VMNH exhibit explores moonshining, racing

March 25, 2012

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Visitors to the Virginia Museum of Natural History on Saturday explored the area’s history of moonshining and racing.

The “Rocks to Racing” exhibit, which opened Saturday, includes a full-size cut-away race car, a racing simulator and a scene depicting a moonshining operation.

As part of the celebration, there were vintage racecars displayed outside, presentations in the lecture hall and educational activities, including crafts, games and a story time, downstairs in the museum for children.

The exhibit traced how stock car racing developed.

At the start of the exhibit, it explained how the location of a still determines the quality of the moonshine. A still location should include a steady flow of cold water; high concentrations of dissolved carbonate from limestone, which makes the water less acidic and bacteria involved in the fermentation of the liquor respond well to low acid; and low iron content because iron adversely affects both the color and the taste of the liquor.

The moonshining operation displayed in the exhibit hall is complete with the cookers, coiled copper pipes and barrels.

On the other side of the exhibit hall is the cut-away racecar and a racecar garage. In the garage are hands-on exhibits that show the horsepower of a V-8 engine, the stiffness of a racecar spring and shock absorber, and how a racecar engine turns.

“I appreciate the attention to detail,” said Mal Rorrer of Martinsville, who brought his three children to the exhibit.

The museum staff “could have just put cars” in the exhibit hall and not made it look like an “authentic” garage, he said.

“The vintage signs (in the garage) are a nice touch,” Rorrer said.

The exhibit “keeps the kids entertained,” said Scottie Cassell, who brought his 3-year-old daughter Chloe to the exhibit.

“She (Chloe) really likes the hands-on stuff,” Cassell said.

It was Cassell’s first visit to the museum and he found the racing exhibit “interesting ... it’s a lot to take in at one time,” he said.

Christina Cassell tried out the racing simulator and “it was a lot of fun,” she said.

She found the simulator to be pretty easy until she wrecked and the wheel started jerking, Christina said. “I didn’t realize how much it would jerk,” she added.

Scottie Cassell II felt like the car “was out of control” when he wrecked and it was difficult to get the wheel straight, which is how a real racecar is, he said.

As far as the moonshining aspect was portrayed, “it’s right nice,” said Harold Smith as he viewed the outdoor scene of a moonshine still.

Smith said that once his parents’ generation is gone, the stories of bootlegging will be gone, he said. “The younger generation doesn’t know anything about this.”


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