There is an odd transformation that happens when you drive out through the Mojave (pronounced mo-HAH-vee) Desert in Southern California, through communities such as Palmdale, Adelanto, and Phelan, over rough two-lane roads that seem to stretch out to nowhere. For some, the trek they make each year will transport them back into a place that hasn't changed much in the last 100 years.

The names of the dry lakes in this territory-Rosamond, Harpers, El Mirage, and Muroc-are not just the locations of where early hot rodders raced the clock (and each other); they are the original spots from where hot rodding was born. Suffice to say that if you have a hot rod in your garage, or ever dreamt of having one, it's due to the efforts of the racers who organized speed trials and ran at the lakes more than eight decades ago.

The Southern California Timing Association holds a two-day meet at the beginning and end of each season, with four one-day events between. Many of the members of the 12 individual clubs that make up the SCTA also attend events organized by the Bonneville Nationals Incorporated (BNI), which holds its meets (Speed Week and the World Finals) at the Bonneville salt flats outside Salt Lake City in August and November. Both sites have had a long, stored past.

Safety, for both driver and spectator, is of the highest importance, so each car is required to undergo inspection before they are allowed to race. That done, they line up behind the start line in staging lanes that are determined by their potential top speeds. A rookie line is the one nearest the announcer's stand, only 3 feet from the spectators who are pressed up against a fence and leaning in to get a better view of the cars as they leave the line. The far outside lane is for vehicles that intend to exceed 200 mph, and the other two lanes are for the under-200 crowd (one for even-numbered entries and the other for odd-numbered).