Museum gathers history and simulation of historic American race.
[All Photos: Elaine Jones]
Everyone knows how you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. But how do you get to the top of Pikes Peak, the 14,115-foot summit of the tallest mountain of the southern Front Range of the Rockies, near Colorado Springs? You can hike it or take the cog railway that was built there in 1889 by Zakmon G. Simmons, founder of the Simmons Beautyrest Mattress Company (there’s irony in there somewhere).
You Can Floor It
But if you’re looking for some excitement, you can floor it: That is, you can drive one of a wide range of race cars to the top on the 12.42-mile track through 156 terrifyingly tight switchbacks, climbing 4720 feet from the start at Mile 7 on the Pikes Peak Highway to the finish line at 14,110 feet, on grades averaging 7.2% (5% grades are usually more than enough to require runaway-truck catches on mountain highways). This feat was first done in 1913, and starting in 1916 has been a sanctioned Hillclimb Auto Race, run every year since (with timeouts for world wars). That makes it the second-oldest motorsport event in the US, after the Indianapolis 500.
You can see a lot of that history at the El Pomar Penrose Heritage Museum in Colorado Springs. The venue began as a collection of carriages and antique cars connected to the venerable Broadmoor Hotel, founded by entrepreneur Spencer Penrose, who also established the charitable El Pomar Foundation (www.elpomar.org). Recently, the museum has grown dramatically, expanding to 8500 square feet. About half of that is dedicated to the new Pikes Peak Hill Climb Experience, an exhibit of the cars and accouterments that obsessive racers drove to the top of the peak (most of them, anyway), that offers some insight into what drove these motorsport pioneers.
Background Sound Of Racing
“The Carriage Museum is very quiet and dignified,” as museum curator Jason Campbell described it. “Then you step into the other room,” he added. “It’s a jarring transition, and it’s intended to be.” The stage is set by a constantly looping sonic background of the sounds of cars racing on the tightly ribboned road leading up the mountain, audio content sourced from the actual race in 2014. These are auto-panned by an Ashly PEMA 8125 Protea-equipped media amplifier and played through an array of SoundTube SM590i surface-mount loudspeakers attached to the high ceiling of the museum’s new addition. The speakers line up east to west above the ascending ramp that acts as a platform to display some of the cars and as a trope for the Pikes Peak climb itself (as well as an architectural accommodation for ADA compliance).
The racecar soundtrack provides a constant backdrop for the museum’s four main installed exhibits, each of which has its own specific audio and video. The most dramatic of them is the Crash Pit, which contains the remains of a Mitsubishi Evo that sailed off the road into the aptly named Devil’s Playground, but fortunately not the remains of driver Jeremy Foley or codriver Yuri Kouznetsov, who both miraculously walked away from the wreckage. (To see a video of that event, go to http://sndcom.us/1EgKXJB.)
Visitors watch a replay of the crash, sourced from one of four TASCAM DV-D01U DVD players in the AV rack, on a 32-inch Samsung flatpanel monitor nestled just about inside the silver twisted wreck. Meanwhile, sounds simulating the crash and other audio elements sourced from the Ashly PEMA 8125 media router play through a SoundTube SM31-EZ loudspeaker, also hidden inside the wreck and buttressed by a Rockustics PunkSub subwoofer laying in the bottom of the “Pit” exhibit.
Integrated Sound, Video
This approach of physically integrating the sound and video is repeated at the three other main exhibit installations in the museum, “Trophy,” Racecar” and “Timeline,” each of which has its own video monitors and dedicated speakers, all sourcing content from the Ashly and TASCAM systems in the AV rack. It’s how Jeff Houlton, Owner of Houlton Audio/Video Applications (www.houlton-av.com), the Colorado Springs AV systems integrator who did the project, was able to add highly kinetic elements to static museum displays.
“There’s a lot to look at on both sides of the museum, but on the Hillclimb side, you have the race sounds always playing in the background, which is immersive, and when you approach one of the installations, its sound and video are highly localized to it, so it very much pulls you in,” Houlton explained. “It’s the same with the entire new expansion: In the Carriage Museum we’re playing classical music, also routed through the Ashly. Then, when you go through the large doorway between them, you get pulled in by the sound around you.”
Jason Campbell, Museum Curator, said that was a goal of the design: to present a marked difference between the two sides of Pikes Peak’s history, the genteel and the competitive. It’s a bit like Downton Abbey having a NASCAR track next door. “You can hear just a little bit of the car sounds in parts of the Carriage Museum when you’re in there,” he said. “It draws your attention. Then you cross the threshold and the sound and the colors of the cars let you know you’ve crossed over into someplace else. It’s awesome!”
The video and audio content on the Carriage side is provided by TASCAM DVD players situated locally with the exhibits they’re associated with, which were put in place four years ago. Houlton said that one of the ways they were able to keep the areas sonically discrete was with the use of SoundTube FP6020-II parabolic dome loudspeakers in the Carriage Museum, the quieter side of the venue.
These two-transducer, highly focused speakers are used to provide spoken-word information about the foundation and the area’s history, as well as the history of a vintage one-horse sleigh and the 1841 Williamsburg Brougham used for the inauguration ceremony of William Henry Harrison, the ninth President of the United States, without intruding into the tranquility that the classical soundtrack creates. “Then you come to the other side and you’re hit with the roar of motors and gears shifting,” he said. “It’s really two different worlds we created.”
Houlton considers the Ashly PEMA to be the hub of the AV system: It also feeds audio and video to a 40-inch display underneath a car elevated on rails, called the Fin, through which visitors can experience the race climb through a driver’s perspective. “It has an 8×8 audio matrix that enables routing of any signal to any location, and the DSP is pretty powerful,” he said. “We used the EQ to tune the spoken-word audio to enhance speech intelligibility.”
Getting signals to and from the rack and the installations required a significant amount of Belkin Cat6 cabling. Power, content and control signals move through under-floor conduit, installed by Encore Electric, and junction within 18 FSR floor boxes that carry 120-volt power, speaker cable (where applicable) and at least two Cat6 AV connections per box. Four FSR DV-HXT-1c HDMI video extenders project the reach of the AV signals over the museum’s entire floor plan.
The floor boxes futureproof the design, said Houlton. “Museums will change their displays as part of being able to keep bringing the same visitors back again and again, and bringing power and connectivity to a lot of points in the floor will give us a lot more flexibility for fresh exhibits down the line.”
What the museum has done is definitely working. Campbell told a local publication earlier this year that the museum saw nearly 1800 visitors come through its doors last May, compared to 700 the previous year, continuing a trend that began earlier in the year. And May tends to be among the slowest months of the year, he added. The exhibits may change over time (the museum acquires the race cars and other related display items from the drivers and owners, among other sources, many of which are loaned for limited periods of time), but Pikes Peak isn’t going anywhere, assuring a steady stream of visitors to the El Pomar Heritage Museum for years to come.
[accordion_item title =”Equipment List”]
[col width=”six”] Audio
1 Ashly PEMA 8125 Protea-equipped media amp
1 Atlas Sound AT100D volume control
1 Audio-Technica System 10 Pro wireless mic system
1 Audio-Technica 3000 wireless mic system
1 Audio-Technica ATW-T1802 plug-on transmitter (for wireless podium)
1 Audio-Technica U857ALcW gooseneck for wireless podium Belkin Cat6 cabling
1 Denon DCM290P 5-disc CD changer
1 RapcoHorizon LTIBLOX laptop interface
1 RF Venue DFIN-W UHF wireless antenna
1 Rockustics Punksub subwoofer
2 SoundTube FP6020-II parabolic dome speakers
1 SoundTube SA202RDT micro amp
1 SoundTube SM31-EZ-BK surface speaker
1 SoundTube SM400i-BK rack speaker
4 SoundTube SM590i-BK surface speakers
4 SoundTube SM590i-II-BK surface speakers
6 SoundTube SM590i-II-WHT surface speakers (painted)
Tripp-Lite data equipment rack (owner supplied) [/col]
[col width=”six”] Video
2 Chief 6043 mounts for JVC 42″ flatpanels
1 Chief KIWI20B flatpanel wall mount
2 Chief LSMVU flatpanel wall mounts
1 Chief MSMU flatpanel wall mount
18 FSR 500 Series floorboxes
4 FSR DV-HXT-1c HDMI video extenders
2 JVC LT-42PM30 42″ flatpanels (Penrose Story and Gold Rush)
1 Samsung ME32C 32″ flatpanel (Timeline)
1 Samsung ME40C 40″ flatpanel (Racecar)
1 Samsung ME55C 55″ flatpanel (Trophy)
1 Samsung UN32H5201 32″ flatpanel (Pit)
6 TASCAM DV-D01U DVD players [/col]
[/row] List is edited from information supplied by Houlton Audio/Video Applications. [/accordion_item]