World of Speed Museum – A Must-See Motorsports Destination
The World of Speed Museum is Portland, Oregon’s motorsport mecca. Portland is known for many things — progressive politics, bike commuters, a brew pub/pot shop/coffee house on every corner, hipster overload, and of course, the TV series Portlandia, which mocked all of the above virtues with unerring accuracy.
The region’s motorsports history, though, is less celebrated but equally significant. Woodburn Dragstrip has been a popular 1/4-mile for decades. Portland International Raceway has seen IndyCars, IMSA sports cars and NASCAR door-slammers negotiate its 1.9-mile road course. The defunct Portland Speedway oval hosted its first event in 1924.
So, it made sense that a motorsports museum would eventually spring up in the Rose City, and in 2015, the World of Speed Museum opened its doors, celebrating not only Northwest motorsports history, but world racing heritage, as well.
Located less than 20 miles south of Portland in the suburb of Wilsonville, the World of Speed (WOS) took over a remodeled Dodge dealership. As motorists cruise by on Interstate-5, the building hardly merits a second glance.
But it should.
The World of Speed Museum is a world-class facility, equal in many ways to the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles (save the crazy folded tin-can exterior). Size, design, display and scope are a match for any museum, regardless of subject matter.
Moreover, the WOS is more than a museum, it also is a teaching facility, with its dealership service bays converted into a classroom. Local high school students learn general auto shop skills — remember auto shop? — plus welding and car assembly. Yes, students even put together a ’32 Ford street rod.
Tualatin High School student Peter Lattig is enthusiastic about the WOS program. “We don’t have a lot of opportunity at our school for hands-on learning,” Lattic said. “This class gives me the chance to learn and explore potential careers.”
The museum encompasses the complete spectrum of motorsports — drag racing, road racing, land speed racing, motorcycle racing, open-wheel cars, NASCAR, even hydroplanes. Special on-going exhibits include the Daytona Banking Wall, the Wall of Sound, Women in Racing, History of Northwest Drag Racing, and a complete wall dedicated to Bonneville history. There’s even a 1950s hot-rod garage diorama featuring a lakester belly tank under construction. All that’s missing is a wax figure of Alex Xydias.
In addition to the standing exhibits, marque special exhibits are indeed special. Last year’s Indianapolis 500 car collection rivaled the IMS’s own museum (which even loaned cars to WOS). A recent muscle car exhibit inspired tire-burning lust within anyone familiar with the breed.
Other special exhibits currently on display include a dazzling array of Chevrolet Corvettes, and a Road Race Motorcycle collection that celebrates those blisteringly-fast bikes and those who built — and rode — them. The bikes on display include a Parilla 250, Honda CB450 CR, Suzuki GSXR 750R Limited, Honda RC30, Ducati 888 SPO, Ducati Desmosedici, and Ducati 1299S Panigale.
In addition, WOS also offers visitors interactive simulators that provide a behind-the-wheel experience of driving a race car. You can choose from a 1962 Lotus formula car, Adrian Fernandez’s 1995 Lola Indy Car, or Johnny Benson’s 1998 NASCAR Ford Taurus. Each simulator offers a unique experience with road course or oval tracks options, along with different driving and environment conditions.
World of Speed is unique in one other aspect, as well: It is a nonprofit educational museum. Designated as a 501 (C)(3) public charity, WOS is funded by income from sponsorships, foundations, admissions, corporate and individual memberships, and museum events held at the museum. All donations are tax-deductible.
The museum was the brainchild of Dave and Sally Bany, who already owned an eclectic collection of cars that ranged from the Tiki Warrior Funny Car to Von Dutch’s van.
Famed hot rod journalist Tony Thacker, former curator of the NHRA museum and current Fuel Curve contributor, served as WOS’s first executive director. “I was extremely fortunate to be involved with World of Speed from the beginning,” Thacker said. “We started with a blank canvas until we found that 80,000 sq. ft. ex-Dodge dealership.
“The Banys’ purchase of that facility changed everything. What was initially conceived as a small, educationally-oriented car museum turned into something that now has international recognition as an experiential educational learning center.”
New WOS executive director David Pearson is bullish on the future of the museum. “World of Speed has amazing potential,” he said. “Since our opening in 2015, we have established ourselves as a destination for motorsports enthusiasts, and we plan to grow it from there, with compelling future exhibits such as the upcoming Porsche collection that opens in April.”
So, if you are planning a trip Portlandia…err…Portland, block off a day take in the World of Speed Museum. You won’t be disappointed. There’s even an espresso bar in the gift shop.