Speed museum plans to hit high gear

Walking into Hoss’s Steak and Seahouse in Bedford gives you an instant glimpse at the history of auto racing in central Pennsylvania.

Lining the walls of the lobby are black and white photographs snapped by John Pittman during the hay days of dirt track racing at the Bedford Speedway and beyond.

It was in front of the largest of these images that the committee working toward the Museum of Speed made the announcement last week: they’ve selected the Blair County-based engineering firm Stiffler-McGraw to complete the project.

The idea of building a museum at the Bedford Fairgrounds began in 2008; the first organized meeting took place in 2014.

“We are one step closer to building a grand museum that will overlook the Bedford Fairgrounds speedway, and that will tell our local and regional auto racing stories,” said board president Eric Zembower, a race announcer, historian and retired driver; “celebrating the great men and ladies and their machines, as well as the tracks from the Altoona Speedway to Fort Ashby West Virginia, from the South Penn Speedway (Everett) to Saxton Speedway to Jennerstown, and all points in between.”

Zembower proudly boasts that Bedford Speedway is the oldest active speedway in Pennsylvania, and one of the oldest in the United States, carrying on the central Pennsylvania racing tradition on Friday nights throughout the summer, in addition to special races, like this week at the Fair.

A small committee of dedicated volunteers, many from families who have been involved in racing for generations, have made it their mission to turn their decade-long dream into a reality; and they’re kicking their plans into high gear.

“We don’t pick our passions in life, they pick us,” Committee vice president Jake Hoover said. “I don’t know why I love this strip of dirt at the fairgrounds, but it’s been embedded in me since I was a kid. We want to give these people credit for the history they created all over the tri-state area, and that history is enormous.”

The Museum of Speed will feature exhibits, educational presentations and memorabilia collections, all from a vantage point that gives visitors a look right down the front straight-away of the modern-day speedway.

A partnership between the museum board, current race promoter Joe Padula Jr, and the Bedford County Fair Association has made the project possible; the timeline, dependent on fundraising, is described as a marathon rather than a sprint. But the foundation they are building is solid, as is their resolve.

Standing in front of his photograph, a half-century old, John Pittman laments that the men pictured are no longer living. He accepts the responsibility of keeping their memories alive, and looks forward to sharing the achievements of the drivers, owners, mechanics and others with future generations.

“Time marches on,” said Pittman, “but we’re dedicated to preserving the past, and that’s what the museum will accomplish.”

Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org.