Thursday, August 15, 2013

Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats

One week every August, they hold Speed Week out on the Bonneville Salt Flats, about 120 miles west of Park City.  It's near Wendover, NV for those of you who like gambling.  The idea is to take almost any kind of vehicle on wheels and see if you can break the land speed record for that class of transport.  As you will see, most anything goes.

This year I talked Greg Glynis (left) and Doug Drexler into going along with me.
I love the looks of some of these cars.  Several things to notice here.
  • The car is all of about 2 inches off the ground.  That minimizes the air disturbance under the car.  As you might guess, the salt flats are a great choice for speed records because they are incredibly flat and smooth.  
  • There is a truck behind the car with big wooden blocks on the front.  It will push the car until it gets enough speed to run on its own.  Think about trying to start a car with a manual transmission in 5th gear.  Chances are, when you release the clutch, the car will stall.  These cars are geared for such high speeds, that their 1st gear is like your 5th gear.
Even though some of the cars look semi-normal on the outside, none of them do on the inside. They all have a luxurious sheet of metal for a seat.  Next to the driver are the gas tank (square, left), an oil reservoir, a water reservoir, and several fire extinguishers.  You wouldn't want to be driving one of these for more than a few minutes.
When you get to the very high-speed machines, they start looking like fighter jets inside.  The combination of raw power and technical complexity is numbing.
I wouldn't want to race one.  I certainly wouldn't enjoy building and maintaining one.  I sure do like looking at the nice ones though.  Notice the name of the racing company for this one.
It doesn't look like it gets raced, but there are even categories for vintage, small-engined motorcycles.
Doug liked this pair.  It is either a Ford with a Chevy pusher or a Chevy with a Ford pusher.  I liked the irony, but can't remember which is which.
I loved the looks of this one, but it is so low to the ground, there is no way I could get it to my garage.  Bummer.
This would make for a mean look whipping up in your rearview mirror. Who am I kidding?  It was only about 2 feet tall.  You would never see it.
The salt reflects all the sunshine and stays remarkably cool.  Unfortunately that sunlight hits everything else and the dessert gets very hot, very quickly.  I felt sorry for the guys getting into their racing outfits and their full fire suits.
This guy looked to be about 60.  He is about to ride his motorcycle, which has no fairing (windshield) at all.  He was trying to break his own record of 220 mph. Can you imagine what that feels like with nothing blocking the wind?
There is a class of vehicles that I think of as missiles with wheels. When maxed out, they hit over 400 mph.
You can see the driver after he has been strapped in.  His head is about 18 inches off the salt flat and he is essentially laying on his back.
This angle gives you a better view of the size.

When this car was ready to run, we wandered back to my SUV for a drive back to the pits to look at other vehicles.  This missile came swerving off the race course and came right over to where we were driving.  They had a mechanical failure and had to abort the run.  We saw them later in the pits, distraught.  They had brought the vehicle from Scotland and apparently had two mechanical failures, the second of which couldn't be fixed at the race.
If I was going to set a record, what would I use?  Probably something like this...  with the umbrella.
or even this.  I could kick this guy's ass!
You can check out the Bonneville records here, but I can't begin to guess what all those acronyms are.

This is such an unusual event that everyone should try to go once.
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