John Hendrickson's new position as president of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., will have him looking to both the past and the future as he attempts to preserve history while making it accessible to current and future generations.
Hendrickson is uniquely suited to this position. A successful businessman, he is the CEO of Whitney Industries and also thoroughly understands the Thoroughbred world, having served on the New York Racing Association's board of directors and as a special advisor to New York lawmakers.
He also manages Marylou Whitney Stables for his wife, and the couple has been responsible for the Backstretch Appreciation Program that for 10 years has provided meals and entertainment to the people who care for horses stabled at Saratoga Racecourse.
"The museum has always done traditional things well, and we want to maintain the prestige of the place, but we have to go out and engage the next generation, which gets its information through smart devices," Hendrickson said. "Barbara Banke and Debby Oxley are co-chairing an educational campaign to help bring the museum to young people while preserving what we have.
"We want to get to the point where you can look at a painting or a plaque and scan in a video through your phone."
Hendrickson also wants to launch an outreach program to racetracks across the country to fulfill the museum's mission of being truly national, perhaps mounting exhibits or at least having a presence at racing facilities coast-to-coast.
The museum, located across Union Avenue from Saratoga Race Course, has instituted several programs that Hendrickson said have led to increasing numbers of visitors this year. A Kentucky Derby viewing party drew more than 500 people. A Man o' War exhibit honoring the 100th anniversary of the great horse's birth proved popular, as has an exhibit of Tony Leonard photographs.
A new installation of lawn jockeys in prominent racing stable silks outside the facility has also driven traffic. And legendary racecaller Tom Durkin conducts daily tours of the museum that are sold out.
Hendrickson, who will serve sans salary, also has historical ties to the Hall of Fame. Marylou Whitney's former husband, Cornelius Vanderbilt "Sonny" Whitney, was a co-founder of the museum and its first president.
"Marylou really wants me to put energy into this; she's 100% behind it," Hendrickson noted. "It's not just our job to showcase history; we have to reach out and promote the sport, and frankly, as an industry, we haven't done a very good job of that. We have such a dedicated and energetic staff here, led by executive director Cathy Marino, and there is renewed energy throughout the town here about the museum.
"We want this to be a museum that's fun and moving forward, and part of bringing it to life will be putting up digital content, access to videos, and interviews and podcasts with inductees. The museum is so important and needs to be taken to the next level, and I want to make sure I'm giving it the time and energy and respect it deserves."