Abraham Cleberg is dressed the part when he pulls on one of the blue Hot Wheels uniforms stacked neatly in a plastic bin by the corner of the room. The shirt, extending below his knees, doesn’t quite fit his 4-year-old frame, but that doesn’t faze him.
He approaches the starting line with a black race car nearly the size of his hand. A sign hanging above reads: “When a toy car rolls downhill, it’s being pulled by the force of gravity. A real car needs a power source, like an engine!”
Fortunately, Abraham’s car has the power of his arm. He glances at his sister Eden, 8, in the next lane over and then propels his car down the orange track to the finish line.
Abraham and Eden recently spent a day at the newly opened “Hot Wheels: Race to Win” exhibit at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. The exhibit — part a Hot Wheels gift shop, part third-grade physics classroom — will run through May 24.
The race-themed exhibit appeals to visitors of all ages, said Courtney Finn, director of strategic communications at the museum.
“There is a learning component for kids that lets them learn about the physics behind racing and an interactive component where they can be a part of a pit stop or build a racetrack that works,” she said.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and Hot Wheels maker Mattel created the attraction, which found its way to St. Paul as a part of the museum’s traveling exhibit series, replacing “Curious George: Let’s Get Curious!”
The hands-on exhibit is a race car lover’s fantasy, boasting several interactive screens, authentic race gear and display cases with intriguing memorabilia. Guests can check out a stock car engine, worn-out race helmets from previous decades, and 3-foot-high stacks of tires.
“They really get excited to come to the museum because there’s a lot of different things,” said Alex Cleberg, Abraham and Eden’s father. “They learn about the principles of physics — motion and energy — and I can feel good as a dad that they learn about the science.”
The Pit Stop Challenge lets guests replace a pair of plastic tires and fill the gas tank just like the pros. A display board ranks the five fastest times of the day, with a swift 11 seconds reigning supreme.
Life-size cutouts of famous racers carry signs with short snippets of race knowledge such as the difference between soft- and hard-compound tires, the energy conservation of burning fuel, and the barriers developed to protect racers who crash.
“I’m always impressed by the creativity here,” said Mike Sime as he watched his three children tinker with the adjustable racecourse. Sime said the exhibit is a great place for his sons, Adam, 4, and David, 7, who recently competed in the Pinewood Derby, a racing event for Cub Scouts.
When you’re not learning about cars, you can race various Hot Wheels toys, pose with a giant gold trophy or drive a two-seated race simulator. The roar of rumbling engines fills the room as children compete in a six-lane downhill track with models like Dario Franchitti’s red Target IndyCar racer and Kyle Petty’s No. 44 stock car.
Erin and Matt Miller watched their sons, Easton and Kellen, run up and down the track to retrieve their cars for another race.
“The boys absolutely love anything to do with cars,” Erin said, who brought her family to the museum to experience the new exhibit. Six-year-old Easton claims to have over 100 Hot Wheels cars at home, a number his mother suggests may be a bit of a stretch.
Once visitors satisfy their desire for the racing and hot rod culture, they can explore a host of other attractions in the museum, like “Noodle World” and “Imaginopolis” or grab a bite at Tomato Tomäto Cafe.
The Children’s Museum will pair up with British animation studio Aardman to create its next traveling exhibit, “Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep: Shear Genius,” set to debut this summer.
Henry Erlandson is a senior at Northwestern University studying journalism and economics. He is a reporting intern on the Star Tribune’s digital team.