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Home Car Culture Bookshelf: Sharing the flavor of the Salt (Flats)

Bookshelf: Sharing the flavor of the Salt (Flats)

Book provides the tales and history of speed runs at Bonneville

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Though printed in black and white, the photograph shows a rainbow arching over a dark stripe that bisects the flat white landscape and extends on to the horizon. 

“Welcome to the end of the rainbow, to the end of the speed run, but to the beginning of an armchair adventure with the fastest people on earth.” 

So writes Louise Ann Noeth, better known to the land speed record-racing community as “Landspeed Louise,” as she begins to share the story and the tales of racing on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Book cover

The book, with a foreword by Alex Xydias, is part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. There is no one better suited to share the history of speed on the salt than Noeth, a photojournalist who was so fascinated by the place and the people that she has become a Bonneville historian, collecting and sharing its tales, and being outspoken on the need for this fragile piece of the planet to be preserved. 

Noeth was supposed to make her first visit to the Salt Flats in the early 1980s, when she was invited to drive as part of a two-car effort, only to have the cars’ owner diagnosed with cancer and dead just weeks later.

She finally got there in the mid-1990s, when she was covering the 50th anniversary of the speed runs that resumed after World War II. 

But the quest for speed on the salt dates to 1914 and to going so far out into the middle of nowhere that racers, their cars, and those who came along as spectators had to ride on the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad 120 miles west from Salt Lake City to a siding some 10 miles east of the Nevada-Utah border. 

The book spans nine chapters, each with a single page of introductory text followed by several pages of photographs, each picture with a caption that in five or six or eight lines tells a story, a real test of a writer’s skills. So, in 128 pages, we are exposed to around 200 such vignettes.

And yes, one of those vignettes is about Burt Munro and the World’s Fastest Indian. 

As for the chapters themselves, they are presented chronologically, for the most part, though one is devoted to women who have raced, another to motorcyclists. 

My favorite caption story says something about the lure of Bonneville. It’s on page 109 and shows a Subaru Outback, all of its body-panel gaps covered with tape for better aerodynamics and ready to make a run in 2011. Turns out that Jodi and John Griffin had dropped their children off that morning at school in Salt Lake City, drove to Bonneville, taped up their car and set a goal of gaining membership in the 130 MPH Club. 

But John only could get the family car up to an officially timed 129 mph before the couple had to abandon the effort so they’d be back home in time to pick up the children after school.

Reviewed

Bonneville Salt Flats

By “Landspeed” Louise Ann Noeth

Arcadia Publishing, 2020

ISBN 978-1-4671-0595-8

Softcover, 128 pages

$21.90

Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

1 COMMENT

  1. A few years ago I drove to Oregon from Ohio for a two week vacation. When I went by the Salt Flats I had to investigate. There wasn’t anybody around so I drove my Hyundai Veloster out about a mile and turned it around to see what it could do. I knew it wasn’t going to be that fast (110) but it was a blast to have the opportunity to do it.

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