WARRENSBURG - At the Warrensburg Museum of Local History Sunday, Jean Wells scrutinized one of the many driver rosters and news articles depicting stock car racing held locally in the 1950s and 1960s.
With a smile prompted by fond memories, she read off a half-dozen race drivers' names, recalling the bygone action at the Ashland Park racetrack, now a residential subdivision behind Ashe's Hotel.
"There's one of Dad's cars," she said, recalling that her father Gilbert Wells had frequently raced there. A race bill exhibited on the Museum wall bore testimony that he'd won third place in a particular showdown.
"It was a terrible track - full of holes, and racing would raise great clouds of dust," Wells added.
Wells and Lois Secor shared memories of how stock-car race competition at Ashland Park at times became aggressive and downright fierce.
Wells recalled how one driver from Vermont routinely ran other drivers off the track, causing collisions and rollover crashes. One time, she and her friends were standing atop a scorer's table for a good view, and they leapt back 10 feet or more to avoid a careening sedan which crushed the table, she said.
Nearby, Brian and Bruce Keith, looking at photos of old racing sedans parked at the Messenger House, recalled how they had lived across Hudson Street and would get their thrills as children by crawling into the cars at night and pretend they were race car drivers.
"We used to love to crawl in through the windows and play in those stock cars," Bruce said.
Dozens of people visited the museum Sunday to see the exhibit on racing at Ashland Park, and they were videotaped as they shared their memories, so the recollections could be preserved for posterity.
Museum Director Steve Parisi said he was pleased with turnout, estimating that about 50 attended the exhibit.
"I'm thrilled with the response of townspeople," he said. "This exhibit brought us to the attention of a lot of people who wouldn't otherwise be museum-goers.
The exhibit of stock car racing was one of several specialized displays or exhibitions the museum has held since it reopened in 2009, including local sports activities, and the role of factory workers - primary garment mill and sawmill employees - in shaping the local economy.
The latter ongoing exhibit brought dozens of former factory workers together last year for a reception at the Museum, when they shared memories of the factory life, not only with each other, but with younger generations that know Warrensburg only in its post-Industrial age status.
The museum, which re-opened in 2009 with new carefully curated and professionally presented displays, is attracting more people than ever.
Parisi noted the boosted attendance in a recent report to the Warrensburg Town Board.
"Attendance is up - more people are finding us," he said. "They may have known we were here, but it took them a while to come in."