Smithsonian Adds Black American Racers Team Materials

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Founder Leonard W. Miller and Members Donate Memorabilia to the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will receive a number of objects from Black American Racers Inc. (BAR) in a donation ceremony Feb. 1. Former owner and president Leonard W. Miller and former members of BAR will present the donation of authentic memorabilia used during the team’s operating days. The objects include clothing, race victory trophies and awards given to Miller, as well as the iconic steering wheel from the Formula Super Vee driven by the late BAR driver Tommy Thompson.  

BAR was formed in 1973 by Miller with a goal to develop a team of black drivers and mechanics to compete in major American and international auto races. It went on to become the first black professional race team to have a national sponsorship and to enter an African American driver to compete in England in 1973. The team was also ranked in the top 60 teams in the world during the mid-1970s.

“It is important to have a story of breaking barriers and a story of an African American organization competing with the big leagues in our museum,” said Jane Rogers, curator in the museum’s Arts and Culture Department.

Miller was also co-owner of the first black team, named Vanguard Racing Inc., that entered a race car in the Indianapolis 500 in 1972. On March 31, 1976, Miller was inducted into the third annual Black Athletes Hall of Fame in New York City. He was also ranked as one of the top five African American auto pioneers in America by the Historic Vehicle Association.

In 1973, Miller went on to create the Black American Racers Association (BARA), which supported BAR’s existing efforts. At its height, BARA held 5,000 members from 20 different states. Members of the association raced in various competitions around the country.

BAR’s donations will join a large and diverse collection of other sports-related objects in the museum’s sports history collection. Some of the other items in this collection include a baseball signed by Jackie Robinson, Chris Evert’s tennis racket and a handball used by President Abraham Lincoln.