Burnin’ Rubber: Auto Racing in Venice from 1953 to 1960 explores Venice’s role in early auto racing in Florida and its impact on the local community during the 1950s. The exhibit features historic photographs of micro midgets, hot rods and sports car races at the Venice Municipal Airport, hot rod magazines, vintage automobile parts, and Venice Vagabonds memorabilia.
Like a drag race, Venice’s auto racing history was quick but powerful. It formally began in 1953, with the first sanctioned races held at the former Venice Army Air Base (present day Venice Municipal Airport). Two micro midget races that year set in motion the possibility of other legitimate racing events at the airport. It would take five years of perseverance from a local hot rod club, known as the Venice Vagabonds, to make it happen.
The Venice Vagabonds sponsored more than twenty monthly drag racing events during the brief period of 1958 to 1960. Venice’s legacy as a racing venue was cut short when the newly formed Federal Aviation Administration no longer permitted these types of events at the airport by the summer of 1960. The Vagabonds’ commitment to public service, however, continued after the races ended. The Venice community valued the organization for its focus on highway safety. Club members offered roadside assistance to motorists in need and conducted local safety checks for hazards in cars, such as faulty headlights, brakes and tires. With the insatiable need for speed, the Vagabonds continued competing at other tracks on Florida’s west coast during the 1960s. Today, the club has informally reorganized with past members to swap stories about the good ol’ days of racing in Venice.