Nascent archives of NASCAR

SUN JOURNAL

History: Keepers of auto racing mementos are taking a low-key approach to their work - for now.

February 12, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - To say it is a quirky place is to understate the existence of the International Speedway Corp. Archives.

It houses more than 2.5 million racing photos, slides and negatives and nearly 180,000 hours of videos from major auto racing events throughout the 20th century.

It is simply stuffed with history, loaded with aging treats.

It is to auto racing what the Folger Shakespeare Library is to scholarly research on Shakespeare, what the Kennedy Library is to those who want to know more about the John F. Kennedy presidency and what the Library of Congress is to historians researching the federal government.

But it is vastly different.

You can find an address for the Folger and Kennedy libraries and the Library of Congress. You can even take tours in Washington that will include the Library of Congress. And they all have Internet sites.

But you won't find an address anywhere for the ISC Archives. And if you try to find it on the Internet, you'll come up with Internet Software Consortium, or ISC World (baseball) Tournament or the ISC Security Library, which deals with everything from cryptology to security on the Internet.

But not International Speedway Corp. Archives.

"At this point, it's not geared up," says Jim France, NASCAR executive vice president, whose domain includes the archives. "At this point, it's a gathering place for a 50-year gathering of stuff. ... We'd all like to see it progress, because it's crammed full of goodies."

The ISC Archives were founded by the William Getty France family in 1988, on the recommendation of Anne B. France, Jim France's mother and the wife of the man called "Big Bill," the founder of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. NASCAR sanctions the Winston Cup Series, the most popular auto racing series and fastest-growing professional sport in the United States.

It isn't very surprising to learn that the ISC Archives are one of the largest racing archival facilities in the country.

But, when you go there - try to go there - it is very surprising.

This library is tucked away on a side street in a declining neighborhood. It's housed in two small stone-and-brick buildings with gray awnings. There is no sign identifying it, only a street number - which head archivist Buz McKim says is not to be printed.

"You can use the phone number," he says, smiling, as he rattles off 386-947-6717. "But please don't give the address or say where we are. We are a secret. We don't want anyone to know where we are - but we like people to know we exist."

It isn't a matter of being antisocial. It's a matter of security. Besides McKim and Nancy Kendrick, the administrative assistant, there simply isn't any security.

When a call comes in, McKim is happy to take a request for a copy of an old photograph, an old story, an old video. But if a visit is requested, he'll want to know just exactly who you are, who you work for, what you're doing and why. But once inside, the doors are open wide to the archives' contents.

"I've done a lot of research," says Pete Daniel, curator for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, who is busy on this day researching a racing project in association with the Atlanta History Center. "I'm a historian and I can tell you, you don't get cooperation anywhere else like this. At national archives and most university archives, security is higher. When I go to the Auburn University Archives, they don't know me. Here Buz knows me - and everyone else who comes in. He also knows everything that's here and if you have a question, he knows the answer."

Daniel calls it "a real nice place." A crossroad of sorts, where old-timers in motor sports stop by to talk and reminisce and various writers and researchers can bump into each other and share ideas and perspectives.

Over the next few weeks, the number of visitors will increase as the motor sports world descends on this Florida city for the first race of the 2002 Winston Cup season, the Feb. 17 Daytona 500. But, even without the draw of the big race, the foot traffic is increasing with racing's growing popularity.

As more and more auto racing books are being written, more television specials produced and more replica model cars manufactured, more and more writers, researchers and model car makers and collectors are finding their way to McKim. He is delighted to give tours, dig out information and answer questions.

McKim, 50, moved to Daytona with his family as a 13-year-old and couldn't believe his good fortune to be living just down the street from the old Museum of Speed (whose collection has since been bought by the ISC Archives). He eventually became a graphic artist, but four years ago, he gave up his company to work at the archives full time, and will tell you this is his dream job.

"Every day is an adventure," he says as he leads the way through shelves of silver cans filled with old racing film. "I can't wait to get here, and they have to make me go home on the weekend. It really interests me."

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