Monday, August 17, 2009

Bonneville Speed Week-Part Two

In case you missed the first installment, click here to see Bonneville Speed Week-Part One.

After watching so many neat cars and motorcycles go zooming away across that smooth salt trying to go as fast as possible, trying to break the record for their class, it was our turn to go out on the salt. No, we weren't racing (although I'm sure my husband had several thoughts about it). Instead, we had permission to go visit the main timing tower, which is located between the long and short course at mile marker three. It was neat driving out on the salt and have vehicles zooming past us at much faster speeds.

James Rice was waiting for us. I had met James at a caving event, and we had started talking about Bonneville Salt Flats and Speed Week, and it just so happened that James is in charge of timing the vehicles! He and his brother Alan run the company ChronoLogic Timing, which does the timing for both Speed Week and World Finals at Bonneville, along with an assortment of other meets.

We went upstairs in the air-conditioned control tower to meet some of the folks helping out. Glen Barrett, on the left, has been involved with Speed Week for decades, and his daughter, Tammy (not pictured), is following in his footsteps. 

Speed Week becomes a tradition with many people, and not just the racers. The starters, timers, patrollers, inspectors, and others who help with the race go back year after year. Tammy said that when people ask where she's going, she says, "To my family reunion."

The Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), which sponsors Speed Week and other races, is an all volunteer organization. Obviously these folks love what they're doing.

On each end of the control tower are a pair of workstations that overlook the race course. The computers show the times of the vehicles as they pass the sensors. Everything is recorded, and it's known in just a few seconds if a record has been broken.

To the back of the timing tower are more support vehicles, along with emergency vehicles like a fire truck and an ambulance. Although not usually necessary, they are essential. Unfortunately there was one fatality at Speed Week this year.

Downstairs, James showed me the supply of extra timing mechanisms. These occasionally get run over (he had cleaned one up earlier in the day), so they always take several spares. They also have a large bank of radios to keep everyone in contact. With such long race courses, good communications are essential.

The timing devices are hooked by hard line into the timing tower. From there, the results can be broadcast wirelessly for a short distance, and are uploaded onto the SCTA website each night.

Thanks so much, James, for giving us this peek into the behind-the-scenes action at Speed Week! It is really amazing how many people are needed to make an event successful.

This is the view looking from the timing tower towards the pits, which are near the end of the long course.

The salt has interesting patterns on it from evaporation. There's a group called "Save the Salt" that works with the BLM and a nearby mining company to try to preserve the Bonneville salt.

We drove back to mile 0, staying close to the orange cones so we didn't disrupt any of the racers.

Then it was time to head out towards the pits, where we also found the registration and inspection area. Safety is taken very seriously, with three inspectors closely checking each vehicle. The drivers have to be familiar with the required safety gear and how to use it.

New drivers also have to attend an orientation. We were surprised that there were still new drivers signing up on Wednesday. They still had the rest of Wednesday and Thursday and Friday to race. The busiest race days are usually Saturday through Monday, and then as people reach the times they want or their vehicles reach their limits (or they have to go back to work), they head home.

Desert Boy was worn out from all the looking around and laid down on the salt. We lucked out with weather--when we got to the salt flats it was only about 65 F. In a few hours it warmed up to 85 F, and was expected to get slightly warmer. One official told us that some years it can be up to 110 F, and then it's just brutal. I can only imagine. 

There is so much to see at Speed Week that these blog posts just give a hint of what's out there. It's a fascinating world of speed, machinery, and camaraderie. I encourage you to go see it for yourself, it's not like anything else I had ever experienced.

What's next? My husband and the ranch mechanic are already hatching plans for what farm equipment they can resurrect and supercharge to set new land speed records. Fortunately, tractors aren't one of the racing classes, so maybe we'll be okay!


The Incredible Woody said...

Thanks for the tour! That looked like a ton of fun!!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you were able to make it out to visit us. One correction, Glen's daughter is named Tammy.

-James Rice

David Evans said...

Start your own class: Tractors!....I'll bet you won't be alone for long...

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