other racing fans, including a younger audience. Board member Bob Bianchi has constructed a slot car track that allows four players at one time to compete on a scaled one-quarter mile speedway. Children, teens, and young adults are the primary participants at the slot car track, but older attendees are an attentive audience, and occasionally partake. Another new feature is the iRacing Simulator. This gaming chair-computer screen apparatus provides museum guests the opportunity to simulate driving a powerful race car on one of a number of race tracks. (The sights and sounds of the device completely captured the attention of a teenager who was at the controls during my visit to the museum.)
Netishen has other ideas as well. As funds become available, he plans to add more interactive displays that will appeal to young and more mature audiences alike. Two of these will simulate activities that long-time racing competitors know very well. One is a display that will allow museum guests to change a race car’s tire inside the museum. A second is a cutaway race car engine that will allow patrons to see first-hand how one of those powerful motors works.
Netishen intends to give rally cars—popular with an under-age-25 audience—a prominent position in the museum’s collection. Then, using a piece of adjoining land, he is considering offering rally school classes that may include a driving component.
One element designed to attract a larger audience is already in place. Netishen and his board recognize that events are critical to attracting larger audiences. Toward that end, the museum is presently raising funds to add an 8,000 square foot function space on adjacent land that was obtained as part of a 2017 90-year lease agreement with NHMS. With this new space, the museum will be able to dramatically increase what is already a busy event schedule.
On May 4, NEMSM held its first annual Historic Motor Sports Exposition. The event hosted all of the region’s mobile and fixed museums devoted to car racing. An estimated audience of 500 to 700 attended this year’s event. As a result, the exposition is scheduled for May 2 in 2020.
Other events during the 2019 season are:
May 25-26 - Super-modifieds, featuring a display of these cars on the museum floor
June 1 - New Hampshire Muscle Cars – a car show featuring 50 to 75 cars
June 9 - Gypsy Tour Ride – in conjunction with Motorcycle Week – travel by motorcycle from the Weirs to NHMS, then breakfast at NEMSM
June 30 - Regional Pontiac Show – 100 cars of Nor’eastern Pontiac members
July 19 - Honoring Joey Logano – the greatest New England race car driver to date
Speaking with Tom Netishen, one cannot help but catch his enthusiasm. A man of 30 who has worked in most positions on every side of auto racing, his vision for NEMSM is extremely compelling. Netishen sees the facility as a “social gathering place and the hub of motorsports in New England.” He envisions the museum as much more than a venue to view racing memorabilia. It is a place for racing industry people to share their stories with enthusiasts and soon-to-be enthusiasts. With this goal in mind, NEMSM will be a compelling place to visit for all generations well into the future.
The North East Motor Sports Museum is open two days per month during winter; then every Saturday until Memorial Day. After June 1, the museum is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, from 10 am to 4 pm. General admission is $10, $7 for people age 65+, and free admission for children under the age of 12. The public is encouraged to join the museum as members, and donations are gratefully accepted. Netishen will be happy to discuss hosting events in this most interesting facility. www.nemsmuseum.com