Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bonneville Speed Week-Part One

About two hours east of Salt Lake City, on the west side of the Great Salt Lake, there is a huge area made of salt called the Bonneville salt flats. And when I say huge, I mean huge. The salt flats cover 159 square miles. Some of the salt is estimated to be six feet deep. It is flat, and after every rain, the previous tire tracks get washed away, and it becomes flat once again.

This flatness makes the Bonneville salt a great place to race, and as early as 1914, the first land speed records were being set there. Today, there are three major speed events: Speed Week in August, World of Speed in September, and World Finals in October.

Last Wednesday, we went for a quick trip up to see Speed Week. Ever since we saw the movie The World's Fastest Indian, which is about Burt Munro's trip from New Zealand to the Bonneville salt flats to race his Indian motorcycle, we've wanted to take a trip to Speed Week. Apparently the movie has influenced a lot of people, because this year they had a record number of entrants, over 400 cars and 150 motorcycles.

We began at mile 0, where participants were lining up to race. There were three courses: the long course, the short course, and the special course, which was also a short course. The long course is seven miles long, with timing up to mile five and then two miles to slow down. The short courses are five miles long, with timing up to mile three and then two miles to slow down.

Registrants can race as many times as they want, they just have to get in the back of the line.  It costs $400 to register before May, and $600 afterwards. There are many different classes of cars and motorcycles, and on Wednesday morning, 48 records had been broken just on the short course. 

These records are Speed Week records, and to earn one, you have to race twice, on two mornings, and have your times averaged at the same timing post (from what I understood--if someone knows better, please leave a comment!). Vehicles are timed at several different locations along the courses.

It takes a lot of preparation to get ready for a race. Not only do you have to prep the vehicle and have the driver practice, but there also needs to be a support crew. This crew unloads the vehicle, helps move it up to the starting line, then goes to the end of the course to retrieve the vehicle.

At mile 0 there's an announcer who broadcasts on an FM channel so that folks watching all over know who's racing and how fast they go.

Here's looking at mile 0 on the long course from the announcer trailer.

One of the things that surprised me was that some of the vehicles get push-started. My husband explained that they are geared so high that it would take them a long time to get up to speed if they didn't have this extra assist.

It might take 1/4 mile, but eventually the car is off on its own, pressing the pedal to the metal.

There were a lot of motorcycles racing. Some seemed to go really fast, while others we wondered if they made it over 50 mph.

Desert Boy was fascinated with the salt everywhere, but he didn't seem particularly interested in the racing. It's okay with me if he doesn't think he needs to set a land speed record.

Here's a BMW motorcycle at the starting line, waiting his turn.

The starter is in radio communication with the control tower.

When they clear the course, the starter gives the thumbs up and the rider is on his way. There were also a number of women drivers, and the fastest motorcycle time we heard while we were there (over 200 mph) was by a 71-year old woman.

This brightly painted red car caught my eye, but not for its shiny chrome.

Instead I noticed the array of casualties on the grille. Apparently there are quite a few insects even out over the barren salt flats!

This streamliner was trying to beat the record for fastest time at Speed Week. Whoever gets that honor gets his name inscribed on a huge trophy. I think this streamliner fell a little short--it only went about 371 mph.

Here was another streamliner, so close to the ground it almost seemed to blend in.

In the next post we'll look at our chance to go out on the salt--and some of the inside operations of Speed Week. Speed Week is sponsored by the Southern California Timing Association, and this is the 61st year it's been held.


Anonymous said...

but wait! what about the bugs? Can you tell us about the critters living on the salt flats?

Dessert Survivor said...

Bright sun on white salt--it is painful just thinking about that. I hope you had your sun glasses.

Desert Survivor said...

Sunglasses are a great idea! It is very, very bright.

I saw quite a few dragonflies on the grille of the car, along with some other flies. Learning about the critters out there would be an interesting project!

Gayle A. Robison, DVM said...

One of my clients was in that movie, The World's Fastest Indian. No, NOT Sir Anthony Hopkins, lol.

jendoop said...

So C O O L !!

I want to be the 71 yr old driving 200 mph! Who am I kidding, I'd wet myself.

Caroline said...

This looks like an incredible time! So very much to see!!!


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