Bonneville: This Is Beyond Cars

As I mentioned during my opening post from Bonneville, I think it’s impossible for any one guy with a camera and a computer to fully convey what Bonneville Speed Week is all about.

It”s something everyone should experience – even if it’s just once. It sounds cliche but I truly mean it. This applies even if you couldn’t care less about Hot Rods or top speed records.

There is just so much to it. There’s the simple beauty of the salt flats themselves, the sense of history, the cars, the people, the late nights, and the early mornings.

No combination of words and images can project the literal and figurative scale of this event in the grand scheme of car culture and the history of man’s relationship with the car itself.

Prior to my trip I read and re-read Speedhunters coverage of Bonneville from past years, as well as those from other publications hoping to prepare for my visit here – but even so it was completely different and so much bigger than I imagined.

I could go on forever trying to describe everything I’ve seen here,  and it’s actually hard for me to limit it to something manageable.

The friendliness of the people at Speed Week is one of the first things that comes to mind, and something I won’t soon forget.

Whether it’s chatting with the racers or Hot Rod owners encouraging people to touch and photograph their cars or even letting them climb in for a picture.

Just a quick snippet of conversation overheard between an American and one of the Aussie racers – “It’s just like one our Muscle Cars but the steering wheel is on the wrong side. No mate, YOUR steering wheel is on the wrong side”.

When it comes to actually watching the cars make their runs, the experience is so much different from any other motorsport event I’ve ever been to. To be honest it may be one of the least “impactful” parts of being a spectator or photographer at Bonneville. This simply due to the long, drawn out nature of land speed racing.

It’s the complete opposite of a short, intense quarter mile run. There’s really no “launch” off the line, no  brutal acceleration or powershifting, no overwhelming sense of power to be seen. Still, I thought it’s actually pretty cool to hear the drivers gently roll into the throttle once they are clear of their push vehicles.

Unless there is a problem with the run, you never hear the cars lift off the gas. The roar of the engine simply fades away into the distance until it’s no longer audible.

Once the car is out of sight, crews and spectators will gather around their CB radios and the PA system to hear the speed numbers at the end of the run.

This is the view a mile or two from the start line, where spectators line the return road hoping to catch a glimpse of the cars at speed in the distance.

The racers are far away, but you can see them. You can also hear them quite clearly as they cross the horizon.

Then of course should you tire of watching the racing, there is so much more to see and enjoy during Speed Week.

This goes for both on the surface of salt itself and in the nearby town of Wendover where the action extends well into the evening.

To me, just seeing all the Hot Rods here makes the trip worth it. They are everywhere during Speed Week.

You could ignore the speed competition altogether and spend all of your time here just taking in all the great Hot Rods that gather here each summer. It’s all part of the Bonneville tradition.

Set on the border of Utah and Nevada, the salt flats are set in one of the most distinctly “American” locations in the world.

The moment you see a photo from the Bonneville Salt Flats, you instantly know exactly where it was taken. There’s just no mistaking it for any place else.

The fact that so many people from across the world transform this remote spot in the American West to form a global village of speed every year is so damn cool to me.

One of the things that strikes me most is how little Bonneville has changed (at least outwardly) since the beginning of speed trials here so long ago.

Le Mans, Monaco, Daytona, Indy – all those legendary temples of speed still exist in the modern era, but they all look completely different today than when they started holding motoring events so long ago. Not so with Bonneville.

If you were to remove all the modern race cars, RVs, and support vehicles from the salt – you could easily be looking at a scene from the earliest days of racing here.

From the moment you roll onto to the salt flats, you can just feel the history that surrounds the place. The Mooneyes family is certainly one that knows a few things about Speed Weeks of years past.

That brings me to another one of the defining features of Bonneville in my eye – the contrast and the coexistence of both the past and present in one place.

On one hand you have the latest in high tech streamliners and other experimental vehicles continually pushing the envelope and trying new methods to improve their speeds and set new records.

But at the same time you are surrounded by some of the purest and most traditional race cars in the world.

The cars, the records, and the people come and go – but the setting remains he same.

I’m sure the veterans have their memories of Bonneville’s “good old days”, but to me it’s hard to tell. It all seems pretty good.

If you are reading Speedhunters you are probably as automotive-obsessed as I am, but Bonneville goes beyond cars and car culture. Sure, it’s a gearhead’s paradise but the place is about so much more.

In reality, aside from the fact they have engines and wheels that touch the ground – these streamliners don’t bear any resemblance to the cars we all know and love.

They are perhaps even more far removed from our street automobiles than top fuel dragsters or F1 cars. More land-going airplane than car.

Yet they still excite us as they represent the never ending of quest of man to make himself go faster and faster. It’s a challenge that will be around as long as we have some means of transportation.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a ’32 Ford , a Nissan 240SX , a Harley Davidson or a crazy looking jet without wings – the quest for speed is universal.

Bonneville is the name of the place where it all happens, and I’m so happy to finally have had the chance to experience it all for myself.

-Mike


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12 comments
SimonC
SimonC

Any more pictures of the Saab's in attendance?

 

(please)

777
777

didn't expect to see any aussie cars out there, the one on the left is an old holden HK monaro gts, they're getting quite rare nowadays, the other one is not a car of any real note, an au falcon, they were used as taxi's, and thats about it really 

KiwiMotoring
KiwiMotoring

Great pics! There's some cool looking cars there. That RX-7 is the definition of a land rocket!

AudiS
AudiS

did you get a chance to see Jeff Gerner's 250mph Audi S4 5cyl?

Sonikku
Sonikku

Wow, love how many 'Rods there were there.

Option86
Option86

I really enjoy watching the panoramic-like clips of the those machines going full speed. It's an amazing site. Did you get a Bonneville t-shirt??

hechtspeed
hechtspeed

Awesome post Mike, but as you mentioned earlier, photographing the Salt Flats is kinda like cheating.  :)  haha  I love the history and the hot rods.  Its just as much or even more why I go.  This is my 6th Speedweek and I'm hooked for life, I'll go every year until I die. 

yanesnyawai
yanesnyawai

One question. How long is the flat for the record attempt??

Nikhil_P
Nikhil_P

howcome you didnt post a desktop of the 8th picture?!

either way this is still one place that i want to visit in the not too distant future!!

Mike Garrett
Mike Garrett

@yanes33537 There are both short and long courses. Right now, the long courses are typically eight miles total (Five timed miles and three or run off).

Doug
Doug

 @Mike Garrett  @yanes33537 Hello Mike

great article - question - how can we get out hands on Speedhunters stickers?

thanks

Doug


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