Bonneville Salt Flats • The drivers and crews of most of the 440 vehicles that made their way from all over the world to this glistening white expanse of salt enjoyed cooler than normal temperatures Monday during the third day of the 69th annual Speed Week.
Cool temperatures often lead to faster times. But that wasn’t always the case this year due to less than ideal racing conditions on the salt base of the famous speedway.
“The track isn’t rough,” said New York City driver Eric Ritter, who veered off the course after recording a a speed of 306 miles per hour in Utah’s Vesco family’s rebuilt Turbinator II on Monday. “The track is loose [the salt isn’t hard]. It’s either wet or really loose.”
He remained optimistic that he could get the car that holds the longtime wheel-driven land speed record to over 400 miles per hour before Speed Week ends Friday.
“If we get out there early so they can get the track ready, we can do it without a doubt,” he said.
Crews typically spend much of the night grooming the courses where the cars run, sometimes smoothing them slightly so conditions aren’t rough.
So far, Californian Danny Thompson owns the fastest mark on the salt. His car went over 435 miles per hour Saturday, but lost a rod Sunday as he attempted to back up that time.
Under land speed rules, vehicles need to make two runs to establish a record in one of dozens of classes.
Crews and drivers compete only for the chance to be in a record book and perhaps earn a hat that tells folks they are a member of the 200, 300, or 400 mile per hour club.
Speed week update
• Speed Week on the Bonneville Salt Flats east of Wendover runs until Friday. The spectator entry fee is $20per person.
• There are 440 vehicles from all over the United States and the world trying for land speed records.
— Danny Thompson owns the top speed so far in the weeklong event. The Californian went over 435 miles per hour Saturday, but did not repeat Sunday in the return run when he lost a rod.
Thompson and his crew gave up for this week, but will likely come back later in the year for one of the other land speed events that usually run over the famous Salt Flats course until the first week of October.
Longtime spokeswoman JoAnn Carlson of the Southern California Timing Association, which organizes these trials, said Poteet and Main’s Speed Demon has also gone over 400 miles per hour.
She said the only major crash thus far occurred Sunday, when 61-year-old Jake Bateman of Ontario, Canada, crashed his coupe while going 209 miles per hour. He was transported to the University of Utah medical center with what were called non-life threatening injuries.
Carlson said the cooler than normal August weather, which was in the mid-70s to low 80s, helped drivers who were trying to set records in dozens of classes on the salt.
The coupes, hot rods, motorcycles and streamliners that come from all over the world present a colorful scene on the glistening salt flats.
Flags representing many countries fly high from the pits as mechanics busily work to prepare their vehicles for speed runs
One of the most interesting cars is the Buckeye Bullet Venturi VBB-3, an Ohio State University creation that holds the record of 341.40 miles per hour for all electric vehicles.
The streamliner is capable of 3,000 horsepower. The slim 28-foot long vehicle utilizes two electric motors, 3,400 pounds of lithium ion nanosphasphate battery cells and over three miles of wiring.
Staff member David Cooke said engineering students having been bringing the Buckeye Bullet to the salt since 2001.
The car is part of the school’s Center for Automotive Research.
Cooke said that car teaches and tests technology, electric motors and batteries.
Driver Roger Schroyer said the course is a little bumpy. He is optimistic that the Buckeye Bullet can approach or beat its old record.
He said driving the vehicle is interesting because it makes little engine noise.
“It is quiet,” he said. “You can hear the tires on the salt and the whine of the transmission. With a normal carburetor engine, you can’t hear that. You can hear the wind go over the car.”
The event ends Friday. Spectators are welcome. Entry cost is $20 per day, with cars starting to attempt records at sunrise and going until sunset. No one is allowed on the salt after dark.