Hall of Fame racer offers visitors fast lap through the Speedzeum

February 20, 2019 | 3:00 am

Updated February 20, 2019 | 4:49 am

Cooper Hayden offers a first-hand look at the Speedzeum. | Photo by AP Imagery

Located inside the Owensboro Museum of Science and History just off the Mammoth Lobby, the Speedzeum pays tribute to Owensboro’s long legacy of auto racing, motorcycle racing, hydroplane racing and more. As an added bonus, the back section of the Speedzeum also highlights inductees of the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Walking through the Speedzeum takes visitors on a journey back in time to follow the rise of notable local racing legends through archival photos, newspaper clippings, memorabilia and displays.

For example, visitors can see the progression of National Hot Rod Association Champion Cooper Hayden from racing go-karts here in Owensboro as a kid to local dirt tracks as a teenager and on to drag strips around the country as an adult.

There is no hired staff at the Speedzeum; it’s kept up by a board of volunteers.

But Hayden unofficially serves as a sort of curator for special events and knows the “who” and “when” of every exhibit. He was involved in getting the Speedzeum up and running in June 2003 and still tinkers with the displays, adding and organizing more memorabilia and exhibits as things are donated or loaned.

Hayden is a 2016 Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee himself. His plaque rests just beneath his uncle Marion Hayden, who got Cooper into racing as a kid.

“It’s just amazing the amount of racers that have come from this community; you got NASCAR, motorcycles, soapbox derby, boats, stock cars, drag racing, go-karts, everything,” Hayden said. “Then over here (pointing to another picture on the wall) we have the ‘Owensboro Boys’ that created the truck and tractor pull and monster truck indoor competitions. Owensboro is the only town where six NASCAR stars were racing at the same time when you consider the Green brothers, the Waltrip brothers and Jeremy Mayfield.”

A prominent display in the entryway is dedicated to the Waltrip Brothers’ NASCAR accomplishments and some Nicky Hayden racing gear. Across the entryway, an enclosed case dedicated to Army Amstrong is the newest display in the Speedzeum.

Once inside, the panoramic mural of black and white photos of Owensboro’s early race tracks dating back to the 1920s is one of the first treats visitors will notice. A side-by-side comparison of a Jasper Engines factory passenger car motor next to a stock racing motor is also of interest. Turn the next corner and you’ll get a pit road view of a tractor pull truck, several race cars, and a drag strip racer.

Cooper considers the Miss Crazy Thing hydroplane racing boat the “crown jewel” of the Speedzeum. The boat rises from the basement level up the stairwell to the first-floor level all the way to the ceiling. A mural on the wall behind it shows Miss Crazy Thing racing on the Ohio in its heyday.

The Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame was relocated to the Speedzeum in 2012, bringing attention to — and from — other racing legends across the state. After seeing the Speedzeum, some of the inductees loaned their own memorabilia and cars for exhibit as well.

Cooper said the best time to visit the Speedzeum is right after the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame ceremony held each November when a group of volunteers from the Owensboro Corvette Club air up all the tires on the donated race cars and make everything sparkle and shine as the inductees and their families walk through.

Admission to the Speedzeum is included in the cost of admission to the Owensboro Museum of Science and History.

But, to hear all the old racing stories firsthand, it’s been suggested to find a time when Cooper Hayden is available.

February 20, 2019 | 3:00 am

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