You haven’t been. You know you want to.
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Mon, Oct 15, 2012
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Words and pictures by Harold Osmer After much prodding and promising, a friend finally convinced me to make the trip up to the Bonneville Salt Flats for a Southern California Timing Association event. SCTA holds two major meets at Bonneville each year. The first is in August (Speed Weeks) and the second fills the first week of October (World Finals). Weather dictates event scheduling as the lake bed reverts to lake form over much of the year and those few short summer months provide enough evaporation to reset the mineral rich ground to a smooth, hard surface.
Imagine standing on a frozen lake reaching out to the horizon, but you are not cold. Visually, that’s what the salt flats look like. It (they?) is simply too big to photograph, much like the Grand Canyon and the camera isn’t sure what you are asking of it. The salty surface is made of very fine grains of minerals deposited eons ago and repositioned each year with annual rains. The flats themselves connect to the Great Salt Lake some 100 miles east. Speed record runs were first made back in the 1910s. Several early world record attempts were made during those formative years but it wasn’t until hot rodders in search of wide open spaces gathered their collective wills to form SCTA that regularly scheduled events began at Bonneville. That first in meet in 1949 drew 47 entries, largely from Southern California.
The visual scale of salt flat racing doesn’t lend itself to grandstands and rigid seating assignments. Those not participating directly are encouraged to wander about. Mingling and talking with the various crews and racers is the order of the day. Photographs and conversation are welcome at all points. The pit setting reminds one of a large campground sans trees, shrubs, bushes, dirt, wildlife and bugs. Nothing grows on the salt. Flies are occasionally blown south from Idaho to provide a bit of target practice. 140+ entries chased the clock on two courses during World Finals 2012. Both men and women took their turns in a variety of vehicles over the four day meet. Records were set and reset, dreams realized and broken, several new members were welcomed into the much sought after ‘200MPH Club’. One of the first racers I encountered was up from Tucson with a front wheel drive streamliner who later ran 380.006 MPH. They faced a bit of scrambling between runs before another team came up with a key replacement part. These people are problem solvers. While outright speed is paramount at Bonneville, it’s not the primary reason for being there. Camaraderie, shared experience, old friends from disparate parts coming together in pursuit of a singular goal of speed and finally getting to leg out that racer under construction since last year. Yeah, that’s more what it’s about.
Suppose you and the guys built a hot rod and bring it to World Finals. It passes tech, looks good, and you get to tell all who ask about the details. You roll it over to the start line and get pushed off, aimed down course. The engine fires as you target your car between the wide markers (long gone is the straight black oil line) noticing that they seem much closer at speed. You shift up through the gears ever accelerating as that engine your buddy said would pull hard continuously performs just as advertised. Through the end markers, shut down, turn out left and clear the course. Your guys arrive and push you back to the pits. Whether you set a new class record, missed it by ‘that much’ or simply managed to get down course in one piece and are willing to call it good, your prize is a small slip of paper documenting the speed you travelled through the timing traps. No trophy, cash award, or cliché-filled speeches. People come from all around the world to witness this very thing. One fellow we met came in from England. “My wife got me this trip as a 50th birthday present,” he said, “I’ve been wanting to do this for as long as I can remember and here I am. It’s unbelievable.”
Your turn comes next August. Check scta-bni.org for more photos, information, and scheduling. For recommended reading on the Bonneville Salt Flats, check out Louise Ann Noeth's book here. - Harold O.