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    « Road Trip USA: In and Out of Winnemucca, Nevada | Main | Road Trip USA: Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Walk »

    Road Trip USA: Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah

    World of Speed, September 14-17, 2018

    Out on the great Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in mid-September to attend the World of Speed land speed record event.  It was a great experience.

     

    This is what I came all this way to see . . . pure speed . . . and enough room to run flat out!  Bonneville land speed racing is a very special and rarified form of mortorsport.

     

    American 'Hot Rods' have their roots on the dry desert lake beds of California and the salt flats of Utah.  Early hot rodders would strip their cars down so they were as light as possible and modify their engines for maximum power and then take them out to the salt flats to "see what she'll do."

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    The Bonneville Salt Flats have been used to set land speed records since 1896.  I always wanted to go to the salt flats and my road trip offered me the chance to attend.


    I arrived at the race track in the late afternoon after having driven from Winnemucca, Nevada, just as they were closing the salt for the night.  Only racers with race entered race cars are allowed to camp on the salt.

     

    The Bonneville Salt Flats are famous all over the world.  A steady stream of cars would show up and people would get out and wander around on the salt.

     

    There was still quite a lot of action on the salt.  Race cars were being towed to and from the starting line for some reason.

     

    The first actual race car I saw from behind the entry gate was this nice early 50s Chevrolet.

     

    I was getting excited.  There are many, many different classes of land speed race cars . . . all the way from 100cc sidecar motorcycle to wheel-driven and jet powered 500++ mile per hour streamliners.

     

    There is a 'long course' and a 'short course.'  The long course pits were about three miles from the starting line.  A row of cars leaving the salt as it began to get dark.

     

    A strong wind came up out of nowhere as the sun set.

     

    I love desert sunsets, but this one was among the best I have seen.

     

    I stayed the night in my camper just outside of the entrance.

     

    I was awakened early by the sound of unmuffled race engines as racers were driving to the starting line in preparation for a day of speed.  I loved this car:  my very first car was a 1957 Chevrolet station wagon like this, but in all white.

     

    I drove across the salt to the pit area and set up camp for the day, offloaded my bicycle and rode it around the pits for a look see.  I camped next to this big 4X4 truck owned by a Belgian family who were driving from Alaska to Patagonia!

     

    The pits were full of every kind of race car imaginable.  From these 'antique' street roadsters to . . .

     

    . . . to futuristic, sophisticated land speed streamliners.

     

    Working on a B/Competition Coupe in the pits.  Basic tools and a  simple trailer.  They could only muster a troubled 174mph run on a 265mph class record.

     

    This V4F/Competition Coupe did much better, setting a new record in their class of 159.5mph (bettering the old record of 156.5mph).  The 'V4F' class designates a "Pre-1935 American made four cylinder flathead" engine.  Fantastic performance for such an old engine technology.

     

    This race car would look right at home on a drag strip.  But look closely and you can see that the chassis is much more sturdy than your typical 1/4 mile dragster.  These cars have to run at top speed for three miles . . . and then another mile or two to shut down . . . and not always on a smooth salt flat (although this year it was 'perfect' according to the racers).  However, this team experienced true heartbreak:  Utilizing a 430 cubic inch HEMI on nitromethane, they ran a 359.11mph against a class record of 360.07mph!!  They missed the record by less than 1 mile per hour!!!

     

    A streamliner team all the way from New Zealand with an F/Gas Streamliner (N/A 183ci, or 2.5L).  They set a new class record at 304mph (the old record was 298mph). Congratulations Kiwis!

     

    Like drag racing, you can roam the pit area at a salt flats race and get up close to the race cars.

     

    I like to follow a few cars and teams across an event.  These 'geezers' (like me!) were here with a brand new race car that looked like a very old 'belly tank' lakester.  I can tell you from my own racing experience, having a race car and being on a race team is a HUGE and consuming drama . . . and a fantastic life experience.

     

    Being towed to the starting line staging area . . . hoping everything is just right for the perfect pass down the Long Course.

     

    Time to buckle in for the big event.  This is an exciting moment for the whole crew.  This is what you have lived for.

     

    After being pushed up to a speed that the first gear can handle, he is off down the track . . . WOW!

     

    After the thrill-of-a-lifetime run (a test pass) . . . towed back to the team pit for refinement, adjustment, maintenance, and readying for the next pass.  The test pass netted them a troubled 116mph on a 279mph class record.  

     

    The rules allow some pretty radical modification:  look closely and you can see that this is a Ford Model T roadster . . . with a really, really long nose (and a supercharged engine).  They ran 190.99 on Sunday.

     

    Special tires with low rolling resistance and capable of very high speeds.

     

    Some of these land speed race cars are really impressive.  This one has an engine of just 1.65L (100 cubic inches) . . . supercharged on nitromethane fuel, and classified as a motorcycle with a side car (it has three wheels).

     

    The rear end final drive gearing is so 'steep' that the cars cannot move from a standing start; they require a push up to about 60 miles an hour to begin their timed run.

     

    Off on a timed run . . . through three timing intervals . . . at one, two and three miles!  I am so impressed with this car . .  to go 304 miles an hour (489.2 kph) on 100 cubic inches!!!!

     

    Raising your children the right way!!!

     

    Not something I expected to see out on the salt flats: a bicycle with unbelievably tall gearing.

     

    Yep, that's right, this woman will pedal her bicycle behind this land speed dragster to try and set the assisted bicycle land speed record.

     

    She will be pulled up to about 160mph while pedaling and then be cut loose to see if she can stay within the faring.

     

    It takes a very big fuel injected Chevy engine on methanol to get up to the speeds they will need to set the record.

     

    This is what she saw . . . . at 186 miles an hour . . . the record she set!

     

    A classic salt flats roadster. I loved this car.

     

    In the staging lanes.  A V8?  No, a 4 cylinder.  Some of these land speed cars have been raced for many years, with many different engine combinations, and hold multiple records in multiple classes.

     

    The purple roadster had this 4 cylinder engine.

     

    Running in the G/FMR class (G= 93-122 cubic inches, FMR = Fuel Modified Roadster) it ran 181.8mph for a new class record (the previous record was 181.2mph).

     

    I would love to make a high speed pass down the salt . . . but NOT in this race vehicle!

     

    Yes, a human being squeezes into this contraption HEAD FIRST, only inches from the hard salt surface.

     

    The driver, in fact, becomes part of his car:  he is wearing a carbon fiber 'turtle shell' on his back which he will use to slide on in case the car tips upside down.  Insane.

     

    Getting in involves first sticking your legs back into a pair of padded tubes on either side of the engine.  No kidding.

     

    The next step is for you to duck your head into the front of the race car as your crew members push down on your back, forcing your head forward in the process. No kidding!

     

    Next, your crewman tightly straps you in so you cannot move an inch.  You are now part of the car itself.

     

    You are now ready to go 130 miles an hour while peeking out of the front window, your chin almost resting on the salt.  No thank you.

     

    Can you imagine this guy's excitement as his crew member guides him to the starting line!  They snapped the top panel on and he was off.  He set the 100cc sidecar record at 130 miles an hour.  Impressive, to say the least.

     

    This healthy, turbo-charged, injected big block Corvette was trying for 300mph . . .  . he went an impressive 294mph on a 264mph record on Saturday.

     

    A 'run-whatcha-brung' Buick V-6 powered Jaguar 4-door sedan.  I was surprised when they joined the 200 Mile Per Hour Club with a run of 209mph  (eclipsing the old record of 194mph). Class XX0/BGCC = "Speciality Cylinder Head", Blown Gas Competition Coupe.  Congratulations to these guys!!!

     

    A vintage 'Lakester' class racer.

     

    They ran a 155mph on a tough to beat 221mph record.  Some racers are not really going for the Land Speed Record, but for personal bests. A class I/Fuel Lakester can only have an engine up to 61 cubic inches.

     

    Readying for a record setting run?

     

    There were four 400mph-capable streamliners on the salt for the week-end.  Unfortunately this AA/Blown Fuel Streamliner could not find the combination - it ran a respectable 303mph on a 417mph record.

     

    Off it went . . . .

     

    And away it went . . . faster and faster.  This photo shows the mile marker orange cones (1, 2, and 3).  It is very difficult to estimate distance on such a flat and white surface, but those orange mile markers are exactly one mile apart.  I love this photo.

     

    Here is another streamliner, but at speed just past the finish line.  This AA/Fuel Streamliner went 417 on this run against a 448mph record (which would be lowered soon after his run).  One of the other 400mph-capable streamliner went 451mph, but I do not have a photo . . . I was wandering in the pits at the time.

     

    For me, and many others at the event, this Ford Galaxy was the star of the event.  Owned and built by an 84 year old body shop owner from La Pine, Oregon (pop. 1,653), they won the hearts and minds of everyone there.

     

    The driver/builder's 84 year old wife buckled him in before the run.

     

    And his wife wished him luck.

     

    And off he went in his 472 cubic inch big block Ford . . . .

     

    A 147.9mph on a 226.3mph was not close, but I am sure he had a great time.  I talked to him afterward and he said he could not find any traction on the salt . . . he lacked the technique . . . it was his very first time at the salt flats with a race car!!!

     

    Although there is a separate Bike Week for motorcycles, there were a few on hand . . . and I guess they let anybody run.  This yellow BSA just missed the record with a 149.4mph against a 150.1mph record . . . just 1/2 mile per hour short of the record.

     

    A great variety of machines ran: this scratch-build turbo Harley had trouble and aborted his run early.

     

    This very professional streamlined motorcycle ran 169mph before mechanical problems set in.

     

    But the undisputed headliner of the meet was the Vesco Turbinator II streamliner.

     

    The press was everywhere around this car.  There was great expectation that they were going to set the wheel-driven land speed record that day!

     

    Pre-staged . . . last minute instructions from the crew before starting the engine.

     

    The Turbinator II is powered by a turbojet helicopter engine driving a shaft through a rear end and, ultimately, through the pnumatic tires.  It was loud and it gave off a lot of heat.

     

    And off it went in a great hurry . . . it vanished into a dot on the horizon in no time at all!  They did it!  486mph average for a new wheel-driven land speed record . . . and I was there to see it.

     

    Two weeks at the same place the TeamVesco Turbinator II set the record again at 503mph.  Amazing.

     

    There were so many cool race cars at Bonneville . . . and I took a million photos.  I will leave a few more of my favorites:

     

    Competition Coupe.

     

    Yes, another modified T-bucket, but with rear engine and streamlining.

     

    With only 91 cubic inches, it ran 180 miles per hour against a very tough 201mph record!

     

    I will treasure my memories of this race forever . . . a 'Bucket List' checked off!

     

    This photo epitomises the essence of land speed record racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

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