Tuesday, August 11, 2009


After a fine time at my brother's wedding in South Lake Tahoe and a short trip to Virginia City I had only one thought on my mind:  Bonneville.

We'd planned on the trip to Wendover taking  about three or four hours based solely on my vague recollection of travel times from past trips on 80.  Looking at the map enroute I realized that I had been woefully optimistic... the actual time from Virginia City to Wendover is closer to 6 hours.   And, I hadn't planned on the seemingly endless amounts of construction work currently being conducted, slowing us even more.  We spent many miles riding the shoulder... I can only imagine how stressful that route must have been for anyone hauling a trailer.  By 1AM we were pretty well cooked, so instead of plowing through to stateline we decided to catch some sleep in the parking lot of a truck stop in Wells, about 60 miles from Wendover.   So much for watching the sunrise on the salt.

The next morning we crossed the state line and headed down the road to Bonneville.  We were giddy with excitement but completely unsure what to expect.  Bonneville is the ultimate hotrod experience- nothing short of Mecca for straight line crowd.  They've been doing speed trials on the salt flats since 1914, and when the SCTA starting organizing trials there just after WWII Bonneville's status as the center of the hotrod universe was cemented.  From Ak Miller to Mickey Thompson, the biggest names in hotrodding have all made their mark in the salt.
After paying for our $15 day passes we followed a small line of cars down a route 'marked' with orange cones.  Hotrods buzzed around and we tried to figure out where to start our day.  We came up to a group of parked cars and decided that this would be as good place as any to start.

We parked the truck, slathered ourselves with spf50 (don't forget to apply under the chin!) and hit the salt on foot.  There were about 100 cars parked haphazardly around and some people had set up small sun shades.  We could hear announcements being made over a loudspeaker. At first I thought we might be at the pits, but quickly realized that there were no car haulers and no work being done.  We soon encountered the SCTA timing tower and the line of cars ready to get to work; we were at the starting line!  
There were three tracks set up this year, Long (5 miles), Short (3 miles) and 'Special'.  No one seemed to know why the Special track was so called except that it was special to even have a third track- usually there are only the two.  In any case, it was also a short (3 mile) track, and was set off quite a ways from the other two tracks.  We never actually saw any of the Special track runs since we kept pretty busy with the other two.
I'm not sure how I expected the trials to be run, but I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of BS.  Cars lined up behind the starting points, waiting their turn on the track.  The lines went pretty quickly.  A car/cycle would come up to the starter who would check that the driver was buckled in and confirm the info for the run.  production class vehicles had to start under their own power, while the altered classes generally had a push car to get them going.  Once they took off the starter would watch to make sure they hadn't had a problem and start getting the next car or bike ready to go.  Once the track was clear, the next trial was given the go.  The SCTA grandstand would announce the speed at various marker points and if a record had been set.
Spectators were free to go anywhere they wanted, and there were hundreds of people milling around.  Some were set up to watch every single takeoff, others were clearly rooting for certain people, and lots were just wandering around, taking it all in and snapping pictures.  The teams seemed very relaxed and chatted with the bystanders.  SCTA officials rolled around on tiny bikes, each and every one sporting the classic white on white drag strip look.
I ran into a guy from Sac who recognized me as one of Johnny Crasharama's pals.  He pointed out two Sacto cars parked right behind me-- incredibly patina'd hotrods that were brought out by members of the Retarded Sparks, a Sacto car club.  I asked if Johnny had showed up yet, but it turned out he'd skipped the trip since the flathead powered belly tanker he was going to crew for hadn't been finished in time to make the trip.
The speeds varied widely, with some small bore stuff turning in speeds well below the century mark, and some land speed streamliners running up around 400mph.  The faster stuff ran on the Long course, with older and smaller stuff sticking to the Short and Special tracks.   I think the fastest runs we actually saw were in the 250+ range.  We saw a couple of high speed runs that ended in spins at well over 200 mph, but all was good- the wheels never left the salt and the drivers were fine- we saw one back on line for another run only a couple of hours after the spin.  A driver had died the day before when his front end dug into the salt and his roadster started flipping end over end at about 250 mph.I'd expected that we'd run into the Crosley guys I knew who were racing there, but after we'd poked around for a while we realized that Bonneville is BIG.  The whole event stretches out for well over 5 miles, and with three tracks going it covers a whole lot of territory.  We headed back to the car and hoped that team Crosley had a phone with them...

More to come....

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