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.
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.
Bonneville Salt Flats
By “Landspeed” Louise Ann Noeth
Arcadia Publishing, 2020
Softcover, 128 pages