Bonneville Speed Week 2009

I missed Bonneville Speed Week last year due to an unfortunately full schedule, but you can click on the following links to see Speed Week 2007, 2006 and 2005. This year seemed a bit more quiet than in previous years likely due to the economy and the global carpocalypse that has manufacturers pulling out of racing events left and right in an attempt to staunch the flow of misspent cash. For most manufacturers, cutting back on their racing programs is a mistake as the automobile has always been about passion and racing is one of those marketing efforts that inspires a fervor like no other. The problem is that for most automobile manufacturers, they appear to have lost the passion for the automobile. How many automobile companies are being run by "car guys"? Not many I'd wager...

At any rate, it was actually nice to have Speed Week a bit calmer as there was less chaos, littering and general disrespect seen out on the salt this year compared with previous years.

Like the last time we came out, Ann and I got up early and were off to the salt flats by 3:45am in an effort to get out there for pre-dawn colors and to capture the light of sunrise.

Much has been written about the magic hours of photography and how one ventures out at uncivilized hours to capture light that is unique in the 24 hr cycle and there is no exception to this on the salt. In fact, because of the high albedo of the salt, photography in the brightness of mid-day is pretty difficult. Contrast is jacked up, tonality is lost and it gets hot...

Just before sunrise, racers line up for inspection to ensure all safety measures are followed and cars have the right equipment for the class of racing they are in. Once the course opens up at 7am, the racers are released to line up for their morning runs when the air is cool.

Automobile racing has historically been the draw here at Bonneville and cars adopt a wide variety of forms from cars you'd see on the street to streamliners that are so long, thin and low to the ground that most driveways would stymie them. Most racers like Robin Dripps come back year after year in a quest for higher speeds.

It is not uncommon for many of the top speed cars to be geared quite tall. So tall that getting them up to speed on their own would mean burning out the clutch. The solution is to have a support vehicle that give the racer a push off the line.

Motorcycles also are a common sight here on the salt with bikes from all years, makes and models. Interestingly, some of the oldest racers on the salt are motorcycle riders. The Suzuki Hayabusa that you see immediately above is being piloted by an 82 year old gentleman on his way to a world record run.

While Ferrari's are not typically racing on the salt (Bob Norwood and Amir Rosenbaum's efforts excepted), there is typically one or two driven out by spectators. This year, I was pleasantly surprised to see the first Ferrari 612 Scaglietti I've ever seen out on the salt.

Most folks are surprised at the distances that need to be covered on the salt flats. Getting from the pits to the start line for instance is a five mile affair and in the heat of August, it can be downright dangerous. So most folks that spend any time on the salt for Speed Week bring with them various unique and sometime absurd methods of moving about. Oh and do bring lots of sunscreen and water. *Drink* the water... all of it. Some, like the young girl above like to enjoy the sun, but the heat can kill you out here, so do prepare yourself if you'd like to schedule a visit.

There are also a number of other rat rods, hot rods and all sorts of custom automobiles on the salt with no intention of ever racing. Many of these belong to the racers, friends of racers or families of racers, but the sense of community is strong and I suspect that the vast majority of them are spectators, just like myself who come out on the salt a couple of times a year to see and be a part of a spectacle, unique in this world... Bonneville Speed Week.

We also met up with a friend of ours who's wife we are trying to recruit for a faculty position at the Moran Eye Center. Mike is a Kiwi and the thing I've learned over the years is that whenever you travel with a Kiwi, you will invariably... somehow... end up meeting someone else from New Zealand. Seriously.

See you next year.

Update: Unfortunately, racing is a dangerous sport and the community lost another racer this year in a fatal accident on the salt. Barry Bryant of Anderson, California was fatally injured in a loss of control situation at 200 MPH. He will be missed by his family and the land speed racing community.

Posted: Wed - August 12, 2009 at 11:06 AM