What do you do with 30,000 acres of land so flat and barren you can see the actual curvature of the earth? Simple. Do away with the speed limit.
That’s what’s been done at the Bonneville Salt Flats, one of the most recognized speedways in the world and the site of hundreds of world land-speed records, not to mention Hollywood blockbusters and commercials. Standing on the edge of the speedway is an awesome experience. Those who have driven on the salt say it easily leads to a conditions they call “Salt Fever,’’ which beckons them back year after year.Want to catch the fever yourself? The next racing event on the speedway, the Southern California Timing Association’s World Finals, is slated to kick off today and run though Oct. 8, weather permitting. With the good salt and cooler temperatures, optimistic drivers are predicting speeds approaching 500 mph. Though that ambitious goal may be a few years off, 450 mph is certainly within reach. Spirit of Rett, put down eight solid runs over 400 mph to post an official two-way average record of 414.316 mph last fall. That record broke a 65-year-old land-speed record for the fastest naturally aspirated wheel-driven car. To date, four engine-powered cars have driven over the 400 mark in previous meets.
Back in August, more than 550 cars, trucks and motorcycles—brought in from all over the world, with drivers and crews—ran for records during the annual Speed Week. More than 200 records fell in various classes, and seven cars set records well over 300 mph.
It’s no wonder why speedway events have become increasingly popular in recent years. Estimated spectators counts this year were between 10,000 and 15,000. More attention was brought to the flats last month with the release of the Boys of Bonneville, a John Price-produced movie on racing legend Ab Jenkins and his son Marv.Ab Jenkins would set more world speed records than any man in history. He set 24-hour endurance/speed records on Bonneville a dozen times, driving the entire race by himself. But the record for which he was most recognized was set during his tenure as Salt Lake City mayor in 1940. (So popular was Jenkins that he won the mayorship without spending a single penny on a campaign.) He drove 3,868.1 miles in 24-hours in his Mormon Meteor III for an average speed of 161.18. It would be 50 years before that record would fall.
In 1990, Chevrolet sent a team of drivers and two ZR-1 Corvettes to the flats to break Jenkins’ record. Cars and drivers were periodically switched, whereas Jenkins drove the full 24 hours and did it in one car. The new record was 175.885. Even then the two vets were not able to hit Jenkins’ top speed of 196 mph.
Marv Jenkins restored his dad’s car, Mormon Meteor III, drove it and eventually sold it to Price for his museum. Car and Driver Magazine once listed Mormon Meteor III as the 4th most valuable car in the world. So famous is the car Jay Leno made a special trip to meet Marv Jenkins and see the car. He also made a cameo in the film to talk about the legendary vehicle. (Ab Jenkins had sold the car to the State of Utah for $1. Under the state’s care it was vandalized and seriously damaged. Marv Jenkins took the car back and spent more than 4,000 hours in restoration work.
HOW TO GO Take exit 4 off I-80, approximately 10 miles east of Wendover. Turn north off freeway and follow access road approximately 4 miles to end of pavement and beginning of salt flats. Salt flats are about 120 miles west of Salt Lake City.
Admission to the World Finals, which runs Oct. 5-8, is $15 a day or $40 for the entire event. Between 110 and 130 cars and cycles are expected to hit the flats during the races. Visit the Price Museum of Speed for more information.
Visitors may drive on the salt flats but do so at their own risk. It is advisable not to drive on the salt flats when covered with standing water. Water is corrosive and creates soft spots on surface.