What’s so great about a dried up lake in the middle of the desert? It inspires a kind of racing that you don’t get to see anywhere else. Rank amateurs labor next to hardened veterans under the boiling sun, moving heaven and earth to wring just a few more miles per hour out of everything from electric bicycles to million dollar streamliners. It’s a mystical place, a throwback to a time that felt messy and pioneering. If you haven’t been, go. It must be experienced to be understood.
Although Bonneville holds an exalted position in my dad’s personal canon, I didn’t spend much time there as an adult. My first visit in decades took place in 2003, when I was invited to drive a restored streamliner called The Pumpkin Seed. Given my professional background, I was a little bit cocky. Get in the car, keep it straight, pull the chutes and grab a beer. That was the plan anyway. It took me about 30 seconds to realize that everything I knew about driving had to change. On the salt, going fast can be painfully slow. Quick hands and instant reactions might send you tumbling. The conditions, which can vary enormously in the particulars, are always slick. Success at Bonneville requires a certain zen, and the fastest moments of your life can feel like they are coated in molasses.
Another aspect is scarcity. We all want what we can’t have, and the speedway offers a narrow window of accessibility. Typically stretching from August to early October, the three month span becomes the equivalent of childhood’s summer vacations. Precious, eagerly anticipated, and all too easily disrupted by life’s unavoidable obligations, time on the salt is made more meaningful by it’s brevity, and the knowledge that if you miss your shot, you might not get another chance. That was certainly the case with the Challenger II. A burst of rain and an afternoon of wind kept it out of the record books for five decades. Hopefully we’ll have a little bit more luck this time around.
See you next week.