ON O’NEILL AVENUE: Visiting the Marty Himes Museum
It’s one of those things that can sit idly in the back of your mind.
There must be thousands and thousands of racing enthusiasts who
have heard of former racer Marty Himes and his museum somewhere out
there on Long Island. They’re also likely aware that it’s supposed
to be a pretty cool place, even after the ferocious fire that all
but destroyed it a few years back. But, alas, they’ve never been
there to see if for themselves.
Last Monday, Cary and I made
the leap. Bay Shore is about an hour and a half out the Long Island
Expressway from New York City. Twist and turn through a mixed-use
community, proceed down the dead-ending O’Neill Avenue, and there it
is on the left, right across from a metal recycling plant.
question you’ve arrived. A couple of coupes rest just off the
street, uncovered, weathering peacefully next to an enormous vintage
sign welcoming fans to Freeport Stadium. You are in for a
Marty’s modest home and yard are
full race, packed with innumerable bits of Northeastern racing
history. Inside storage trailers are 10 midgets of varying sizes, a
sprint car, dragster, soap box derby cars, Crosleys, a motorcycle,
and Bob Dillner’s first go kart. Outside are seven complete stock
cars, tucked in around ticket booths, turn styles, and all manner of
equipment from Freeport and Islip Speedway.
Stunning as the
yard walk may be, it is nothing compared to the inside of the house.
Marty claims well over 300,000 photographs and 125 pounds of
negatives. There are trophies, driver suits, helmets, posters, model
cars, scrap books – all stacked high to the ceiling, arranged in
There is a contagion to Marty’s passion as he leads
you through his collection, four decades in the making. His command
of racing history and every trinket is phenomenal.
|Bronco Bill by the
door. (Coastal 181 Photo)
What strikes you first as you walk through the dusty light into
the house is the one-legged figure of Freeport’s Bronco Bill
Schindler, standing there spookily with his own Cromwell, glasses
and goggles, racing shirt, belt, pants, shoe, and crutch. And as
Marty begins to reminisce about Schindler, his focus changes from
the history to the person. He speaks of Schindler’s habits, of his
family, how he met Bill’s son Bob at school, and how he accumulated
such personal items.
The same thing happens when the subject
of Pappy Hough, another legendary midgeteer, pops up. “Roscoe and I
were great friends,” Marty says. “I always go to Stan Lobitz’s party
in Pennsylvania each fall and I’d see Pappy there – one year on a
cane, the next year on a walker. But then the next year, he was
walking just fine. So I asked him how he had gotten so much better.
He told me he had taken to putting WD-40 on his knees and his joints
– worked like a champ – and said I should use it, too.”
Standing next to the beautifully maintained baby blue Giresi Offy,
Marty’s stories move past the car’s record to his lifelong
friendship with its driver, Johnny Coy. There was that one weekend
in 1959 that Coy drove from the Island up to Buffalo solo to win a
Friday night 200-lap midget race at the Civic Stadium. He drove back
and the next night in the same car captured a 500- lapper that ran a
grueling non-stop two hours plus. On Sunday it was down to Trenton
for a century grind on the mile. He was leading but ended up fourth
when a dog bone (shock link) snapped. How was this humanly possible?
“It wasn’t,” claims Marty with admiration. “Johnny was some tough
dude. He had to be. He raced so his family could eat. It was not
easy going. He had two televisions – one for the viewing and one for
the hearing.” Marty ought to know – Johnny Coy ate breakfast at
Marty’s house every day for years. Coy passed away in 2006 but his
coffee cup still sits atop Marty’s refrigerator.
|Johnny Coy in the
Giresi car back in 1959, NASCAR midget days.
(Marty Himes Collection)
The Giresi Offy today at the Museum. (Coastal 181
He had that same deeply personal connection with Long Island’s
winningest driver, the late Bruno Brackey. “Two things about ‘Mr.
Zip,’ the mailman. He was great with the fans, but he was thrifty.
Bruno never bought nothin’. He’d win the feature at Freeport, drive
over to the teardown spot, let the water drain out and let that 312
Thunderbird cool down. He’d always park in the same spot against the
wall so they could measure only one side of the engine. Guess why!
Once his engine had been checked, he’d put the head back on using
the same gasket with lots of Permatex. He’d never put water in it
until the next day to let it seal. He had the system down. And
before leaving, he’d amble over to the pile of junk tires others had
left behind so he could go through them to select which of them he
would use the next week. Won all the time, without spending
anything. I was over at his house once and we were having a cup of
tea. We had to make space on the kitchen table because he was even
more of a pack rat than me. I squished my bag against the side of
the cup, and he went nuts. He said he always kept them for more than
one serving. So, when he died, I slipped a used tea bag into his
|Bruno Brackey at
Freeport. (Marty Himes Collection)
National Speed Sport News columnist Gary London told me, “I’ve
always thought Marty is the number one attraction at his Museum.”
Gary is spot on. At the end of the day, for the hundreds of
thousands of items there in Bay Shore, Marty Himes, with his
glorious stories of racing and its people, is the most precious.
You really must go there. With notice. the Museum can open any
time. Or, you can go to the annual open house the last Sunday of
each August, scheduled tight up on Marty’s birthday. O’Neill Avenue
shuts down, and they say it’s quite a gathering.
When you do,
remember this. Very unobtrusively in one of the storage trailers is
a large glass bottle with a few donations inside.
May it be
just as full as Marty’s heart.
Marty Hime Museum of Motor Racing
15 O’Neill Avenue
Bay Shore, NY 11706
© 2013 Lew Boyd - Coastal 181
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