Bonneville: The Great White Dyno

//Bonneville: The Great White Dyno

Bonneville: The Great White Dyno

If speed is what you’re interested in, the Bonneville Salt Flats separates those that talk the talk from those that walk the walk. When it comes down to it, this dry salt lakebed — located in Utah adjacent to the Nevada border, in the sleepy little town of Wendover — is the destination of every gearhead worth his salt (I know, bad pun). Miles and miles of the flattest surface you can imagine — so brilliantly white, you think you’re on another planet. People have been coming here since 1912 with one goal in mind: to go as fast as they can. The land speed record was set here for the first time back in 1914.

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of people tell me, “I went 140 mph last night,” or “My bike cruises at 115 mph — easy.” But when you experience Bonneville, you get a true appreciation of what speed really means and how hard it really is to accomplish. Allow me to give you a little background on this magical place.

The land speed record (or absolute land speed record) is the highest speed achieved by a wheeled vehicle on land. There is no single sanctioning body for validation and regulation. In practice, the Category C (“Special Vehicles”) flying start regulations are used, officiated by regional or national organizations under the auspices of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile.

The record is standardized as the speed over a course of fixed length, averaged over two runs (commonly called “passes”). Two runs are required in opposite directions within one hour, and the new record mark must exceed the previous one by one percent to be validated. There are numerous other class records for cars and, of course, motorcycles fall into a separate class.

The current absolute record holder is the British-designed ThrustSSC, a twin turbofan-powered car that achieved 763 mph (1,228 km/h) for the mile (1.6 km), breaking the sound barrier.

While the salt flats were first used for motor sports in 1912, they didn’t become truly popular until the 1930s when Ab Jenkins and Sir Malcolm Campbell competed to set land speed records. Hot rodders have trekked here ever since.  The course on the salt can be configured a number of ways. The big boys — those after that elusive title of fastest man alive — generally use an 11-mile track. They have five miles to get up to speed, a mile in which to be timed, and another five miles to slow down. Wide open throttle is something all of us have tried, but to hold it open for that long?  That, my friends, is a wicked, difficult test. In order to qualify for a record, a return pass in the other direction is required. Many have gone faster on the down run and been unable to make the return run.

How fast is the world’s fastest motorcycle? The two-wheel record is a whopping 367.382 mph and Chris Carr of flat track fame is the fastest man on a motorcycle on the planet.

Even as I write this, the biggest car/motorcycle meet of the year is being held. The 62nd Annual Bonneville Nationals are going on with 325 cars and 164 bikes out on the salt, attempting to set records. The Southern California Timing Association is this meet’s operator and through their rules, records have been established in various chassis- and engine-size classes.

Next week I’ll give you a breakdown of the records set at this meet. And then later this month, I’ll show you the world’s fastest motorcycle (it’s for sale, by the way). At month’s end, the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials will take place. This is a motorcycle-only meet that promises lots of action.

My first time at Bonneville was back in 1992. Since then, my personal motto has been, “Faster, faster, faster, til the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death.”

See ya next time!

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  1. Bill Conlyn September 28, 2013 at 9:55 am

    Scott Holden’s personal quote on running at Bonneville certainly explains a lot of the rider behavior we see on the road today. ” Faster, faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death”. I’ve always said those guys have a ” death wish”. Scott said it better!

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  4. Jim Fitzpatrick September 7, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Hello interesting story. My friend Mike had his wild new built 1947 knuckle out their for the first time ever. The bike didn`t have all the required safety stuff to run in his class, but he said magazine people took all kinds of pictures of it. I want to go next year with him. keep up the good work.

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