Bonneville: A Place Where Speed Exceeds Common Sense


Bonneville Salt Flats: A not-so-typical predicament



To tell you the truth, folks – we thought a lot about where to start with this one. Seeing how is all about being the first to describe the not so familiar travel locations, you can understand why. After all, Bonneville is not some small place that no one has ever heard of. In fact, it is one of the most famous places in the United States, among both gearheads and “normal people”, so to speak. Giving you advice on why you should visit this temple of speed is similar to explaining to someone why they should eat their veggies – it’s just necessary! Bonneville is a place for adrenaline, we all know that. But, what is it about a never-ending white surface that keeps attracting thousands of people from the world over year after year? Is it the climate? Well, it is warm, but there is a lot of wind, so that is not it. Could it be the locals? Nope, ‘cuz there aren’t any. Perhaps it is the architecture? Hardly – not a single object exists. When you come to think of it – it sounds a bit like a mystery, does it not?

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Although racing at Bonneville is what this article is primarily interested in, it is important to clarify a couple of things about the entire Bonneville Salt Flats first. The Flats are located in the northwestern region (Tooele County) of the state of Utah and they represent a salt pan that is densely packed. During the Pleistocene Era, the area was home to Lake Bonneville. The Salt Flats area is the largest one out of many salt flats that are located just west of the Great Salt Lake. The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for managing the property, which is classified as public land. The Bonneville Speedway, near the town of Wendover, Utah is what the Salt Flats are most famous for. It is an area of the Bonneville Salt Flats that is especially marked out for various motor sports.



Great men – they both named it and made it famous


So, how does a 40-square mile (104 km2) area get a name like “Bonneville”? Just like any other historically important place – after a person who was either the first to explore it or was the first to do something groundbreaking in it. In the case of the Salt Flats, it is the former. Benjamin Bonneville was a US Army officer after whom the area was named. During the 1830’s he explored the Intermountain West and geologist Grove Karl Gilbert decided that the officer’s last name would make a great first name for the Salt Flats area. We can only add that we completely agree – “I raced at Bonneville” just has a characteristic ring to it.


When it comes to racing at Bonneville, it has a long history. When we say “long”, we do not mean long as in 20 or 30 years. The first time someone tested the salt’s suitability for racing was way back in 1907. So, in case you are not so good with math, here it is in writing: with 2014 as the last year (calculation wise), it is 107 years of racing history! Few are the places on the planet that have over a century of racing history to show for! Bill Rishel and two other local businessmen were the first ever to test whether the Flats were safe enough to be driven on. They took out a Pierce-Arrow onto the salt and went on to become the beginning of an impressive history of racing. Only seven years after that, in 1914, Teddy Tetzlaff set the first land speed record. In 1912, the Salt Flats were first used officially for motor sports, but with little success. The success and popularity finally came in the 1930’s, thanks to Sir Malcolm Campbell and Ab Jenkins, who competed in the purpose of setting land speed records.



“Myth – BUSTED!”


Guess what? It is now myth-breaking time! Even though we could not get the popular Mythbusters (Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman) to join us and do what they do best, we still had a go at it on our own. So, here it is: drag racing is not what racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats is all about! There are actually no acceleration or “0 – 60” records being broken here. The truth is that racing at Bonneville is of a unique sort.


Namely, every single racer has to struggle with maintaining traction, because of the slickness of the salt surface. Many expect that to see the cars “shooting” from the starting line as if they were catapulted from a giant slingshot. However, they normally start much slower, because constant traction is impossible at the beginning. On the other hand, once they do accelerate to a certain velocity, they gain more and more traction and are able to reach some pretty impressive speeds. Reaching the full potential of the race cars is possible due to plenty of room on the Flats. Each event features either two or three tracks, depending on the current salt condition. Typically speaking, a long course is usually 7 miles (11 kilometers) long, while a short course is made to be up to 5 miles (8 kilometers) long. Racers are assigned to various classes accordingly, depending on what type of car or motorcycle they are racing. There are hundreds of classes that range in record speeds from under 100 mph (161 km/h) to over 500+ mph.





Finally, we will list just a couple of the meetings and events that are held year round and that you can attend either as a spectator or a racer (with your own, private vehicle). SpeedWeek takes place in August and it is the largest meet in the entire year. Hundreds of drivers from all over the world compete in a number of categories to set the highest speed record. You also have the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials in late August. World of Speed is set to be held in September and it is very similar to SpeedWeek. The World Finals are scheduled for October – they are a good option as they represent SpeedWeek in a somewhat scaled down version. So, as you can see, Bonneville is a great chance to get your adrenaline going and see something that you do not (read: cannot) see every day. Indulge your inner gearhead and check out the Bonneville Salt Flats. You definitely will not regret it.





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