Bonneville is a place ruled by numbers. Whether it’s the length of the course or the speed you’re trying to hit, the displacement of your motor or the jetting of your carb; numbers drive everything on the salt. The magic number this morning was 314.511 – the speed (in miles per hour) which the Dauernheim-Biglow-Davis AA Gas Lakester team (aka Team 608) needed to beat to become inducted into the 300mph Club.
The team’s driver, Don Biglow, has already earned his way into the Bonneville 200mph Club, scoring the exclusive red hat as his trophy. The thing is, now he wants a blue one.
Blue hats are a bit more difficult to get, as you have to achieve a speed higher than your class’ current post-300mph record. In the case the AA/GL division which Team 608 competes in, that’s 314.511mph. To give you an idea of the number of blue hat-inductees, the Bonneville record book has three and a half pages of members in the 200mph Club while the 300mph Club takes up less than half a page.
Still, being in the 200mph Club is nothing to scoff at. It’s just that salt is addicting, and given the opportunity racers will always keep pushing for more.
Don’s steed is this Gas Lakester, powered by a 582ci Chevrolet V8 motor.
The Lakester was designed and built specifically for this task, and he knows it well. Don’s been into the high 200s and knows the car has more to give.
But he also knows that the salt can be fickle, and the timing and conditions must be perfect for him to get his blue hat.
Of course behind every great driver is a great team. These guys are called to the salt from New Jersey every year.
Fortunately, they let us tag along for a run this morning –an event that turned out to be so much more epic than we could have imagined.
This was the highlight of our weeklong adventure to Bonneville, so we decided to share it with you guys first.
Our morning started early, meeting the team at their pit to witness everything it takes to get a car down the course at Bonneville.
The guys got right to work, first putting the car in the air to check that the tires were the same circumference, to avoid any pulling as the car rockets along.
Next they fired the engine for one last check that everything was working correctly.
Don jumped in and blipped the throttle while eyeing the gauges. The crackle of a big race engine is a great way to wake up in the morning!
In short order the car was loaded onto its custom-built trailer and we were headed to the start.
It’s first come first served out here, so there’s always a sense of urgency to get in line.
Once we were there things slowed down a bit.
Don changed into this driving suit…
… and took a minute to ready himself for the task at hand.
I would imagine I’d be pretty jittery if I were about to strap into a land speed car, but Don’s been racing for 40 years and was calm as can be.
In addition to making the final preparations with the car, the crew also helped the driver into his HANS device and helmet.
They stood by as he squeezed into the tight cockpit…
… then gave him a hand with the restraints.
Once Don was strapped in there was nothing to do but wait.
We made small talk and watched the other cars and bikes take off.
The car inched its way up to the start. To be honest the wait could have been much, much longer but since these guys are running in the 300mph range they get to cut in line.
Another critical task for the crew is keeping the driver cool once he’s in full race gear. An umbrella is an absolute necessity.
I guess it just feels like a long time when you’re anticipating a potentially record-setting run.
Once they were up front the crew started the car using quick connect battery cables and the push-truck’s battery.
A mean sounding engine always attracts bystanders, even if it’s just at idle.
The starter came over and gave Don’s safety equipment a very thorough check. I was impressed by the professionalism and concern for driver safety.
At last he was off. I snapped this photo then ran to the chase truck so I could get a ride to the end of the salt.
The owner and builder of the car, Bob Dauernheim, was at the wheel. As we chased Don we listened to his progress over the radio. When we heard 299mph at the four mile mark things started getting exciting!
Don had five miles to make his run, then two more miles to slow down, so it took several minutes for us to get to the end of the course. We came across a few other teams as we looked for the #608 Lakester.
We finally found him, with Larry clicking away.
Larry had jumped in our rental car with his 400mm lens to get some shots of the car at speed.
We were hoping to see the parachute come out, but on a course this long it’s tough to tell when and where the driver will pull the lever to slow down.
So we didn’t get the parachute shot we planned for, but Larry’s position gave him the chance to capture what would normally be a solitary moment before the chase truck arrived.
Don took a little rest on the back tire…
… then wrapped the spent parachute around that fantastic fighter jet-style wing.
Once the crew jumped out of the chase truck they started helping with the car…
… but Don couldn’t just stand there and watch.
He took the lead and got the car loaded back onto the trailer.
As car guys on the younger end of the sport, Larry and I really look up to veterans like Don and Bob. These guys have such a drive, one that I hope I can hang onto like they have.
In his seventies he’s still out here going 300mph on the salt chasing records.
Once we got back to the pits the team immediately tore into the car…
…while Don studied his time-slip. 299mph at the four-mile mark was his strongest pull yet, but the salt was rough at the end and he had to shut the car down. If conditions were better he feels he could have hit the magic number – 314.511mph. Last we heard he’s going to try the other long course tomorrow morning. The car is running great, so it’s really only a matter of track conditions at this point.
The blue hat will be his, the salt just needs to let him know it’s time.
Words and additional photos by Keith Charvonia
Photos by Larry Chen
What a great piece of photo journalism. I am going to reprioritize my bucket list and lower the salt flats entry. Why? because you made it almost like being there. The best coverage I have ever seen, I will share with many of my friends.
Lovely stuff, the new desktop bag is filled with Chen goodness. I guess I'm lucky to have been to Bonneville a couple of times, but seeing images like this and reading those words... Gah, I just want to sell everything, build a car and go race on the salt. Truly addictive stuff, Speedhunters LSR project anybody? G'wan...
Very fun to read, thank you very much for doing the piece. As Bob's daughter I often see the car in tiny pieces all over the garage, but this was great to see such great photos of it all together and moving! They are certainly from a different era and it is always a highlight of the year for them to travel to Bonneville to give it another shot.
The photo montage was fantastic. It felt like I was there! I was at Bonneville in 1988 watching my Dad, Bill Waddill. He was going to go back in 1989 but died in July of that year. My youngest brother Bob later got the record my Dad wanted and joined the 200 mph club. He still holds this record today. Good luck Don in getting into the 300 mph club!!! I am thinking about you!!!
Track conditions were terrible again today. We ran 305 exit speed this morning and a 290 5th mile on course 1 (the worst of the 2 courses) the car couldnt be better but the salt wasnt in the same shape. Theres a few more chances this year and ofcourse next year for speed week. Its far from over
Keith and Larry - Thanks for creating this piece - really well done! I am sitting behind a desk at work and wish I could be there, not only for the actual runs but to listen to the interaction and bantering of the crew which in it of its self can be entertaining - lots of racing stories! Although as Don's son I think I have heard or witnessed most of them already.
Great piece guys and some brilliant pics of Don with the car. Very inspiring stuff - I can only hope to be this cool when I'm older! Fingers crossed for his record attempt.
Hell yeah. I love seeing stuff like this. It's funny of all the guys I've had the fortune to meet in motor sport it's always the older guys who inspire me more than any action sports star or new drifting star. These guys are from a different era mentally where they really go for it. I have a lot of respect for this guy and what he accomplished even if he didn't accomplish his goal of 314mph. You have to have serious balls to do this and you don't see the new breed of "extreme" drivers doing anything close to this.
My hat is tipped to this gentleman for pursuing his passion and he stands in my mind as a role model for what a person can accomplish no matter what their age. Awesome feature. What a badass.
@Speedhunters_Bryn Many thanks Bryn, this was a fun story to shoot and write. Larry and I were both pretty psyched about it.
If we do a Speedhunters LSR car my vote is for an old belly tanker with a flathead!
@Libby Jo What these men and your father have accomplished serves as much more than numbers on pieces of paper. They are an inspiration and a reminder of what men used to be made of. Those tiny pieces you see on the floor of a garage come together to create something that leaves a mark that can't be measured, sparking hope into those lucky enough to realize what they are looking at. They are from a different era, and we can only hope that the world eventually comes back to the never say die mentality that keeps guys like this going well into their 70s. They are living their dreams and there is no price that can be put on what they have accomplished.
Everyone should be as fortunate as you to have someone like this in their life. Keep shooting, it only takes one shot to change the world....
@Libby Jo Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for taking the time to comment.
@SuzyWallace Thanks Suzy, we're hoping to hear some good news from the team today.
Monte Wolfe-Car #506 AA/BFL Wolfe-Strasburg-Hiltunen
Great piece -both the car and article. Class act.
@KeithCharvonia To be fair I'd be in even if it was a motorised toilet... We need to do this.
@Libby Jo I Agree. I will share these comments with their grandkids and hopefully they will carry it with them.
@Libby Jo Exactly! Larry and I had a great conversation about what will happen with this generation of tough-as-nails racers is gone. We hope the younger generation will pick up the torch and keep this stuff going, but just go to an event like Speed Week and look around - not too many young guys there.
@Monte Wolfe Tough class. The Hammond lakester has gone faster in a lower displacement class and is running in the AA/BFL class this year. Transmission problems kept them from another record at Speedweek but they will be back for World of Speed.
@Monte Wolfe Many thanks Monte! We'll look for you next year.
@Libby Jo So much truth.
@KeithCharvonia @Libby Jo Thank you Keith and Libby. I am working on a project with a legendary driver who is in his 60s. He has influenced 40 years of pretenders who haven't the slightest clue of what preceded them. I'm working every single day to bring something to the mainstream that disappeared a long time ago. A legendary car, resurrected for a final hurrah. It is a humbling experience and men like your father are an inspiration to me.
Within the new breed, there are those that have come from old blood. We will not falter, we will not fail. Thank you for your kind words Libby. They mean a lot.