Dunn Museum in Libertyville opens new racing-themed exhibit

Dunn Museum in Libertyville opens new racing-themed exhibit

A competitive nature is not necessary to visit the racing-themed exhibition at the Bess Bower Dunn Museum in Libertyville.

"Ready, Set, Go! Lake County's Racing History" runs through Sept. 10 at the nationally accredited museum.

Inspired by artifacts in the museum's collections and those shared by other Lake County historical organizations and residents, the exhibit examines racing venues and many forms of racing that have occurred in Lake County.

The "Ready, Set, Go! Lake County's Racing History" exhibition runs through Sept. 10 at the Dunn Museum in Libertyville. Courtesy of John Weinstein

The exhibit features photographs, newspaper articles and artifacts of boat races on the Chain O' Lakes, harness racing at the Lake County Fair, motor racing at Half Day and Waukegan speedways, runners at 5Ks and the Lake County Races and more.

"Nothing compares to the thrill of the race," Director of Education Nan Buckardt said. "We hope museum visitors are exhilarated when they experience the new exhibition."

The exhibit features videos of past races, an interactive pinewood derby track for children and a stationary race car that museum designers built.

The exhibit provides "a fantastic, fun opportunity for pictures," Buckardt said. "Visitors can also share their own racing story."

There are so many interesting facts about the exhibition. Here are a few:

• Lambs Lake, part of Lambs Farm in Libertyville, was the venue for the Midwest Ice Racing Championships during the 1980s and '90s. The American Motorcyclist Association sanctioned the event that took place every February and featured more than 100 contestants in age categories from 5 years to adult.

• The Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon is the second oldest canoe race in the U.S. The 18.5-mile course has occurred almost every year since 1957. High water and the pandemic have been the only cancellations.

• In 1952, mechanic and race promoter Anthony Granatelli leased an old-World War II Navy airstrip in Half Day to be used as a speedway. Located where the Vernon Hills Athletic Complex is today, the runway provided a quarter-mile stretch of pavement for drag racing. The racetrack closed two years later when the military ended the lease to repurpose the site as a Nike missile installation.

• The Waukegan Speedway thrilled car racing fans in Lake County for 30 years, from 1949 until 1979. The former weekend venue is now a residential neighborhood just north of Betty Limbrunner Park.

• Motocross racing gear worn by Lake County resident Phil Garner is on display.

• In 1858, harness racing took center stage at the Lake County Fair with the opening of a racetrack in Libertyville. Acreage was leased at the County Poor Farm on the northwest corner of Milwaukee and Winchester roads. A one-third mile track was constructed and used on the site from 1858 to 1881.

Spectators witnessed what could be considered the first motorboat race on Fox Lake on July 30, 1889. Unlike the paddle wheel boats used on the Chain O' Lakes for decades, this race featured the new screw propellers, which were completely underwater. The screw propeller would soon dominate steamboat travel and is still used for boat motors, submarines and airplanes today.

There is still racing on the lakes today, including the Blarney Island Drag Boat Races and the just-for-fun cardboard boat races on Fox Lake.

Interactive displays are a highlight at the racing-themed exhibition. Courtesy of John Weinstein

The bicycling craze of the late 19th century brought a profound change to the rights and roles of American women. At a time when women were expected to focus on home and the family and be out of the public sphere, bicycles gave them mobility and independence.

Women utilized bicycles to meet each other and socialize, as well as to organize for social causes. This mobility and freedom accelerated the women's rights and suffrage movements.

• A bike race attracting hundreds of riders from across the U.S. takes place in Lake County. Downtown Mundelein is transformed into a professional bike racetrack on Monday, July 24. The Lake County Forest Preserves is one of the sponsors of the Mundelein Grand Prix, presented by Tighthead Brewing Company.

• From 1981 to 2000, Lake County had its own marathon, first known as Lake County Heart Fund Marathon and then called Lake County Races. Usually held on the last Sunday in April, the competition started in Zion and finished at Ravinia in Highland Park.

There were no cash prizes for the winners, as all proceeds were donated to charities. About $450,000 was raised over the race's life span. Due to a shortage of volunteers and sponsors, the races finished with a celebration of its 20th anniversary with more than 4,500 runners participating.

• Kim Mikus is a communications specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves. She writes a bimonthly column about various aspects of the preserves. Contact her with ideas or questions at Connect with the Lake County Forest Preserves on social media @LCFPD.

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