Ever since I was small I’ve always loved cars. Playing with my matchbox cars as a very young kid I always enjoyed the orange track you could snap together and have the cars race into the craziest double loop track design I could come up with. Then after I got my license and my first car I remember visiting some race tracks with my friends as they would race their cards down the 1/4 mile stretch. To be honest, racing was never really my thing, I enjoyed watching other people do it back then but never wanted to try it for myself. Now years later Nascar and drag racing seem to be more popular than ever.
Shortly after we moved down to Florida a neighbor mentioned a museum that was about an hour away and was a Drag Racing fans heaven. I was not what you would call a big fan, and don’t know much about who even still races, but the one name I did recognize was Don Garlits. So I eventually found some time to head up and check it out.
Don was born on January 14, 1932, in Tampa Florida. He is considered the father of Drag Racing. Not just a race car driver but also an automotive innovator. He perfected the rear engine design putting the fuel and other mechanical components behind the driver which helped protect the driver better.
After many years of racing Don opened a museum on his property in Ocala, Florida in 1976.
This sign greeted me as I pulled in off the highway. Not sure if it applies to Don or to just visitors of his museum.
The museum is split up between two buildings, and houses just under 300 vehicles, and thousands are artifacts.
I headed inside and was just completely blown away.
This truly is a museum about all Drag racing. Sure there is a lot of history and items about Don Garlits career, but there is also plenty of other items from many different drivers and racing teams.
They have over 90 drag racing cars alone, and each is surrounded with magazine covers, newspaper articles and trophies all pertaining to each vehicle.
When I had first checked in and paid my admission fee they said it usually takes about 2-3 hours to tour the museum. But just being the casual fan that I am, I think that you could easily spend much more time than that with all the history and amazing stories being told with each exhibit.
There is even a separate area called the Engine room and that is exactly what you will find inside. Each of these mammoth engines is enclosed in plexiglass to keep them preserved but it still allows you a 360-degree view of them.
Hiding just inside the door of the Engine room was the first penny machine (did you think I came here just for the cars).
The penny machine only has one design available. You slide your two quarters and one penny inside and it comes alive to automatically press your penny. There is a large sign on the front of the machine letting you know to wait until it has finished before trying to press another penny. I think due to the machine only having 1 design it takes a little longer for the machine die to reset each time.
The penny design was pretty cool. It had one of Don’s famous drag racing cars and the name of the museum and location. I always really enjoy these types of designs as they make for great mementos of the places we visit.
I continued through the first main building and just couldn’t believe how big this collection was. They even had a simulator where you could test your speed off the line by sitting in a driver’s seat and watching the lights change to green before you pressed the accelerator. Apparently, I made a good choice not going into drag racing since my reaction time was appalling.
Eventually, I finished with the first building and headed just a short walk to the second building.
You do need to show your admission ticket to get inside this second building and there was an attendant behind the counter checking. Just past that counter was a second penny machine.
This machine also only had one design.
The design on the penny was of a nice looking classic car. It also said Don Garlits Classic Cars and Ocala, Florida.
If you like antique cars or even some American muscle cars this was the building for you. The entire building was just jammed packed with them. Each had a placard listing all the details about the car, the engine and the history of the car.
Once I had finished looking at all the cars and taking a bunch of pictures and video I think I had been there for almost 4 hours. That may be a bit extreme but this really was an amazing place and I’m glad I made the trip up to see it. As I mentioned at the beginning I’m not a huge drag racing fan but I really don’t think you need to be. If you are ever in the area be sure to set some time aside and visit this museum, it was a lot of fun and of course, you can pick up a few pressed pennies as well. Please note that paid admission is required to access both penny machines, but it’s well worth the nominal fee and a few hours of your time.