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Nascent archives of NASCAR

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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."

As McKim leads the way down narrow aisles, between shelves that reach 7 1/2 feet high filled with tapes, books, trophies and memorabilia, there is much to catch the eye. Aged posters from the 12 Hours of Sebring, a McKim painting of Dale Earnhardt Jr., a 1968 tape of David Pearson from a Daytona 500 practice session taken from one of the earliest in-car cameras, A 1949 photo of Fonty Flock and a photo of Bill France with "Miss Motorcycle."

There's a "library" on the right, a room filled with reference books and oddities - a Dale Earnhardt Monopoly game, a can of Richard Brooks racing exhaust, a box of graham crackers shaped liked race cars, a Mario Andretti helmet clock.

Back in the main room are 10 four-drawer cabinets containing driver photos - all locked. Other cabinets hold newspaper clippings sorted by decades. A photo from the 1933 land-speed record run on Daytona Beach sits among collectibles on one shelf. A 1971 telegram from President Richard Nixon, inviting Bill France Sr. to a White House reception, is framed and hangs on a wall near the back of the building. Near it, a 1949 photo shows Big Bill putting together a train set for his then two young sons, Bill Jr., the current NASCAR chairman, and Jim.

And, way in the back, a door to an office. Bill France's last office, kept as it was on the last day he walked out of it.

"He called it a little oasis in bedlam," says McKim.

There is about 7,000 feet of storage space, and every day is filled with sorting and cataloging the collection that is assembled here.

"I wish I could say we have a five-year plan," says Jim France. "But though we've done more in the last three or four years in trying to acquire some things, we, as yet, don't have a master plan or [an extensive] budget in place now. But Buz has already done a wonderful job with a limited budget."

McKim says he thinks there are "still several years of work ahead of us." He dreams of the day when the archives' square footage will more than double, and the facility will be well-known and the leading resource for auto racing history from 1903 to the present.

"I'd like to expand our environmentally accessible rooms and, maybe, establish a minimuseum for the public. I'd like to change our location and maybe add a small movie theater, where we could show off what we have and generally let the people know we exist," he says, envisioning the day when he can reveal the archives' address and open the doors to everyone.

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