14 May 2016

The man with a plan

Jerry Smith was raised on a farm in eastern Colorado, where he grew up hearing his father’s stories of street racing in the 1950s. The pair restored a 1956 Ford F-100 together, though young Jerry already had an eye for early Mustangs. “I started working for pay on the farm at 12, and I saved to buy one when I turned 16.” Soon bitten by the rallying bug, he turned to a VW Scirocco, “because it looked like the Audi Quattro Group B rally car.”

The 36-year-old put racing on hold six years ago to return to school full time, earning first a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Colorado State University and then a master’s degree in museology (museum studies) with an emphasis in collections management from the University of Washington.

It was while in Washington that Jerry discovered LeMay – America’s Car Museum, just down the road in Tacoma. “My program required internship hours in any sort of museum,” he says. “Once I found out there was a car museum nearby, I was all about trying to get in there.” Jerry served first as a volunteer, and in January 2015 was awarded a six-month grant from the Hagerty Education Program.

The $4,000 award gave him an opportunity to work with lenders as well as immerse himself in automotive research and label writing. He also had a hand in moving cars around the facility, including the museum’s “Take A Spin” visitor experience events.

More importantly, Jerry developed and completed his master’s thesis, “Road Signs: Preservation, Restoration and Operation of Museum Vehicles — A Best Practices Toolkit,” while interning at ACM. “Essentially, I created a document that outlined suggested best practices regarding preservation, restoration and operation.”

Jerry worked on his project with the museum’s Collections Manager, Renee Crist, who recognized the potential benefits of his efforts for new museums, as well as private collections. “Even art or history museums might have one or two vehicles in their collections,” she says, “and they don’t know what to do to preserve them.” His ready-made toolkit will provide these institutions with “a set of practices for the transportation pieces in their collection.”

Jerry's goal is to become collections manager or curator at an automotive museum. He also can’t wait to get back to racing. “A collection of interesting small cars wouldn’t hurt, either.”

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