Bonneville Speed Week is a sight for salty eyes, even when the racing is on hold
The Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) has hosted land speed racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats every year since 1949. Well, almost every year. The salt flats racing surface is at the mercy of mother nature more than just about any other racing surface, so the weather in the days (even months) leading up to the event can have serious consequences. Wet weather led to several Speed Week meets being cancelled; most recent examples were in 2014 and ’15.
Hopes were high for Speed Week 2019 after great salt conditions at Speed Week 2018, but a wet winter made for a precarious racing surface that needed all the help it could get leading up to the salt’s biggest week of racing. A storm passed through just days before racing was set and really threw a wrench into the gears.
Racers, crew, and spectators met on Saturday morning to kick off Speed Week. This year, SCTA president Bill Lattin and the rest of the volunteer crew that preps the salt told racers that they’d have to wait at least another day before racing would start. The salt dries quickly, but if they start racing too soon the salt will get churned up and make for a terrible surface—ruining weeks of work put in by the SCTA to grade the salt.
The plan for Speed Week 2019 is to start racing on Tuesday morning after three days of delays and run on only one course, rather than the two or three in recent years. The course will also be shorter than in previous years, which should mean slower speeds from the most powerful cars that typically need five miles to get up to speed.
The pit roads were shallow lakes on Friday, puddles on Saturday (shown here), and nearly dry on Sunday.
Lucky for spectators, Speed Week offers plenty to see even when the track is silent. Starting Friday night, classic cars show up at the Nugget casino, spattered in salt.
Once on the salt, spectators can get up close with some of land speed racing’s most beautiful and fastest cars. The 1959 Mooneyes Moonliner was powered by an Allison aircraft V-12, and although the engine is gone, its 24 exhaust zoomies still look the part.
When they’re not feverishly wrenching before a run, drivers and crew are often happy to answer questions. Here an SCTA official signs off on Speed Demon’s tech sheet while engine crew chief Kenny Duttweiler looks on.
The tech inspection area is another good vantage point, as cars are opened up and scrutinized for safety.
Target 550, piloted this year by Valerie Thompson, hopes to take advantage of its all-wheel-drive and twin 2500-horsepower, 500-cubic-inch Hemi V-8s to challenge for the top speed of the meet.
The Slat Slush team travelled from Sweden to race its Volvo Amazon wagon, which is powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged Volvo inline-six.
One of the many interesting aspects of Speed Week is that old vehicles and engines that some would call “obsolete”—careful now, those are fighting words—are being used alongside cutting-edge engine and battery technology. Vintage flathead Ford V-8s and GMC inline sixes find their way into all sorts of cars.