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