North East Motor Sports Museum celebrates grand opening with racing greats
CONCORD — A museum dedicated to preserving the Granite State's rich history of motorsports celebrated its grand opening Friday.
The North East Motor Sports Museum at New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosted a celebratory ceremony with donors, volunteers and racing veterans in attendance.
Guest speakers at the event included retired NASCAR driver, Ricky Craven, and nine-time NHMS race winner, Eddie MacDonald, both of whom are New England natives. Also speaking was Dick Berggren, President of the North East Motor Sports Museum, and David McGrath, Executive Vice President and General Manager of NHMS.
Kristen Lestock, Communications Director for NHMS, welcomed the audience and expressed her excitement for the museum's opening since its humble beginnings.
"I remember back in 2011 when we had a press conference, and both Dick and Ricky were here to announce this wonderful project," Lestock said. "Fast forward a few years later to September of 2015 when we did our groundbreaking for this building, and now six-and-a-half years later, on Monday, June 12, we will be opening our doors to the public."
Lestock introduced Dick Berggren, whom she called the "man behind this dream," and the "one guy who could bring this idea to reality."
Berggren said he couldn't take all the credit though, and proceeded to make his way around the room pointing out various volunteers and donors who helped make the museum a reality.
He also said the idea for the museum dates back about 20 years when he was approached by another motorsports enthusiast who was worried about the loss of racing pictures and artifacts.
"He said, 'We got a problem,'" Berggren recalled. "'People are dying, and when they do the families don't know what to do with their scrapbooks, and they're throwing away all their pictures, and we got to save that stuff.'"
Berggren said that he was told that people didn't know what to do with old race cars either, so they would often end up in junk yards or private collections where nobody can see them.
"'We need a museum— oh and by the way— you're the guy to do it,'" Berggren said, joking that he wasn't sure how many other people were told they were the right guy for the job that day.
The combined value of donated funds, materials and labor to build the museum exceeded $1.2 million, and more than 800 people have contributed to the project in some way. Berggren noted a large, brass plaque in the lobby that bears the names of contractors who donated materials or labor to the project, including concrete for the floors and foundation, the heating and cooling system for the building, garage doors, installing electrical wires and more.
"This is not a museum that some rich guy built so he can store his own collection," Berggren said. "This is a museum that was built by people who care about automobile racing and about motorcycle racing."
Berggren said contributions were more than just monetary donations, and that people utilized their own skills to help the museum. A private event for donors and volunteers Friday evening was catered by a volunteer, and another used his experience installing electricity to help out.
"Everybody's doing what they can do," Berggren said. "This is a building that was built from the heart."
Dick McGrath said he takes great pride in seeing the museum happen on the NHMS property, and that Berggren's passion for the museum means a lot to everyone at NHMS.
"His passion for this building and all that it represents is so meaningful to all of us at the speedway," McGrath said.
He said he was talking with legislators in Concord recently about the future of NHMS. An attraction like the North East Motor Sports Museum, McGrath said, is an important part of that future because it will be open year-round.
"Racing fans from all over New England can come and see the history and the heritage that this region has in auto racing," he told the crowd. "And I'm so proud to have it on our property."
Ricky Craven said it was hard for him to come up with words to describe the museum.
"I walked in this morning, and my first impression was, 'Wow,'" Craven said. "I've tried to put my thoughts into words and what I've come up with is, that this is the guardian of New England auto racing."
Craven said the museum isn't only important to him because racing has consumed his life, but because of the memories of people he watched race or raced with in New England. Craven recalled some of the people who owned race tracks and fostered the sport during what he called a critical time.
"All these things have meaning, not just to me, but to everybody who is a New England race fan," Craven said.
"What this means to me," Craven said. "You can tell I'm a little emotional about it because I'm a New England boy. I had success, but the whole ride I represented New England."
Craven said he and all the other drivers who had raced in New England with pictures or cars on display at the museum are now part of a fraternity for life.
Eddie MacDonald told the audience that he was honored to have one of his cars on display at the museum.
"To be here and see all these cars," MacDonald said. "And to have Ricky here, I mean I've always looked up to him and wanted to follow in his footsteps, so to be a part of this is an amazing honor for me."
Governor Sununu could not attend the event, but he did send a proclamation that was read aloud, designating June 9, 2017, as New Hampshire Race Fan Day.
In addition to opening to the public Monday, the museum will be a stop for the tram that brings people from parking lots to the racetrack during the race weekend for the July 16 race, according to Lestock. She said they also changed the location of their credential pickup to be in the museum to allow fans to check out all it has to over.
Admission to the museum will be $10, but Dick Berggren told NH1 News if you truly don't have the cash, you can still come in.
"We're much more interested in having people come to see it then we are trying to make money out of the front ticket sales," Berggren said. "Virtually no car museum earns its way on selling admissions to the museum."
Berggren said there is a need for operating expenses moving forward, but the building itself is completely paid off. He said they would utilize different fundraising methods to keep the museum running.
"We'll have stuff for sale here, and the building can be rented for weddings, or divorce parties if you're into those," Berggren said with a grin. He said the museum would also host a number of different events including guest speakers and car exhibits that focus on a particular style of race car, like drag cars or road racing cars.