Bonneville Speed Week

| August 10, 2009 | 8 Comments

After living in Utah for almost twenty years, I was stoked to finally make it out to the  Bonneville Salt Flats over the weekend for the world famous Speed Week.  It is one of those places and events that almost defies words.  When you first get there, the perfectly flat, glistening white landscape is so bizarre and unique that it makes you wonder what planet you are on.  When that thrill subsides, the next thought is “What would be fun to do in a place like this?”  To many thousands of spectators and participants, the answer is strap yourself to a bomb with wheels and see how fast you can go.  And keeeyrist do people go fast!

My perspective was a bit skewed as the first guy off the line on Saturday morning hit something like 376mph in his “streamliner” which turned out to be the fastest time of the day.  After that, 200mph seemed kind of paltry, except when you watched them go by.  In general, the machines are wonderfully specialized and barely capable of doing anything other than going really fast in a straight line.  Because they are geared so high, many of the cars use a “push truck” to get them up to speed (60ish mph?) before the race car takes over.

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My friend, Rod Falkner, described the cars and motorcycles as "controlled explosions with only six to eight rounds in the chamber before they self destruct and need to be rebuilt." Hang on tight.

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The Paramount Forge Streamliner was an absolute beauty.

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The engine of the Paramount Forge.

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Hmmmm, yummy! I want one.

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I'd be smiling also if I had just joined the elusive 300mph club (Paramount went 310mph) and set a new speed record.

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Falkner Livingston Racing was my adopted team for the weekend and they were running two motorcyles. This one is a 600cc turbocharged Honda.

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The rear tire is sporting a heating blanket (traction is a big issue with speed and salt) while the intercooler gets packed with a water and ice slurry which makes the air denser before being even further compressed by the turbocharger.

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All over but the shouting. Dusty lines up for his two minutes of pure speed.

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The 600 Honda after going 197mph.

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Jason rode this bike last year and set a world record by being the first person to break 200mph on this class of bike. He has also crashed a bike at 244mph.

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Many of the racers come from California and the event organizers are the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA). Their job is to set up the timing. If you want to pay the entry fee and run the family mini van through the speed traps, they'll tell you how fast you went.

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Racers love to complain about the cost of the sport, but they secretly, or even not so secretly, love it.

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For most of the year, the salt flats are a shallow lake. During the hot summer, the water evaporates and leaves a perfectly level surface. It was mercifully cool when I was there, but it can easily get over 100 degrees, which can be mighty toasty if you are bundled up in leather and waiting your turn.

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Preflight check. This woman was riding a monsterous 1350cc nitrous/turbo/alcohol injected motorcycle like she meant it.

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Seeing and hearing the racers get ready to go at first light is surreal.

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The eight mile track is marked with black stripes.

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An immaculate superblown Packard engine on a less than trustworthy chassis.

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If it has wheels and a motor, there is a class and a world record for it.

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This guy was awesome - he had a box of tools, an old van and a Hawg from Hell motorcycle.

The event takes place right about this time every year and can easily be seen as a day trip from Salt Lake City.  There is also a World Finals event which takes place in October, which has less people and a much higher chance of getting rained out.

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Category: Trip Reports

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (8)

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  1. Hacksaw says:

    What, there’s no class for tracked vehicles (i.e., snowmobiles)? ;-)

  2. Andrew says:

    No, that event takes place on a daily basis throughout the Colorado Wilderness. The riders prefer it this way as there is no safety check so you can ride while intoxicated and carry an extra 50lb of live ammo for extra traction.

  3. doubleA says:

    You could have skinned across the lake and set a new speed record in a new class (men’s spandex division)! Why didn’t you bring your gear?

  4. OMR says:

    Andrew, have you ever skied Pilot Peak? (same neighborhood of the BSF’s).

  5. Andrew says:

    AA – I wouldn’t doubt that you could skin on the salt as it is pretty slick stuff.

    OMR – I’ve never skied over in that area, but have had a few people mention it. Have you been there? Recommend it?

  6. Darrell says:

    What about kites? What’s the speed record for getting towed by a kite?

  7. Brian Thomas, says:

    Less than trust worthy chassis??? You didnt look to close did you.
    I built the chassis and it is by no means weak.

  8. Andrew says:

    Hi Brian – I admit I was so wowed by the engine that I didn’t look too closely at the chassis, and not only that, I may have been referring more to the floorboards than the actual chassis. No insult intended and I understand that it is a work in process. I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

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