Speed Demon shrugs off challengers, engine fire to claim fastest mile at Speed Week 2023
The Speed Demon racing team has often been the one to beat at Speed Week, a yearly racing event held on the dry lake bed of the Great Salt Lake in western Utah, where racers vie for straight-line speed on an unpredictable racing surface.
Most drivers and teams are out to claim a record, but it’s been a point of pride for the Speed Demon team, headed up by co-crew chiefs Kenny Duttweiler and Steve Watt, to take home the Hot Rod Magazine trophy, which is awarded to the team that records the single fastest flying mile during each Speed Week. Prior to 2023, the team had already achieved the feat for 10 years. Despite some wrenches thrown into the works, the team was able to make it a record 11 years with a blistering run on the second day of the shortened racing week.
Prior to the 2023 event, volunteers from the sanctioning body of Speed Week, Southern California Timing Association, spent hundreds of man-hours prepping several courses. Typically, the SCTA aims to give the fastest racers a five-mile-long course, with an additional two to three miles to shut down and stop their vehicles. Additionally, when possible, shorter courses are prepped for vehicles that don’t need so much room. For 2023, volunteers had managed to groom two five-mile courses. Racers and organizers alike had high hopes that the salt conditions would be favorable. Mother Nature had different plans, however.
A rainstorm left shallow puddles of standing water on the courses and in the pits just three days prior to Friday, the start of Speed Week. Wendover’s prevailing northern evening wind pushed the water south toward the end of the road where participants embark on the salt, making things look worse than they were. The salt surface at both courses was making a comeback and racing was expected to start with a one-to-two-day delay until the wind shifted and pushed the water east.
After a three-day delay, SCTA officials moved the starting line of the second course up by two miles, giving racers not only a shortened schedule but a shortened course.
The Speed Demon team was still the odds-on favorite to make the fastest pass of the week, as a couple of 400-mph contenders were no-shows, including Team Vesco’s screaming turbine-powered Turbinator II. With Blown Fuel Records in the AA, A, B, C, D, and F classes, the Speed Demon team hoped to fill in the missing slot. (To find out exactly what those letters mean, click here.)
Its plan was to go with “only” 25 pounds of boost in the 257-cubic-inch V-8 that would give it 1400 wheel horsepower—much less than the engine was capable of but enough to challenge the existing E/BFS (184–260.99-cubic-inch Blown Fuel Streamliner) record of 348.150 mph. However, with only three miles to work with, the E/BFS record was likely not going to happen. Still, the team soldiered on and lined up soon after the drivers’ meeting that kicked off Speed Week on Tuesday morning.
Chris Raschke took the reins from principal driver George Poteet; Raschke would be the man behind the wheel for all of the Speed Demon’s Speed Week 2023 runs. He piloted the streamliner to what appeared from the starting line to be a textbook run, with a clean report from the short-stroke small-block. The speed in the second of two timed miles was an impressive 286.552 mph.
However, it wasn’t as clean as it seemed. In high spirits after bringing the car home, co-crew chief Steve Watt said, “We kicked two rods out of it, just like we do every time.” This time, however, the team thinks they know why the 10,000+ rpm engine keeps having issues: the clutch. At extreme engine speeds, the clutch fingers contact the throwout bearing. A solution is already planned; the team hopes for an E/BFS record in the future.
The car that had the best chance of challenging Speed Demon for the Hot Rod trophy was Ed Umland’s bare aluminum B/BGS streamliner. The sleek and polished car uses a turbocharged 427 LS V-8 and all four wheels to scrabble for traction on the salt. With a short course, it could perhaps accelerate harder and take the win from the perennial favorites. Umland’s run on Wednesday clocked in at 231.865 mph. Impressive, but not enough.
Speed Demon still had several more engines to work with. The team mounted its 444-cubic-inch LS V-8 and made a 333.360 mph run, albeit with a few snags. A blown injector O-ring pumped six gallons of methanol into the blazing hot engine compartment, starting a fire. Raschke was unharmed thanks to the onboard fire system. The car suffered from some burned wires, but the team was also prepped for that. After previous melt-downs, the new wiring harness is better insulated, so Speed Demon team member Greg Pyles could make short work of swapping in new wiring terminals.
Just in case, the Speed Demon team swapped in its 557-cubic-inch big-block and had the mill at the ready for any additional challenges to its top-speed supremacy. They didn’t need the 557; with the only 300+mph pass of the week, they secured their spot on the Hot Rod trophy for another year and learned even more lessons about pushing components to their limit.
“We made a lot of gains,” Watt told us, “but we had some things hit us that never happened before.” The team has taken Speed Week 2023’s challenges to heart and is already planning for their next time on the salt.