One Tank Trip

One Tank Trip: 'Racing: A Need for Speed' at Mercer Museum

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. - We've all been in a race. Maybe not a race you know, but what about the backyard? A foot race, where the idea is to see who can get there faster.

"To get there faster, to achieve more speed," said Cory Amsler, the vice president for collections and interpretation at the Mercer Museum in Bucks County. "We can only go so fast on our feet, but if we add a horse, we can go that much faster. If we get on a bicycle, we can go faster."

And if we get in a car... The constant quest, the need for speed, is mapped out in chronological order in the Mercer Museum's newest exhibit -- Racing: The Need for Speed -- and it begins, logically, with our own two feet and a race, an infamous one,that only one side actually knew was a race.

You'll see the rifle of Edward Marshal, one of the runners the sons of William Penn hired to defeat the Native Americans in the Walking Purchase of 1737.

As the country developed, so did walking and running and racing. It was called "pedestrianism" and eventually became organized. Track competitions were introduced at high schools and colleges.

"Early 20th-century track shoes versus the footwear that was being used more in the 1980s -- the Reeboks," Amsler added.

But before we get to the 80s, let's go back to the 1800s, when we realized horses could get us there faster.

"Horse racing was always a little problematic in Pennsylvania from a moral standpoint," Amsler said.

But it was always big business, and then came bicycles.

"The first velocipede, the first pedal-driven bicycle, actually appeared in Doylestown in the late 1860s," Amsler said.

You can see how fast you can go on a mini-high wheel, one of the interactive parts of the museum.

Bicycles made way for automobiles and boats. There were hydroplane races at the Neshaminy Aquadrome.

On land, there are faces you'll recognize. Mario Andretti was behind the wheel of a dirt sprint car in 1964, which was originally built for an Allentown man.

In racing, in all these forms, there's always that sense of competition, the thrill of it, the spectacle, and the danger. It must be our competitive nature, even if you're just inside a museum.

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