Marion historian displays model car collection in new racing exhibit


A signed model of the IndyCar of Emerson Fittipaldi is seen among the collection of local historian David Wendell’s exhibit titled “Oil, Autos, and Ovals: Racing in America” at The Marion Heritage Center in Marion. The model and a signed photograph are two of Wendell’s most prized items in his collection because of Fittipaldi’s reputation for being difficult to sign autographs. The special exhibit, with more than 100 artifacts, tells the story of drag, dirt and asphalt oval racing in Iowa and the United States. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

David Wendell holds a model car of IndyCar driver Christian Fittipaldi as he sets up an exhibit titled “Oil, Autos, and Ovals: Racing in America” at The Marion Heritage Center in Marion on Tuesday. The special exhibit, with more than 100 artifacts, tells the story of drag, dirt and asphalt oval racing in Iowa and the United States. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

A print of NASCAR driver Richard Petty’s portrait and one of his #43 race cars is seen in the collection of local historian David Wendell’s exhibit titled “Oil, Autos, and Ovals: Racing in America” at The Marion Heritage Center in Marion. Petty would race in #43 from 1959 to 1992. The special exhibit, with more than 100 artifacts, tells the story of drag, dirt and asphalt oval racing in Iowa and the United States. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

MARION — Drivers, start your engines.

For the first time in Iowa, the IndyCar and NASCAR model collection of local racing enthusiast, historian and former museum owner David Wendell will be available to the public at the Marion Heritage Center & Museum.

With about 125 models spanning the greatest racers in both segments of the sport, visitors will have the chance to see Iowa’s historical ties to the sport typically relegated to southern stereotypes.

“People think about racing as rednecks in the South,” Wendell said. “If you come to an event like this and hear me speak and learn the science that goes into these cars, you’ll realize this is the cutting edge of technology. It is no longer how to outrun the law. It is how to overpower Mother Nature and defy gravity — that’s what these cars do.”

If you go

Where: Marion Heritage Center & Museum, 590 10th St., Marion

When: Exhibit opens Saturday, Aug. 6 at 1 pm Exhibit will remain open during museum hours until Oct. 15.

Details: Marion historian and collection owner David Wendell will give a keynote address at 2 pm on the history of racing in Iowa. “Days of Thunder” featuring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman will be shown at 3:30 pm

More than 100 artifacts tell the story of American racing from drag and dirt to asphalt and ovals.

Four suits and uniforms will allow kids to dress up as their favorite driver and race in the “Marion 500” racetrack, with prizes awarded to winners. Children will also be able to build their own model race cars.

Admission to the exhibition is free. For more information, call (319) 447-6376.

Through a Saturday keynote from Wendell and the exhibit, visitors can learn about the difference between IndyCar and NASCAR, historic figures, local Cedar Rapid residents who race today and a passion for the sport that Wendell has had throughout his life.

That passion was kindled by listening to the Indy 500 on the radio with his father, a racing enthusiast — around the same time when his model and autograph collection started. While Wendell wasn’t quite as mechanically inclined as his father, he found a passion for the sport in other ways.

“I was able to show the interest in racing and cars through their history and a deep appreciation for the science and art of not only racing but the cars themselves,” Wendell said. “I’d like to think this collection is a vindication of all those years of frustration where he tried to teach me (how to fix cars) and it never quite caught on the way it did for him.”

The new exhibit is the third this year for the Marion Heritage Center, which typically doesn’t have more than two, said director Robyn Ireland. The first two this year covered “The Fuel Question” of using local peat moss beds as a fuel of last resort in Marion, and an annual local art display over the summer.

“I’m trying to get more visitors to the museum and a lot more exposure than we’ve had in the past,” she said. “I know there are a lot of racing fans out there. A lot of racing goes on in the summer.”

A one-day event on the Titanic in March, also produced by Wendell’s memorabilia, was so popular that some visitors had to be turned away after the building hit capacity.

Wendell’s Saturday lecture will show how legends in Iowa became legendary. Learn about how Roger Dolan of Lisbon won every championship available to him as he dominated race tracks in the 1980s and 1990s, how Hawkeye Downs went from a quarter-mile dirt track for go karts in the 1920s to one of the best half-mile paved ovals in the Midwest and how the Iowa Speedway in Newton is propelling the state into the future of racing.

Visitors also can learn about Cedar Rapids NASCAR racers like Landon Cassill, whose family owns Cassill Motors, and Joey Gase, a NASCAR driver who owns a team in Cedar Rapids.

“They were master mechanics and engineers who knew how to tweak their cars in such a way to outperform others,” Wendell said.

Attendees can also hear how racing evolved from a means of entertainment during the Great Depression to a more accessible sport with “late models” after cars became a household staple in the 1950s.

“I want them to see the art and science behind cars and racing and get a deeper appreciation for how racing is not just a sport, but an intellectual activity,” Wendell said.

A portrait of IndyCar driver Pippa Mann is seen behind a model of her racecar as part of a collection of local historian David Wendell’s exhibit titled “Oil, Autos, and Ovals: Racing in America” at The Marion Heritage Center in Marion. The special exhibit, with more than 100 artifacts, tells the story of drag, dirt and asphalt oval racing in Iowa and the United States. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

A model of the #11 NASCAR of Ned Jarrett is seen among the collection of local historian David Wendell’s exhibit, “Oil, Autos, and Ovals: Racing in America,” at The Marion Heritage Center in Marion. The special exhibit, with more than 100 artifacts, tells the story of drag, dirt and asphalt oval racing in Iowa and the United States. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Signed photographs and models of Indy racing cars are seen in the collection of local historian David Wendell’s “Oil, Autos, and Ovals: Racing in America” exhibit at The Marion Heritage Center in Marion. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

A model of one of NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon’s race cars is seen among the collection of local historian David Wendell’s exhibit titled “Oil, Autos, and Ovals: Racing in America” at The Marion Heritage Center in Marion. The special exhibit, with more than 100 artifacts, tells the story of drag, dirt and asphalt oval racing in Iowa and the United States. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Comments: (319) 398-8340; elijah.decious@thegazette.com

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