Wednesday, August 22, 2018


It was a bucket list item.

Some of you may know that in my land-side life, I am kind of a gear head. So when my son, on the occasion of my still being alive after completing 70 trips around our local star, presented me with a trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats for Speed Week, I was ecstatic!

Just in case you're not up on this stuff, Bonneville is where the world's land speed records are set.

Sunrise on the salt

The place is surreal. It is a salt desert - a dried up sea. It is dead flat, for miles and miles, and yes it is salt...  just like on your table.  Clean white salt.

Now here's a weird thing... Tho it is hot (100°+ most days), there are patches of water showing here and there... water that is so saturated with salt that it is syrupy.  And there are patches of moist salt too.  So not all of the flats are suitable for automotive travel, let alone high speed runs.  Each year the course must be carefully surveyed to ensure that it is safe.

Later in the day, the umbrella was unfurled
For Speed Week, the salt flats are invaded and a city is created.  And aside from the vehicles that will be competing, there is another whole host of vehicles, many not street legal, running back and forth driven by some real characters.  Adam described it as "Burning Man, but with nitromethane."

The event is BIG.  The pit area was perhaps 3 miles long and 5 rows deep.  The course itself is 10 miles long.  In fact, it is so long that it is not possible to see from one end to the other because of the curvature of the Earth.  There are timing traps on the first 5 miles of the course; the second five miles are for deceleration.

Six courses

Actually, there are six courses.  Why so many?  Well, first of all, this is one of very few venues of this type worldwide, so there is a lot of demand.  Second, there are classes for any type of vehicle you can imagine, and not all of them need 10 miles to reach their top speed.  For example, on one of the short courses a competitor on a 50cc Honda step-thru motorcycle turned in a blistering run at 58 mph.

Oh, and by the way, this event is all about breaking records.  There are no second place finishes.  If you don't break the previous record for your class, you fail to qualify for a second timed run (two runs are averaged to make the official speed).  The 50cc Honda failed to qualify - the previous record was 62 mph.

I have been to a lot of car shows and swap meets.  One of the joys of these events is the sound of a guy firing up a big V8 - something you hear fairly frequently.  But here it was an entirely different vibe.  Here when an engine was fired up (and there were lots of them!), it wasn't for show - it was for tuning or to warm it up.  In other words, it was serious business.  And something else - a lot of these engines were running on fuel, not gasoline.  An entirely different, sharper, exhaust note.

Some might want to make a comparison to drag racing.  Well, we talked to a drag racer who was there; he was just as awed as we were.  The fastest he’d ever driven was 180 mph...  there were cars here going more than twice that fast. More, a drag racer's engine only has to run for a few seconds, and then typically gets completely rebuilt after each run.  Most drag racing engines don't even have cooling systems.  The requirements here are far different.

An observation:  all the really serious cars here had rudders.  When your speed is above 200 mph, aerodynamics are extremely important.  When you are above 400 mph, they are everything.

Even the Jag gets fitted with a rudder

The Carbiliner - we called it the spaceship

A Lakester

A streamliner being transported to the starting line


Those are drag chutes in the tubes under the rudder


Finally, a video of a 300+ mph run. I'm sorry that it is so zoomed out - because of the bright sun on the salt, I couldn't see the screen on my phone so I left it zoomed all the way out and just tried to keep it pointed in the general direction of the car. Even this was difficult... remember that curvature of the Earth thing. You'd be looking back toward the starting line, trying to see something moving. Mirages made this difficult. and then you'd see, maybe, a dot. And then it would be past you in a flash if it was a 450+ mph run, turning back into a dot. I had a better chance at capturing a slower run...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...