Despite growing up at a time when excursions to the salt flats of Bonneville and El Mirage were chronicled in Hot Rod and the other magazines we picked up when two quarters rubbed together in our jeans, the actual experience remained elusive. Occasional drives across interminable I-80 gave a brief hint of it, a chance to pull up at a rest stop and feel the texture of the medium, but not the sights, sounds and smells.
When Barrett-Jackson arrived in Reno in 2013 during Bonneville Speed Week it created a small window of opportunity. With a couple of days before the Monterey action got hot and heavy, Speed Week at Bonneville was just 350 miles out and back.
The actual experience proved more than worth the [decades long] wait and the drive. It was marvelous.
The first impression driving onto the Bonneville Salt Flats is that there are no reference points. It goes on, and on, and on, until the horizon intervenes. The staging area and starting lines for the four parallel courses are closest to the entrance. But it is far away, with only a few orange cones seemingly randomly and erratically placed to guide the racers and spectators. The gal at the entrance who took my $15 said only, ‘Stay off the course,’ a highly unspecific admonition unaccompanied by even the most rudimentary map.
Following others seemed to offer no guide, either, as many of the cars running for records looked remarkably like my Avis rent-a-car. It was a Volvo, and there were Volvos taking times.
I stopped first at the staging area and start lines and marveled at the procedure, then watched as cars disappeared ‘over the hill’ in the distance, the curvature of the earth making them disappear from view while the sound of their struggle for traction – the salt was damp, with little grip – still lingered in the silence of Bonneville’s vast space.
Safety is highly impressive, with each car, driver and restraints given a thorough check by officials at the starting line who then sign off on each run.
In the even farther distance an indistinct cluster of vehicles turned out to be the pit, or the paddock, or whatever it’s called in Bonneville-speak. It stretched for miles down the middle of the 5-mile course (with another 6 or 7 miles for runoff) and was lined with every manner of encampment from massive, shiny 18-wheel transporters to grungy pickups under rudimentary conduit-framed tarps flapping in the breeze.
Running among the scene, sometimes clustered in packs, were some of the most imaginative, creative, intriguing rusty rods in the world, especially a T-bucket with its wheelbase extended to accommodate a supercharged, four-carburetor Packard Thunderbolt inline eight. It sounded good enough to make Duesenberg owners green with envy.
Every manner of vehicle – even some that defy imagination – has a class at Bonneville, from 50cc mopeds to fire-breathing multi-engined and turbine-powered behemoths. Most awe-inspiring is George Poteet’s ‘Speed Demon’, a 346 cubic inch streamliner that melted the salt with a 451.933 mph run, the fastest piston-engined car in history. It was on the starting line late Monday during my time at Bonneville but scrubbed the run when the course closed early due to an accident, one of several on this year’s slippery salt, and I never heard its bark.
The sheer diversity is breathtaking and the ingenuity and determination of the participants is inspiring. It is what gives Speed Week its character, a living, breathing, octane-consuming microcosm of America’s fascination with the automobile and speed.
Wendover is a long way from Reno or Salt Lake, but worth the trip even for just a day.
Similar to our 2011 coverage, Senior Photographer Tim Scott also documented the 2013 Bonneville Speed Week, including the following pictures that capture the sights and little details that make the event a ‘bucket list’ item for all automotive enthusiasts. We split up Tim’s pictures into two galleries. The first gallery starting below features our favorite images, all displayed in the full-width view of Sports Car Digest, while the second gallery can be found on the last page of the article and gives a comprehensive view of all the photographs. To see more from Tim, visit fluidimages.co.uk.
Bonneville Speed Week 2013 – Featured Photo Gallery
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