The Bonneville Salt Flats speed week is an annual event that brings together the fastest of fast machines. Ever since the salt flats in Utah were first used in 1912 for racing, Bonneville has been synonymous with speed.
If you’ve ever seen the salt flats, you’ll be forgiven for wondering why anyone ever had the idea of driving a car across them but that’s exactly what a man by the name of Bill Rishel did in 1907. Soon after that word spread that the salt could be used for cars but it wasn’t until 1914 that American racing driver Teddy Tetzlaff swapped his IndyCar for a custom-made 200hp car known as the Blitzen-Benz. His record speed of 141.73 mph set the bench mark but it was nothing compared with the land speed records that were to come.
Land Speed Records
Sir Malcolm Campbell was the first to set a World Land Speed Record at Bonneville. His 300 mph run in September 1935 was the first recorded speed of greater than 300 mph anywhere. He’d already been Knighted for topping 250 mph at Verneuk Pan, South Africa but this run of 301.337 mph was the fastest he ever made. Two years later another British driver, George Eyston, took to the salt. His speed was 10 mph fastest than Campbell’s. A year later he came back with a 345.49 mph top speed. In September 1938 he and John Cobb traded top speeds on the salt with Eyston coming out on top with a 357.50 mph run. Of course all these high speeds were trumped when jet propulsion came to the salt. Unfortunately by the time Andy Green and Thrust SSC broke the sound barrier in October 1997 with a 763 mph run, Bonneville was no longer the place to go for those seeking the land speed record, so Black Rock Desert served as the venue for Green’s record setting run.
Each year Bonneville Salt Flats host Speed Week during the second week of the month. Tech inspection is always two days before the action which last the full seven days. The event consists of both short and long timed runs across the course that are made by cars from all eras, so fans witness everything from 1950s Studebaker coupe hot-rod that’s capable of a 200 mph plus top speed to a 1960s Saab 96 road car that the owner tells the world is the fastest two-stroke Saab in the world. A GMC front wheel drive motorhome is also regularly seen making its way up to 140 mph on the salt, and a 1970s Ford Ranchero with a Nissan engine is another oddity that often does a few runs during the event.
Future of Speed Weeks
The 2014 edition of Speed Weeks was cancelled as the entire course was inundated with over two feet of water. The same happened a year later when changeable conditions forced the organiser’s hand. These two cancellations could summon the end of Speed Weeks and possibly signal the end of the Salt Flats at Bonneville as a venue for any form of motor sport.