The sound of revving engines keep me up late at night, the laughing, drinking, and general rowdiness would be enough to make even a hardcore biker blush, and if you want the wild west you might not have to go any farther west than Bonneville Utah. After driving nearly 700 miles from Los Angeles to Bonneville you just might be a little farther left than the middle of nowhere, but when you watch that belly tanker be pushed off the starting line and head for 200 miles an hour blasting down the salt track, you just might remember why you came. The drive to Bonneville for me was ten hours of hitting rabbits, watching out for UFO’s on America’s loneliest highway and resisting the urge of going over the 80 mph speed limit. Driving all night can make you see things and driving to a place that looks like a different planet entirely can be a little unsettling.
The Bonneville Salt Flats, located in Northwestern Utah are 159 square miles of nothing but salt, and in the right seasons, racing. Now, this isn’t your ordinary racing, vehicles have gone in excess of 600 miles per hour on the salt of Bonneville, the “Worlds Fastest Indian” wasn’t just some movie about some old dude, it happened in real life right here in the sacred racing lands of Bonneville in the late 1950’s. There is no place else you can surf a dead sea like this place. Every August the Southern California Timing Association puts on a little something called Speed Week. That’s right folks, an entire week devoted to pure velocity. Driving on salt is like driving on snow, its also akin to being on a giant tanning bed, everyone you meet there is some shade of red. Salt is caked into everyone of my pores, every crack in every tire, and every split in every sole of every shoe. Saturday kicking off Speed Week the clouds came in, rolled in and split across the sky like some great venomous creature who had just awoken. The black clouds made for a stark contrast against the pure white salt. In the distance there was a mixture of sounds, the rumbling of thunder and the rumbling of large hilborn-injected, methanol fueled 418. The rain became a part of a larger scene, the tension began to mount that day, teams that had spent a small fortune just to race, had their livelihoods riding on whether the rain would stay or go. The day washed into late afternoon, the clouds held onto their sloppy unwanted cargo and the racing began again.
At the starting line you can hear hearts pound with anticipation. You can feel the adrenaline start to coarse through each racers body. Washed across their faces is a very real look of fear that there is a real possibility of death. The sweat beads up everywhere, the bright light puts a haze into everyone’s vision, most racers, publicly or to themselves, say a prayer before they make the run. The crowd holds it’s breathe each time a car is pushed off the starting line and the CB radio crackles with the timing towers report as the car careens down the salt. 150, 200, 225. These racers all share a unique dream; More people have climbed Mt. Everest than have gotten into the 200mph club. Being in the 200mph club just isn’t about going over 200mph, it’s beating the record in your class, which in some cases now borders into territory of the 250mph mark. Some machines are home built, some have taken a team of highly skilled experts years to complete. Each one regardless of who built it has an ungodly amount of hours put into it, and has been tuned to within an inch of its life. Because after all, at 200mph an inch really is a mile and it could make the difference between victory and the painful, salty, agony of defeat, or even death. On a cloudy day the heat still pushes its way up and off the salt. In the days before racing even the Native Americans avoided this vast salty desert, the only people brave enough to settle here, were true hotrodders.For most hotrodders Bonneville is Mecca. Those who make the long drive out from wherever they have come from find comradery on the salt. Most would say those who venture into the middle of nowhere may just be a little crazy. But there is a word for people who venture off into the desert, sleep on salt, bath at truck stops, and spend their nights and days crowded around powerful machines, they are called passionate.
The passionate are those that are building and driving these cars, these eaters of the salt, these men, (and yes in rare cases women) who spend their days and nights huddled in a garage wrenching and bleeding for the car they love. They spend all year waiting to bathe at that truck stop, sleep on that salt, and venture off into the desert as fast as their car will take them. For most builders there is no contest when it comes to the feeling of skating along that salty track. That is where they find their soul. Where hundreds of spectators can bear witness to their history. Sunday morning comes slowly, the sun creeping up over the edge of the earth, it seers its way into the eyes of every rowdy biker and hotrodder, the day is new again. Sunday looses one man to the salt, forever. A grim reminder to each racer that they are battling a beast, they are putting to the test everything they and others have poured their hearts into. The culmination of a dream and a life’s work can be realized, or destroyed, and precious life itself is put on the line. Between the nights of endless partying, spectators and recklessness, there is a purity that one can only find in the middle of nowhere. Each car is a symbol of one mans triumph, the blending of a man and machine, and there is no better place to witness it than where the sun rises early and the days refuse to die in Bonneville Utah.