Four months ago, I was stuck in quarantine. The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, causing every car meet in Texas to be cancelled, effectively ruining my chances of an eventful break from school.
I couldn’t bear the thought of wasting a summer at home, so I enlisted my best friend and brother Reid to map out a road trip throughout multiple states over nine days. There would be some major bucket list stops along the way, but our main goal? To drive over 2,000 miles for the 72nd annual Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
I knew from the beginning this trip wouldn’t be easy; our vehicle would have to handle eight hours a day, at 80+mph, for nine days straight. For this, nothing could top my own daily, a 2002 Mustang GT with now over 130,000 miles on the clock, still running strong. I’ve tinkered with it of course. H&R springs, solid rack steering bushings, subframe connectors, and wide sticky tires bring out the best in this almost 20-year-old pony car.
We left before the sun was up to drive the nearly 10 hours from the San Antonio area to El Paso, Texas, loaded to the gills. The drive through West Texas is spectacular, but the real views would come the next day with our first major stop.
We greeted another early morning with plans to arrive at the Grand Canyon by dinner. In New Mexico, Highway 180 cuts a divine path through the southwest corner of the state. Smoother than copy paper, it traced the edges of canyons that rivaled the Angeles forest. We cruised to the Grand Canyon no problem, grinning the whole way.
Over the next two days, we drove north through Arizona and into Utah, heating up oatmeal with a camp stove and sleeping under the stars.
Finally, we arrived in Tooele County. The ‘Stang ran without a hiccup and after stopping for a picture, we had to get out on the flats. I had read about the effect that loose salt has on traction, still, I had to try it for myself.
At the end of a long road into the heart of the salt lies a checkpoint to purchase wristbands and sign a waiver acknowledging the risks of being around people during COVID. Because of the massive expanse of area needed for Speed Week, there were no problems with social distancing. Though masks were few and far between, it was like seeing the first signs of spring after a nuclear winter.
Hearing unmuffled engines fire up and crowds of people cheer the latest broken record was something I hadn’t realized I missed.
We found out quickly that shade is important on the flats. Extremely important. With no umbrella, Reid and I were forced to find cover where we could. Walking through the pits that disappeared into the mirage, I was offered an apple from a team sponsored by Honeycrisp. I can’t tell you how refreshing cold fruit was on a day of pure sunlight.
For our next bit of shade, we stumbled upon a group of guys that had just set the record in their class at 240mph. We graciously accepted a turkey sandwich and a half-frozen Gatorade slush, restoring much needed energy.
There were some machines that I recognized, and some I did not. The fastest piston-engined car in the world, Speed Demon, looked like a rocket ship that had melted into the ground. Surrounded by the crew, I would have to wait until the next morning until I could get some good pictures.
After 10 hours of baking in the sun, we finally resolved to drive to the sidelines where I witnessed Speed Demon run at over 460mph (740km/h). Even at half a mile away, its pace was mind-boggling.
Even with all our sunscreen, Reid and I underestimated the power of the desert sun and could not see ourselves staying past lunch the next day. As much as I enjoyed the return to motorsports, my skin was burnt and flaking, and my eyes were bloodshot.
The next morning, we re-tetris’d the car and arrived at the starting line for the day’s first golden hour.
Speed Week runs with a fluidity that only comes from repetition. On its 72nd iteration, cars wait in line like at a drag strip and are methodically released one by one to disappear into the horizon.
The rising sun burned off the cool morning air by 10:00am, and without a camper or even a sunshade, our time on the salt was over. We packed up and started the long road home before lunch.
Honestly, we should just be called speed fiends. While we do hunt for the fastest of the fast, this year has shown me what it’s like when that gets taken away from us. It’s our vice, and when we go cold turkey, we suffer. I had 2,000 miles to contemplate this until my brother and I scraped back into our driveway in Texas. The Mustang sputtered to a stop and I half expected it to fall apart like the Bluesmobile. COVID-19 had deprived us of our fix for too long, and even though we’d scratched that itch, we knew (like any other addicts) it would barely tide us over until we could get another.
How To join the IATS program: We have always welcomed readers to contact us with examples of their work and believe that the best Speedhunter is always the person closest to the culture itself, right there on the street or local parking lot. If you think you have what it takes and would like to share your work with us then you should apply to become part of the IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER program. Read how to get involved here.