For over a hundred years, man has chased the proverbial white rabbit, racing on a desolate, ancient dry lakebed, the remains of what was once a massive salt water lake that covered a third of the state of Utah and parts of neighboring states. First discovered as a viable racing surface just before the turn of the 20th century, the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), along with the Bonneville Nationals (BNI), has been hosting a weeklong event at the Bonneville Salt Flats for the past 60 years. Known as the Bonneville Nationals, or Speed Week for short, the meet has become a hot rodding mecca for those wishing to pursue the ultimate in all-out, land speed racing or to simply spectate from the sidelines. One of the most unique natural features in the world, the lakebed provides an awe-inspiring backdrop to some of the most ingenious automotive inventions ever to grace the planet.
With a history steeped in hot rodding lore, Speed Week has also become a rite of passage for hot rodders and gearheads alike. A companion to the famed dry lake beds that dot the high desert of Southern California where hot rodding was arguably born, Bonneville played an equal part to the success and vitalization of the early speed equipment and automotive aftermarket industry. Companies like Moon Equipment, SO-CAL Speed Shop, Navarro Racing Equipment, Edelbrock, Hilborn Fuel Injection, Weiand Speed Equipment, Isky Cams, and Halibrand all have a history dating back to the earliest days of dry lakes and land speed racing, many of whom are still heavily involved.
This year the SCTA celebrated their 61st Annual Speed Week with record number entries and perfect weather, combined with a most excellent racing course. Nearly 400 cars and 179 motorcycles tore through three separate courses, a 7-mile-long course and two shorter, 5-mile courses, in 56 different classes. Over 3,000 runs were made over the course of the week, with 177 different records set and another 25 names added to the prestigious 200 MPH Club, three of which qualified for the even more exclusive Chapter 3 Club, which requires breaking an existing record over 300 mph that was previously under 300 mph.
All in all, there was plenty of excitement for a hot rodder to be had; whether it was watching the land speed racing attempts trackside or cruising the pits, of which spectators are allowed and oftentimes encouraged to enter, giving a much more practical experience when compared to modern-day NHRA or NASCAR racing; one of the reasons that land speed racing is known in many circles as the last bastion of independent, low-buck, DIY racing in all of motorsports.
In addition to the events at the lake, the nearby town of Wendover turns into hot rod central when the course clears out for the evening and the party takes to the nearby casinos. Parking lots filled with casino goers are overcome with a spontaneous car show brought on by the hundreds of hot rodders who cruise into town, park, and bench race. As has been done for the past 60 years, gearheads, car guys, and hot rodders convene on the town to talk shop, argue, lie, and brainstorm over the day's happenings and what to expect later in the week.
We packed up the wagon Monday morning with Manson Sr. riding shotgun for the nearly 700-mile trip to make it to the Salt Flats by Tuesday evening to catch the midweek action in full effect. We were greeted by some of the nicest weather experienced in many years, with clear skies and fairly mild temps given what the Utah desert can dish out in early August, as well as some of the nicest hot rods and race cars seen in some time. To say that the traditional hot rod trend that has become so prevalent in the street rodding scene has filtered into the land speed racing venue would be an understatement, as more and more roadsters seem to be filling the pits at SCTA meets amongst the usual array of lakesters, streamliners, competition coupes, and the like. Take a peek for yourself and plan for your road trip next year to end up at Bonneville during the week of August 14-20.
A-Salt With a Deadly Weapon
Another crew that had a hard time out on the Salt was the Vaughn Quick and Easy Gas Modified Roadster from Paramount, California. A beauty to behold, the '27 track-nosed roadster is powered by a Flathead Ford four-banger that gave up the ghost midweek, as attested by the photos. A loud bang around the 2-mile marker and it was "A-Salt with a deadly weapon" for the V4F-classed roadster as the crank gave way, taking with it the back of the block and rear main bearing. Rest easy though as the Vaughn crew will no doubt be prepping another block with the guys over at H&H Flatheads, ready for next year's Speed Week trials.
Kugel's Kompetition Kar
Jerry Kugel of Kugel Komponents and his family have been steady competitors out at Bonneville since the early '60s, setting numerous records over the years, including being the first to push a stock bodied passenger vehicle over 300 mph. Their latest competition car, a street roadster built around their own Muroc 2 body, was broken in on the way to Bonneville last year before Jerry pushed it to over 192 mph on its first pass. The Kugel family then drove the car some 600 miles home averaging 17 mpg on 90-octane gasoline. This year, the Kugel crew had their sights set for 220 mph, a speed that Jerry eclipsed by the end of the week, setting a best of 225. Jeff also nudged the roadster over the 220 mark by a single mph while Jerry's daughter, Jerilyn, turned a respectable 214 mph.
In addition to their Blown Gas modified roadster, the Kugel crew also had another freshly
Tait's Streetable Racer
"We left Kugel's shop after noon on Wednesday August 5, with the car in the trailer so we didn't have to put up with the heat and traffic. With only 11 miles on it, we didn't know how it would do in stop-and-go traffic in 100-degree heat. We unloaded the car outside of Los Angeles and I drove the car to Las Vegas. The next morning, we met up with the Kugel crew and about 30 miles outside of Vegas ran into some mechanical difficulties and decided to trailer the car to the Salt.
"Upon arrival, we began converting the car from street to race trim by removing the headlights, front brakes, convertible top, windshield, and mufflers. The race wheels and tires replaced the street items and we installed the belly pan and diffuser frames and prepared the car for tech inspection.
"Saturday afternoon saw me make my first licensing run on the short course at 135.088 mph. Later that day, I made a second pass at 165 mph for a "C" license. Upon pulling the chute, the car got sideways and went left. I quickly corrected and slid the car across the track to the right and exited the course.
"Back in the pits, it was decided that the belly pan and diffuser may have caused the parachute to go high and unload the rear wheels so we decided to remove the belly pan and diffuser and have Jeff Kugel make a shakedown pass the following day.
"On the next pass, Jeff spun the car at over 180 mph, just past the 2-mile mark, blowing the hood off in the process.
"Monday morning came and, after repairing the hood, Jeff took it for another run at 155 mph but still felt the car was a bit squirrelly. We decided to increase the caster from 8 degrees to 10, increase the toe-in, and lowered the frontend an inch. After another run, we decided to increase the caster even more after talking to other roadster drivers.
"I then went out and turned a respectable 181 mph, good for a "B" license, qualifying us for the long course. Another degree of caster was added along with lowering the front another 1/2 inch.
"My son, Will, a Bonneville virgin yet an accomplished motocross, asphalt, and sprint car driver, was then elected to make the next pass due to his experience at going sideways. After a few runs and a bit more caster, Will made a pass at 183 mph but complained of a burning smell, which turned out to be the idler to the blower that had overheated.
"The next pass saw Will wringing the roadster to 7,000 rpm (about 215 mph) and spun it, going through the 4-mile clocks backward at 204.8 mph after sliding over a quarter-mile. Ejecting the hood once again, we also found that the transmission had a leak, solving that burning smell we'd been experiencing.
"After working the majority of the day with a side trip into town to go dumpster diving to find some extra metal (a 'No Parking' sign) to repair the hood, the roadster was once again ready to hit the salt.
"Another run was made, this time with myself behind the wheel making a pass at 213.17 mph, good enough to qualify for an "A" license. Due to problems experienced earlier in the week, I opted not to deploy the chute, something that is not looked well upon by the safety crew when they expect to see a chute deploy at those speeds.
"Our last run of the week saw the car push 192 mph but was still a handful out the back end and we decided to call it a week.
"The trip home saw an additional two blowouts on the trailer (a total of six now) and after replacing all the tires on the trailer, we dropped the car off at Kugel's Komponents shop in La Habra, California, to do a number of modifications before the October World Finals meet.
"If we can make the thing go straight and get our 950hp engine to hook up, we think that the 238.962-mph record is very doable."
The Haas Racing '34 Ford roadster entry was originally entered in the G/Blown Gas Roadster
Driven by Gary Weldon, the Watson & Weldon entry out of Millgrove, Ontario, Canada, in the
"Flatheads Forever!" was a common slogan heard 'round Bonneville back in the early '50s wh
The headers on the Topless Hotty entry out of Atwater, CA, hint at what's under the hood:
George Poteet and Ron Main were among the fiercest of competitors out on the Salt Flats. T
...and we caught it as it passed through the 6-mile marker, chutes deployed, as it slowed
A handful of brave souls made the trip out from Rolling Bones' headquarters in New York, d
While an exit speed of 192.421 mph looked mighty promising for Norris Andersen's 477ci Che
The Maro Special, driven by Bobby Moore of Tulsa, OK, is the epitome of land speed racing.
With its patina and weathered shop logo on the door, Ken Cook's 283ci Flathead-powered '53
This trio of roadsters defines the nightly cruise-in at Wendover once the meet is over for
This '41 Willys was all over the Salt during the day and cruising the casino circuit at ni
The Goodson '35-36 Ford pickup also saw double duty as a push truck during the day and a s
Like any hot rod event, there were items to be had if one wished. Afflicted with "salt fev
...or a Gennie '26-7 Ford roadster body for that new Bonneville race car.