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Rain Stops Play at Bonneville

Rain Stops Play at Bonneville Speed Week

4.9.05. It took Mother Nature millennia to create the Bonneville Salt Flats, man a few decades to almost destroy it, but only a few hours of hard rain to wash out this year’s Speed Week, August 12-19.

The beauty about Bonneville racing is that there's a class for almost anything. This beautiful '32 Ford Roadster is powered by a Buick straight eight. Running under the "Eightinarowracing" banner with 320 cubic inches and Jerry Cleland behind the wheel, it regularly runs around 150 mph.

Things didn’t even get off to a good start for the more than 400 pre-entered race cars—one of the largest fields ever.  The track and even the pits, were very rough and many experienced racers didn’t even bother to unload their cars. Instead, they watched as others spun out, damaged their cars, blew motors and distributed parts all over the track. Sadly, one experienced racer, John Beckett, lost his life when his car rolled over at 200 mph. It was not an auspicious start to what turned out to be a very tough week.

All the way from the UK were Ali and Chris in their Roadster and Gary McCormack in his Coupe. Sadly, the daring duo had been rained on almost every day of the stateside trip. Might as well have stayed home!

The course conditions kept speeds well below record levels and while nobody wanted to see all that work go to waste, no doubt the organizers were glad to see storm clouds on the horizon on Monday. The wind whipped up surprisingly quickly and soon had E-Z-Ups and awnings blowing across the salt - followed by the portable toilets which blew over—door side down—and then moved across the lake like those weird rocks in South America. Thankfully, nobody was inside—talk about “wipe out.”

People drive from all over the US to participate or just watch the Bonnevile Speed trials. This little Deuce Tudor was driven almost 800 miles from San Gabriel by young Mrs. Branch. Her husband Tom runs a bare metal Deuce  Roadster - well rusty after a week on the salt.

There was a little bit of racing on the Tuesday morning on the short course but that night a storm came through that dropped an ocean of water on the lake bed. Salt water was up to the axles on some cars, and on Wednesday morning the event was cancelled.

New purpose-built Chevrolet HHR went 208 mph on it second ever run!

Despite all the grief, fastest speed of the meet went to the Thomason and Tradup Racing team who ran a staggering 296.095 mph in their streamliner, while eight other cars went faster than 259 mph.

Andy Green with David Haas checking out David's 4WD streamliner powered by two turbo'd small-block Chevys. The front motor drives the front wheels and the rear the rears. In shake down runs the car has gone 300 mph, but the course this year was too rough for a run.

Meanwhile, 22 cars set new records and most prevalent were Scot Shug Hanchard and wife Irene who set four records in their So What Speed Shop roadster and streamliner come lakester.

The buzz of the pits, however, was two teams from England exploring the land speed scene. One team was from the BAR Formula One team. They had already made some exploratory runs earlier in the month and plan to return for a full-blown effort in October. The other team was led by The World’s Fastest Man, Andy Green. While very circumspect about their plans, there was talk of a British-backed diesel-powered streamliner. We shall see, when we return to Bonneville.

In the SO-CAL pits for some time was Andy Green, The World's Fastest Man. In 1997, driving Thrust II, Andy, a British Air Force jet pilot, set the World Land Speed Record at 763 mph. Here, he explains to SO-CAL head honcho Pete Chapouris and founder Alex Xydias just what happens when you break the sound barrier on land. Andy and a team of Brits were on the salt and rumour has it they're looking at fielding a streamliner, maybe next year

88-year-old Corvette racing legend John Fitch was there in Bob Norwood's 1955 Mercedes 300SL Coupe - the Lyco Engineering Special. The car has a best so far of 168.721 but due to the condition and rain, neither Fitch nor owner Robert Sirna were able to better the speed

Art Catt of Catt House Racing ran this cool looking '65 Buick Skylark in the Classic Unblown Gas Coupe class with a 461 cibic inch motor. It ran about 140 mph—not bad for a brick

This nicely prepared Alfa Spyder of Besic Motorsports ran a best of 174 mph.

Ed Newett runs this cool A-V8 and holds the XF/Blown Gas Roadster record at 160.059 mph with a Ford flathead motor

It might not look fast but John Drake's Salty Dog C/Blown Street Roadster is the class record holder at 244.230 mph.

Weird is wonderful at Bonneville and they don't come much weirder than the record holding Vintage Gas Competition Coupe of Lafferre and Walden which, with a Buick straight eight, runs over 150 mph.

Tom Branch (left) and Fabian Valdez of the Immortals run this wicked little '27 T built in just 6 weeks. Now that's the way to go racing and have fun.

Story & photos: Elliot Jacobs 

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