Speed Demon team captures victory at Speed Week 2019
Since Bonneville Speed Week’s inception in 1949, Hot Rod has presented a trophy for the fastest flying mile recorded each year on the salt. Unlike the sanctioned Southern California Timing Association records, which require a return run, the trophy is only about the single fastest speed recorded. For the eighth time in the past nine Speed Weeks, George Poteet and the Speed Demon racing team has claimed their spot on the trophy with a 369.553-mph pass.
Each year the event is held, a new name is etched onto the trophy’s plaque and that list is a who’s who of speed legends including Mickey Thompson, Mike Nish, Al Teague, Alex Xydias, and Dean Batchelor. Don Vesco, driver of the 4300-hp Turbinator II streamliner, also has his name beside some of the fastest times on the trophy, including a 457-mph pass in 2001 and 2018’s 463.038-mph run that unseated Speed Demon after seven straight years.
For 2019, Poteet and the Speed Demon team came to the salt packing the largest, most-powerful engine that had ever been shoehorned into their streamliner’s chassis. At 555 cubic inches, their twin-turbocharged big-block Chevy V-8 was 25 percent larger than their previous Chevy LS-based engine and dyno testing showed it produced 3200 horsepower.
Interestingly, Speed Week doesn’t offer any cash prizes. George Poteet and the Speed Demon team were solely focused with recapturing the trophy. With records in five different engine classes for forced-induction, fuel-powered streamliners, Speed Demon would be going after the AA record held by Tom Burkland at 417.020-mph. Bonneville classes are divided by type of vehicle, engine size, and what the engine burns. Fuel records are for engines burning anything other than the racing gasoline supplied on the salt, including alcohol, nitromethane, and nitrous oxide. Speed Demon runs on methanol, a lot of it. Each cylinder has three fuel injectors, two electronic, one mechanical. The question was not if the big-block would deliver the power, but whether or not the salt would provide enough traction.
As always, racing for Speed Week was scheduled to start on Saturday, but a storm Wednesday night and a shower on Friday afternoon made a mess of the courses. Speed Demon is rear-wheel drive and needs a long track to accelerate. There’s usually a five-mile-long course with an additional three to four miles for shutdown and short courses for smaller displacement cars and drivers earning their SCTA license. This year, the course was only four miles long and the shutdown area got rough after less than three miles. It didn’t look good for the Speed Demon team, or any team really. Racing was delayed until Tuesday and the long course typically reserved for racers capable of at least 175 mph was the only course available. Chatter in the pits among seasoned racers suggested that all-wheel-drive cars may have an advantage. Some drivers decided to sit this year out and spectate, knowing that the records they were after could only be broken on near-perfect salt.
With such a short course and mediocre traction, the Speed Demon team swapped in its E-class engine. At 256-cubic-inches, the little small-block V-8 was the smallest engine the team brought and since Speed Demon already had records in the A, B, C, D, and F classes, the E engine could hopefully help earn a new spot in the books by capturing the existing 348.150-mph record. Fed by the same twin turbochargers as the big-block, the little engine produces 2600 horsepower.
Speed Demon’s first pass netted a mile-four speed of 332 mph. It was the first 300-mph run of Speed Week 2019 but Team Vesco with the Turbinator II was right behind them. Their all-wheel-drive, turbine-powered streamliner failed to make a pass on its initial try and continued to have problems all week.
Speed Demon was still out for an E-class record but couldn’t better their 332-mph pass, and on their third run, they hurt their E engine. The team swapped the big-block back in to pad their lead for the trophy and ran 369.553 mph. Not enough to qualify for the record, but it gave them breathing room.
Just one year after four cars managed to run 400 mph and two gasoline-powered cars were knocking onthe door, Speed Demon was the only vehicle at Speed Week 2019 to run in excess of 300 mph. The salt is finicky, and the Speed Demon team, while perhaps a bit of an underdog due to their rear-wheel-drive configuration, was still expected to make a strong showing considering their tremendous talent and experience in making the most out of what the salt has to give.
Congratulations to the Speed Demon team for a hard-fought victory and earning another engraving on that storied trophy.