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"Fastest Family in Great Falls" exhibit at the History Museum

"Fastest Family in Great Falls" exhibit opening soon at the History Museum
Posted at 3:16 PM, Jun 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-13 11:21:59-04

GREAT FALLS — "That's the Studebaker, how it looked in the beginning,” Betty Burkland said, referring to a picture of the Studebaker her husband, Gene, raced at the Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah.

For Burkland, seeing her husband's racing memorabilia on display at the Great Falls History Museum's new "Fastest Family in Great Falls" exhibit featuring her husband and their family is an opportunity to reminisce.

"Some of this stuff, the Classic's jacket, I hadn't looked at in a long time. Then, this one comes next,” she said, referring to a jacket on display.

"This is the first one he got when he set his record and then it kind of goes from there,” Burkland said, referring to the jacket commemorating her husband breaking the 200 miles per hour barrier.

On September 27th, 1978, Gene set what was then the speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats - 255.863 miles per hour - becoming the first Montanan to join what's known as the "200 Club."

"Fastest Family in Great Falls" exhibit at the History Museum

"He was absolutely thrilled. At the time, there were, like, 150 people in the club,” Burkland said.

Gene passed away in 2009. Since he set his record, Betty and her son Tom have also joined the club.

"Tom's record, the 295, lasted from 1985 to probably 2018 maybe 2019,” Burkland explained. "Two hundred and sixty three (miles per hour) is my record."

Tom has also since joined the 400 Club, topping out at 417 miles per hour.


The museum's collections curator, Ashleigh McCann, said when Betty pitched the idea of an exhibit to the museum the museum was interested.

"The more we talked about it, the more we thought 'Yeah, we should make this pop-up exhibit happen,’” McCann said. "I didn't know anything about salt flats racing before I met Betty, so it's so cool to learn about this fascinating world of racing."

"You get down there (to the Bonneville Salt Flats) and you usually love it or you can't figure out what on earth is going on,” Burkland said. "You can't imagine why anybody would do this. We have a friend who said this isn't a hobby, it's a lifestyle. Other people say it's a disease and it's hard to get rid of."

"Fastest Family in Great Falls" exhibit at the History Museum

The new exhibit will open at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 12, and will be up through at least the end of July.

For more information, click here to visit the Museum website, or call 406-452-3462.