Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

World of Speed 2014

The call of Bonneville.

The call of Bonneville.

The World of Speed event at Bonneville is run each year by the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association, and participants were able to run what looked like their choice of 3 or 5-mile courses laid out on the salt. That’s much shorter than they would like, but current weather conditions dictate how much of the track will be dry enough to run on. Most of the vehicles don’t need any more distance, so only the big boys had a crimp put in their style.

Yes, this mini-belly tank racer is just a toy, and yes, it's cute! Racers of all kinds tend to have a sense of humor.

Yes, this mini-belly tank racer is just a toy, and yes, it’s cute! Racers of all kinds tend to have a sense of humor.

I attended one day when the weather looked most cooperative, though I did have to wade the big Ford s-l-o-w-l-y through nearly a mile of brine to get there. I ferried the Evelo Aurora and trailer across in the front bike carrier, and then broke it out to tour all around the dry pits and racing area. Considering my phobia about splashing salt on the underside of the pickup truck, the decision to attend was no small one. Looking at upcoming weather, I had a gut feeling that this one day might possibly be it for the season, so it was either go, or gamble. The depth of the water between the access road and the racing surface looked manageable for once, not more that 6 inches in spots, and I heroically ventured forth in 4WD Low, near idle, to avoid any splashing or thrown brine. It worked well. The path choices to get out there were so wide that other vehicles were able to go around with ease as I and one other guy in an older Ford just patiently idled on out.

There aren't too many ancient bugeye Sprites that can do over 120 MPH.

There aren’t too many ancient bugeye Sprites that can do over 120 MPH.

I’m not attempting to cover the day’s runs in this post, but simply relate my overall impression and show you more pictures than you want to look at. After all, this was the first and maybe only land speed record event I’ve attended in two years of trying. What’s it like? Laid back. These events are not really spectator events as such. Most of the spectators were family and friends of the participants. Each driver picks the course length best suited to his type of vehicle and gets in line. If you have an old VW Beetle (as many did), you pick the short course. If you have a huffed big-block Camaro or a streamliner, you pick the long course. Once at the front, an official radios your number in, and waits for the reply to release the vehicle for a run down the course.

The starting line looks haphazard, but was orderly. Two sets of three lanes each, with an official releasing cars in turn.

The starting line looks haphazard, but was orderly. Two sets of three lanes each, with an official releasing cars in turn.

As a would-be competitor, you can run pretty much whatever you like, from motorcycle to rental car to 300 MPH streamliner. The faster the vehicle, the greater the challenge to find traction on the racing surface. Bonneville’s salt has been compared to concrete. I’d call it concrete with a dusting of salt powder on top. Heck, I saw cars fighting wheelspin as they hit fourth gear at well over 100 MPH. The big bikes were finding traction to be especially elusive. The track surface must be groomed in order to set up a path, as the natural surface is perfectly flat, but not perfectly smooth. Most of the natural surface is rough enough that I had to limit the e-bike’s speed to 7 MPH or less, to avoid shaking things up, myself included.

Team Vesco was there with their Turbinator II, in spite of the track being a bit short for such capable vehicles.

Team Vesco was there with their Turbinator II, in spite of the track being a bit short for such capable vehicles. You just can’t do too much tuning and testing, regardless of track conditions.

As long as you stay safely out of the way, you can hang around the launch point, or even wander down the side of the track several miles to see the racers fly past at speed. Naturally, the farther down you go, the further away from the track itself you are. Cones are laid out for miles, to define where to stay out of. I went down to the three mile point, but by that time you’re about a quarter-mile from the vehicle. The club broadcasts on a low-power FM frequency so you can follow who’s running now, and what their trap speed is at each mile marker, which helps a lot, especially when it comes near to or exceeds the existing record for that class. Naturally, I didn’t remember to bring my own little portable radio, but enough people parked downcourse under shading canopies had their radios on loudly enough for me to keep up no matter where I was.

There's a lot of machinery packed inside this sleek four-wheel sled.

There’s a lot of machinery packed inside this sleek, four-wheeled sled.

It was also downcourse where I found that my old DV tape video cam equipment and I were both past our limits. That was a disappointment, but also okay, because I discovered that it’s a lot more pleasant to just relax and watch a car or bike move past at 200+ MPH, than it is to try to record it acceptably. I discovered that even hanging a monopod under the camera couldn’t steady it enough to keep the car from wobbling in the viewfinder near maximum magnification. I discovered that my images were getting pretty fuzzy at high magnifications, too. That’s just the nature of the camera. The colors wash out at any magnification on this 10-year-old fossil, and having to shoot the shaded side of every vehicle wasn’t doing them justice. Shoulda packed the tripod, and a better digital video cam – that I don’t have.

How capable is the Turbinator II? See for yourself.

How capable is the Turbinator II? See for yourself.

See, video camera manufacturers dropped optical viewfinders years ago when they found that they’d be cheaper to make and more compact with electronic viewfinders, and people liked big color LCD screens anyway. Today, you can’t find a digital videocam with a viewfinder, optical or electronic, for less than $900. All pro and semi-pro rigs include viewfinders, because they work in all situations. Display screens do not. The trouble here is, LCD screens are useless in bright sun, because you can’t see anything on them. The reflectance of the white salt makes the washout even worse. Yet again, there was one more frustrated lady next to me at the starting line, trying to take some footage with her shiny new $350 Canon video cam, eventually holding it out at arm’s length like a dead fish. Her son was at the line, and she was having to shoot blind. Where was it set for telephoto magnification? What was it seeing? She had no idea. She thought there had been another more upscale Canon with a viewfinder for a little more money, but she’s in for yet another disappointment should she follow that up.

The pit area consisted of several long rows like this. No need to pack together with so much acreage available. And given the trailers and long-wheelbase cars, sharp turns don't always happen.

The pit area consisted of several long rows like this. No need to pack together with so much acreage available. And given the trailers and long-wheelbase cars, sharp turns don’t always happen.

There is a small but persistent niche of people who lament that there are no longer any consumer-level videocams available with viewfinders. They want to buy one. This is an example of manufacturers developing a myopic “mass consumer” mentality, and becoming overly-obsessed with competing with each other, model for model, to dominate “the market”. They feel that pros are smart and know that one is needed, while “consumers” care only about a $14 price reduction and won’t know the difference, at least until they shoot in bright conditions and cry for a brighter LCD. I may not live to see the day, but someday, some bright young visionary is going to discover the benefits of trying to cover wider niche opportunities like, oh, say, including a viewfinder again. If he can break through the bureaucracy and fend off the counterrevolutionaries, he will. And he’ll sell a tidy quantity at $500 each. Someday.

The normal motorcycles have to get rolling on their own. The truck is just there for support.

The normal motorcycles have to get rolling on their own. The truck is just there for support.

I wound up alongside the starting line at fairly close proximity, sitting on my lawn chair, alternating between watching some cars take off, and photographing some. It was relaxing, mainly because some young dude next to me in jeans, boots, and cowboy hat, sat in the shade beside his ancient Chevy Blazer with bad steering, and commented every time a missed gearshift occurred. That was pretty often. My own theory held that the reliability of spark plugs is inversely proportional to the importance of their proper functioning. Fouled and misfiring spark plugs occurred pretty frequently that day, too. Imagine our mirth when both mishaps occurred on the same run. Then all too soon, it was after 5PM, and it was over. Nice day. I ended the day thinking “Well, I’ve seen it and it’s good, but I probably won’t attend another.” Now, I’m wondering when I should come back in next year.

Same guy, and off he goes.

Same guy, and off he goes.

The video below is 24 minutes long and is some 187MB in size. Click on it only if you have the bandwidth to spare. I’ll point out that there’s a weird-sounding little red sedan in it, being push-started by a truck. This is an old 1950s Saab, which at that time used a very small two-cycle motor. You’ll also notice three vehicles emitting smoke, two of them a lot of smoke. These are diesels, and they dump in extra fuel to get more power. While it may not be politically correct to do so, I think the world can stand enough smoke to cover 3 miles before shutting down. Lastly, many vehicles sound like they are not accelerating. They are, but are accelerating away so quickly that the engine sounds steady. You can hear gearshifts plainly, but may also notice their engine speed rising and falling at other times. This is wheelspin, and some early shots reveal the yawing that takes place when this happens. Given enough power, the driver really has to stay on top of things the entire way down the track. There were two wrecks that day (without injury), most likely with wheelspin as contributing factors.

Me, I'd rather be inside a roll cage.

Me, I’d rather be inside a roll cage.

With an air temperature close to 90, the added sunlight makes driver's compartments a tad toasty.

With an air temperature close to 90, the added sunlight makes driver’s compartments a tad toasty.

Newer street bikes are insanely quick as-is, and the flats provide the opportunity to exercise their available speed.

Newer street bikes are insanely quick as-is, and the flats provide the opportunity to exercise their available speed.

I did a double-take on this one. A Ferrari at Bonneville?

I did a double-take on this one. A Ferrari at Bonneville?

No, I'm not confusing posts. This biplane was in the Wendover Air Show the day before.

No, I’m not confusing posts. This biplane was in the Wendover Air Show the day before.

He and his buddy just wanted to take a look at the action, and this as good an excuse to take to the air as any.

He and his buddy just wanted to take a look at the action, and this as good an excuse to take to the air as any.

Not all streamliners are pretty. This one appears to be diesel-powered.

Not all streamliners are pretty. This one appears to be diesel-powered.

Lots of roadsters were present, from smooth new ones to flathead-powered vintage uprights.

Lots of roadsters were present, from smooth new ones to flathead-powered vintage uprights.

Many cars required a push to start rolling due to their very tall gearing. Once the engine can take over and pull the car away, the push truck turns aside.

Many cars required a push to start rolling, due to their very tall gearing. Once the engine can take over and pull the car away, the push truck turns aside.

And away he goes, as quickly as traction will allow. Many cars were still lugging their engines at this point, turning too slow to develop much power. And some fouled their plugs, or stalled as a result. These engines are tuned for the top end.

And away he goes, as quickly as traction will allow. Many cars were still lugging their engines at this point, turning too slowly to develop much power. And some fouled their plugs, or stalled as a result. These engines are tuned for the top end.

Can you imagine building a car just for running at places like this? These can't do double-duty as grocery-getters!

Can you imagine building a car just for running at places like this? These can’t do double-duty as grocery-getters!

Warming up the engine and waiting their turn.

Warming up the engine and waiting their turn.

This ambulance waited on the blue centerline, just in case.

This ambulance waited on the blue centerline, just in case.

This long-wheelbase bike tries to make its mark.

This long-wheelbase bike tries to make its mark.

The peanut gallery, hanging out at the Mile Two marker. They just made some shade with a canopy, turned on their radios, and watched the racers go flying past.

The peanut gallery, hanging out at the Mile Two marker. They just made some shade with a canopy, turned on their radios, and watched the racers go flying past.

Yup, the Official Strolling Amok Videography Vehicle on the salt of Bonneville. As long as the salt is dry, the added fenders and flaps work quite well. Not perfect, but plenty good enough.

Yup, the Official Strolling Amok Videography Vehicle on the salt of Bonneville. As long as the salt is dry, the added fenders and flaps work quite well. Not perfect, but plenty good enough.

It takes a stouter telephoto lens that I've got to reel in a vehicle from a quarter mile away. This shot had to be cropped to fake a closer look.

It takes a stouter telephoto lens that I’ve got to reel in a vehicle from a quarter mile away. This shot had to be cropped to fake a closer look.

Closer to the start, viewing distances are shorter, and you can get a good look at launches, including right in the starting area.

Closer to the start, viewing distances are shorter, and you can get a good look at launches, including right in the starting area.

Just a view of the expansive starting area from the other side. No remote parking here - just plant it somewhere off the course and out of the way, and yank out your chair and cooler.

Just a view of the expansive starting area from the other side. No remote parking here – just plant it somewhere off the course and out of the way, and yank out your chair and cooler.

Just how much neck strength do you need when you top out one of these bikes?

Just how much neck strength do you need when you top out one of these bikes?

Wander the pits at will. A certain times, the crews don't need a distraction, but  walking in to look then is still fine.

Wander the pits at will. A certain times, the crews don’t need a distraction, but walking in to look then is still fine.

I marvel at the construction and detailing of some of these. If she turns turtle, you'll probably walk away with very minor injuries, if any.

I marvel at the construction and detailing of some of these. If she turns turtle, you’ll probably walk away with very minor injuries, if any.

This guy won the record for his class, and now has to remove the heads for inspection by the Tech Officials to verify displacement.

This guy won the record for his class, and now has to remove the heads for inspection by the Tech Officials to verify displacement.

If you like variety, it's here.

If you like variety, it’s here.

This Pontiac Firebird shows the true purpose of "lake pipes", open exhaust pipes on the sides that can be uncapped to bypass the restrictive stock exhaust system.

This Pontiac Firebird shows the true purpose of “lake pipes”, open exhaust pipes on the sides that can be uncapped to bypass the restrictive stock exhaust system.

Hey, it's a girl! I only knew thanks to the announcer and my telephoto lens. She did well on this weird-looking tiddler, and looked like she was having fun trying to stretch it out. Women drivers are not uncommon at Bonneville, from bikes to streamliners.

Hey, it’s a girl! I only knew thanks to the announcer and my telephoto lens. She did well on this weird-looking tiddler, and looked like she was having fun trying to stretch it out. Women drivers are not uncommon at Bonneville, from bikes to streamliners.

This old Studebaker is sponsored by three Arizona dealerships.

This old Studebaker is sponsored by three Arizona dealerships.

Flashback to the film, "The World's Fastest Indian".

Flashback to the film, “The World’s Fastest Indian”.

This old Chevy Monza V8 reminded me of how impossible it was to change all the spark plugs, because of the lack of access space under the hood.

This old Chevy Monza V8 reminded me of how impossible it was to change all the spark plugs, because of the lack of access space under the hood. Unlike mine, this one is fast enough to need a parachute.

Just waiting...

Just waiting…

If I recall rightly, this is an old Triumph engine in a custom frame.

If I recall rightly, this is an old Triumph engine in a custom frame.

The early '50s Chevy waits, too.

The early ’50s Chevy waits, too.

The guy on the Triumph got the go-ahead, and tucks in for less air resistance.

The guy on the Triumph got the go-ahead, and tucks in for less air resistance.

I was surprised to hear what sounded like a straight six in the Chevrolet, since most of them have since been hacked up to take a V8.

I was surprised to hear what sounded like a straight six in the Chevrolet, since most of them have since been hacked up to take a V8.

 

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4 thoughts on “World of Speed 2014

  1. Doug, looks like a good time.

    This summer I purchased a 69 bug that set a world land speed record back in 2006. I had planned to go back, but with all the rain I passed and now after seeing your post, I wish I’d made it out there.

    Papa

  2. Rod Duell on said:

    Great report, that was a lot of fun! My eyes tell me that was a Triumph TR3 rather than a Sprite, but the aero work may have me confused. It’s a bucket list event for sure.

    • Oh, you’re probably right, Rod, but I console myself by knowing the difference between a Jag and a Rolls, usually. Older ones, anyway. If you enjoy machinery, it’s something you must make the trek to at least once. It’s kind of an ongoing tradition. If it’s dry enough, they run. One woman at the “boat ramp” told me that it’s not unusual to be flooded out for several years, and then get 5 or 6 years of good runs.

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