By Jonathon Masters
Have you ever been to Knoxville Raceway and seen the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum?
It is a beautiful four-story building in Knoxville, Iowa, with 8,000 square feet of museum space, a theater, offices, a banquet hall, and suites for the raceway. You walk through the door of the museum and feel the history of sprint car racing in every square foot. The displays are amazingly detailed, and their curators search high and low for only the best items to include.
Bob Baker and his team do a fanatic job, and the sport of Sprint Car racing is very lucky to have such a dedicated group of individuals working to preserve its past and honor its legends.
Next question, have you ever been to the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame Museum?
It's a medium sized, metal building at Florence Speedway in Walton, Kentucky. It sports a painted concrete floor with a few remarkably restored historic Late Models on display alongside photos inside picture frames screwed into wobbly walls.
The current state of the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame is frankly embarrassing.
OK, let's stop right here before we continue down the path of listing what is currently wrong with the NDLM Hall of Fame. We are here to talk solutions to the current state of the museum. We are going to address some of the history of the NDLM Hall of Fame in order to give context to the problems. By understanding how we got to this point we can nail down our solutions.
We are not going to skirt the main issue. The primary reason for every single problem at the Hall of Fame is money.
Why do we have half the amount of inductees as the Baseball Hall of Fame, which has been around since 1939? (The NDLM Hall of Fame has just over 150; the Baseball Hall of Fame has 317.)
The original people in charge of the NDLM Hall of Fame were starting with no funding and no experience doing anything in the not-for-profit arena. They were looking for money from anywhere, and in their minds more inductees equaled more money. They also were under the impression that a lot of these guys were dying off, and they wanted them to enjoy the induction.
In short, it was lack of experience. They may also have had a hazy idea of what makes an honor like being inducted into a Hall of Fame special. It's not a trophy to hang on your wall. It's generations of respect long after you're gone. Just because you receive an honor like this after you've passed doesn't take away from it being special. Your family will be there to be proud and carry the memory forever.
Speaking of the induction problem, Ralph Earnhardt is in the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame. Can anybody name me a major Dirt Late Model event he won? Can anybody produce a few Dirt Late Model results with him listed in the run down? I'm just curious. Because if we can't, I'm putting forth an effort to get Brewster Baker on next year's ballot. #BrewsterBakerForNDLMHoF
OK, back to business.
Why is the museum in its current state? There are some neat cars in there, but the building is a pole barn and the picture displays look like an elementary photo project at the county fair.
The National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum is a $1 million facility operating with an actual staff with an actual budget. It has revenue streams that include admission, membership packages, merchandise sales, donations, auctions, and many other activities. I can remember its staff pulling auction cars to every trade show under the sun year after year. It's a true business.
The National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame is donation based, and the sport hasn't been near as kind to it. A lot of this stemmed from the early years with inexperienced staff and a lack of contacts to make things happen. In short, if we want a multimillion dollar facility then we have to work together in support of change.
Thankfully after years of struggling and floundering, the NDLM Hall of Fame is on the rebound, and the new staff is willing to work to fix the existing problems it inherited.
The man on point is National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame President Gerald Newton of Arizona Sport Shirts. In the past 25 years, Newton has made about as big of an impact in the sport as anyone. Many will tell you that he helped build the racing apparel industry as we know it today. He has a big task in front of him and is working to fix the problems. His first task is building a new museum building worthy of the rich history and contributions made by past inductees.
"We are continuously looking for new revenue streams and donations. We have our biggest fundraising event of the year coming this August at The North South 100 at the Hall of Fame's home Florence Speedway," Newton remarked. "We are looking towards the industry for everything from infrastructure help to volunteer work. We have also started a GoFundMe page for those wishing to donate to the construction of the new museum."
I was once talking to a racing journalist who told me the best thing that could happen to the Hall of Fame is if we all forgot we had one and could start over. There was a time when I thought that was true. Looking back, I now know that wouldn't be fair for all those already in the Hall of Fame and their families. The best path forward is to work together to fix the mistakes of the past and work toward a better tomorrow, remembering all those who came before while honoring the memories of the best of them. Isn't that the point of a Hall of Fame to begin with?
If you have the time, please stop by the auction during the North South 100 and visit the GoFundMe page to donate. If you have anything monetary to offer the NDLM Hall of Fame, please contact them to discuss it. Maybe you have a track that is willing to do a donation nights or are a web designer willing to do some work pro bono. Maybe you are a general contractor or building company. Maybe all you have is a great memory or idea.
We are a sport of caring and relationships. We are a family that wants our youth to be able to enjoy Dirt Racing's cherished past. Help keep all the hard work and dedication alive for years to come… and Kenny Rogers.
- Jonathon Masters has a lifelong connection with dirt racing. His family has owned and operated MasterSbilt Race Cars manufacturing dirt late model chassis for 35 years. He attended college in North Carolina for motor sports management and has wrote for various industry publications. Jonathon was an account executive at The International Motorsports Industry Show, founder of the Heartland Auto Racing Show, and has been a racing industry professional for over a decade.
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