Bonneville Speedway

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Coordinates: 40°45′45″N 113°53′44″W / 40.762522°N 113.895520°W / 40.762522; -113.895520

Bonneville Salt Flats Race Track
Phoenix Diesel Truck.jpg
Phoenix Diesel Truck running at the Bonneville Speedway
Bonneville Speedway is located in Utah
Bonneville Speedway
Bonneville Speedway is located in the US
Bonneville Speedway
Nearest city Wendover, Utah
Area 36,650 acres (14,830 ha)
Built 1911
NRHP Reference # 75001826[1]
Added to NRHP March 16, 1984
Salduro is a ghost town located on the south boundary of Bonneville Speedway, next to the Western Pacific Railroad. Salt Lake City newspapers ran an advertisement in 1914 for a special train to Salduro where the "fastest machines in the world will compete for the world's record on the famous salt beds, which afford the finest races in America. No dust." Salt Lake City mayor Samuel C. Park and Utah Governor William Spry attended.[2] A rest area on Interstate 80 was built on the former settlement, and a plaque there commemorates the land speed records.
A Suzuki Hayabusa at Bonneville

Bonneville Speedway is an area of the Bonneville Salt Flats near Wendover, Utah, that is marked out for motor sports. It is particularly noted as the venue for numerous land speed records.

The salt flats were first used for motor sports in 1912, but did not become truly popular until the 1930s when Ab Jenkins and Sir Malcolm Campbell competed to set land speed records.

A reduction of available racing surface and salt thickness has led to the cancellation of events at Bonneville, such as Speed Week in 2014 and 2015.[3] Available racing surface is much reduced with just 2.5 miles available[3] instead of the 9 mile courses traditionally used for Speed Week.[4]

Track layouts[edit]

Historically, the speedway was marked out by the Utah Department of Transportation at the start of each summer. Originally, two tracks were prepared; a 10 mile long straightaway for speed trials and an oval or circular track for distance runs, which was typically between 10 and 12 miles (16 and 19 km) long depending on the condition of the salt surface.

Since at least the 1990s, track preparations have been the responsibility of the event organizers. Days or weeks in advance, the track preparers identify an area best suited for their track layouts and begin grading the tracks. Surveyors are brought in to survey the timing trap distances. A day before racing begins, the track markers are added.

Originally, the straightaway was marked with a broad black line down its center. This was eventually changed to lines down either side, as the center line wore out too quickly. As the costs for painting the lines has gone up, organizations have switched to flags and cones as track markers. The last event to use black lines was Speed Week, August 2009.[5]

The number of tracks and the timed sections for each track are set according to what is most beneficial for each event. Large public meets such as Speed Week run as many as four tracks with several timed miles, usually starting with the second mile and running to the fifth mile. Smaller meets that typically only run world record attempts will utilize a single track, with one timed mile and one timed kilometer in the middle of the track. Additional marks and cones indicate the end of the track and the position of timing equipment.

Deteriorating track conditions[edit]

The annual Speed Week was cancelled in both 2014 and 2015, as were many land-speed racing events, due to deteriorating track conditions.[3][4] Heavy rains caused a layer of mud from surrounding mountains to flow onto the flats, covering approximately 6 mi (9.7 km) of the track. Although another section of the flats would normally be used, nearby salt mining operations had reduced the size of the alternative track.[4]

The depth of the salt crust at Bonneville has also been decreasing, possibly leaching into a saltwater aquifer. Measured at as much at 3 ft (0.91 m) in the 1940s and 50s, it has been reduced to just 0.17 ft (0.052 m) in 2015.

Though recent studies have been made (since 1960), the causes of this deterioration are not clear, although the evidence points toward both local climatic changes and salt mining. Some strategies were devised to revert the decreasing salt surface, such as pumping back salt, though this had no effect.[4]

Events and meetings[edit]

In August, the Southern California Timing Association[6] and Bonneville Nationals Inc.[7] organize Speed Week, the largest meet of the year, which attracts several hundred drivers who compete to set highest speed in a range of categories.

In late August, the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials are held.[8]

In September each year is the World of Speed, (similar to Speed Week) organized by the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association.[9] The USFRA also meet on the first Wednesday of each month throughout the summer.

In October, the Southern California Timing Association puts on World Finals, a scaled-down version of Speed Week.

Each year, there are usually a few private meets that are not publicized scattered among the larger public meets.

Land speed records[edit]

Numerous land speed records in various vehicle categories and classes have been set on the Bonneville speed way. In 1960, Mickey Thompson became the first American to break the 400 mph (644 km/h) barrier, hitting 406.60 mph and (654.36 km/h) surpassing John Cobb's 1947 one-way Land speed record of 403 mph (649 km/h). Other notable examples of Bonneville speed records include:

Gabelich's Blue Flame
Dick Beith's Pepco Supercharged VW Lakester
Year Driver Vehicle Speed mph Speed km/h Class (category) Notes
1935 Sir Malcolm Campbell Blue Bird 301.129 484.620 [data needed]
1947 Don Waite The Edelbrock Special 192 309 [data needed]
1954 George J Smith Harley-Davidson knucklehead 152.02 244.652 [data needed] Modified 91 ci knucklehead / alcohol
1963 Craig Breedlove Spirit of America 407.447 655.722 [data needed]
1963 Dick Beith Pepco 36 hp VW Lakester 129.68 208.700 K36 Unlimited Pepco supercharged 36 hp based engine in a „Lakester” style car fashioned from a WWII aircraft belly tank
1964 Art Arfons The Green Monster 434.022 664.694 [data needed]
1965 Craig Breedlove Spirit of America — Sonic 1 600.601 966.574 [data needed]
1967 Burt Munro Indian Scout V-Twin 183.59 295.44 under 1,000 cc
1970 Gary Gabelich Blue Flame 622.407 1001.67 [data needed]
1971 Warner Riley Harley-Davidson Sportster 206.544 332.400 APS-AF 2000 S&S Modified 96 ci Sportster/nitromethane
1985 Dan Kinsey Tenacious Streamliner 276.51 444.999 S-F 2000 S&S Modified 114 ci shovelhead/nitromethane
1991 Dan Kinsey Tramp III Harley-Davidson 226.148 363.949 APS-AF 2000 S&S Modified 114 ci Evolution big twin/nitromethane
2001 Don Vesco Vesco Turbinator — Turbine Engine 458.443 737.395 [data needed]
2004 R. Schroer Buckeye Bullet — Electric Vehicle 314.958 524.930 [data needed]
2006 Andy Green JCB Dieselmax — Diesel Streamliner 350.092 563.418 [data needed]
2012 Jeff Bailey 1994 Harley-Davison Buell S2 226.148 322.797 APS-AF 3000 S&S 160 ci Prostock engine/gasoline
2012 Brandon Nozaki Miller 2012 Zero Motorcycles S ZF6 — Lightweight (under 150 kg) Unfaired Electric Motorcycle 102.281 164.605 First production electric motorcycle to break 100 mph

In popular culture[edit]

In the series finale episode of Mad Men, Donald Draper drives a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS muscle car in the races at Bonneville Speedway.[10]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]