Welcome to the best automotive entertainment value in the business, the Bonneville Salt Flats 73rd annual Speed Week. For $20 a head, you can see the largest and widest variety of high-speed machinery there is. For $50, the Southern California Timing association will let you in every day for the entire week.
This is the largest race course on the planet, some 40 square miles of groomed, packed salt, three courses running at the same time, a short one for rookies, testing, and time-only runs, and two more for fast and very fast machinery.
This is also the largest, longest event on the calendar, with more than 400 entries running over an entire week. There is no other event where you can see absolutely everything from 50cc bikes to 500-mph turbine-powered streamliners and everything in between. Gasoline, diesel, nitro, alcohol, and electricity all race here, happy together. Jets and rockets have been here many times.
The thing is, you are rarely racing against another car in the same class of the 200 classes in the SCTA rulebook. You come here to race against whomever holds the current record in your class, and against the weather, which is always ungodly hot in August, and aggravated by the all-white surroundings and the power-robbing 4,400-foot altitude.
The fast cars race on a flat 5-mile course with speeds measured at every mile marker, and with four miles of salt to slow down on after that. This joint is big.
The SCTA tech inspectors are some of the most experienced, savviest guys in the sport, and they are notoriously picky when it comes to safety. Like every other motorsport, men have died here racing their cars against the clock, and lucky men have survived 500-mph crashes.
Speed Week draws entries in normal years from all over America, and Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Sweden, Ukraine (an electric motorcycle), Australia and New Zealand.
Team Vesco, one of the oldest teams in the sport, came back this year with an electric streamliner and ran over 280 mph first time out.
Some tips for newbies at Bonneville:
- Wear white cotton long-sleeve T-shirts with your shorts for heat reflection.
- Get some Neutrogena SPF 70 spray sunblock and use it liberally, every day. It dries quickly, and it works.
- Bring a pop-up and chairs. A parasol or two wouldn’t go amiss.
- If you can bring a pit bike, a minibike, a moped, or a bicycle for getting around on, that would be very helpful. The pits here are measured in miles, and they’re three rows deep. If you’re walking the pits, be circumspect. There are no streets, only orange pylons and only a few signs to help you get around. Traffic is not quite the Arc de Triomphe at 5 p.m., but it’s tricky.
- Phone and internet service is negligible, because you are in the middle of nowhere.
- By all means go early in the day, when the weather is better for you and for the cars. Dawn here is spectacular as it reflects off the white salt. They run from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day.
- The hotels and motels in nearby Wendover, Utah, and West Wendover, Nevada, range from the ‘50s era to extremely good, including the casino hotels on the Nevada side of the line. Best hotel is the Montego Bay. There’s good American and Mexican food all over town.
- If you want to eat where the racers eat, that would be the Salt Flats Café, an absolutely wonderful, cheery but beat-up Mexican place south of the tracks that’s stuffed with Bonneville posters, memorabilia, and autographed photos of hundreds of salt racers.
- If you have car problems, go see Tall Mike at the CarQuest on the eastern edge of town. He’s also the mayor of Wendover, and he drives a red ’67 Corvette with two four-barrels sticking up through the hood.
- And whatever you do, don’t miss the free Friday and Saturday night car show on the east parking lot of the Nugget Casino. Hot rods, street rods, rat rods, kustoms, trucks and VWs abound.