It seems fitting that the Utah-built Turbinator is scheduled to make the first run on the Bonneville Salt Flats on Saturday when the 71st annual Speed Week opens.
That’s because the vehicle, designed by Rick Vesco in his Rockville garage near Zion National Park, had quite a 2018 season on the salt.
It culminated with a top speed of 503.332 miles per hour last October in the World of Speed event. The Turbinator had the fastest top speed of 470.605 miles per hour last year and set the fastest national Bonneville car record and the fastest wheel-driven flying mile.
Jinx Vesco, spokesperson for the Vesco team, said that the sponsoring Southern California Timing Association wanted the Turbinator to be first in line Saturday when racing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
“If we qualify, we will spend Saturday in impound and run again Sunday,” she said of the vehicle driven by Californian Dave Spangler.
George Poteet will be driving Speed Demon, another Speed Week performer capable of approaching the magic 500-mph mark. Vesco said she expects that car to be among the first on the course Saturday.
Vesco described conditions on the salt as not as good as last year, but better than many previous racing seasons.
“We were worried due to a wet spring and a threatening thunderstorm,” she said. “They have been grooming the fast course near the International course, giving us a little longer run. We should be able to hit the higher speed before the rough spot. They started grading a few days ago. We are hopeful and watching the weather.”
Rick Vesco’s father, Johnny, a hot rodder from the 1930s who raced on the dirt tracks of Southern California, participated in the first Speed Week in 1949 and the family has kept the tradition alive.
The sponsoring SCTA anticipates grooming four courses for the weeklong event.
There are currently close to 450 entries with teams from Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Sweden, New Zealand, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom registered.
While fast cars such as the Turbinator and Speed Demon garner much of the attention, dozens of vehicles that include vintage 50cc motorcycles that struggle to reach 50 miles per hour to hot rods to street cars come trying to get into the record books.
No prize money is offered. Drivers and car owners simply want to hold a land speed record.
Few events in Utah are more colorful as cars and spectators dot the area just east of Wendover for a week, visiting, looking and watching the world’s fastest vehicles race across the glistening white Salt Flats.
SPEED WEEK BASICS
Directions: The Salt Flats are located off Exit 4 on Interstate 80 in Utah just before reaching the Nevada state line. They are approximately 100 miles and 1.5 hours driving time due west of Salt Lake City. After exiting the freeway, turn right and drive north past the truck stop, staying on the pavement as the road curves east.
Cost: $20 daily, $50 weekly pass
Saturday: 6:30 a.m., the salt opens and line-up begins. 8 a.m., course stewards meeting at timing tower. 9 a.m., mandatory drivers meeting at Course 1-2 starting line. Rookie orientation to follow. 10 a.m., racing begins. 7 p.m., racing ends. 8 p.m., salt closes.
Sunday through Thursday, Aug. 15: 6:30 a.m., salt opens. 7:30 a.m., record return runs on all courses. Qualifying on all courses begins immediately after record runs. 7 p.m., racing ends. 8 p.m., salt closes.
Friday, August 17: 6:30 a.m., salt opens. 7:30 a.m., Record runs on all courses. Qualifying starts on all courses immediately after. 11:30 a.m., morning record runs end. Additional return runs will be later on the same day.
2019 SALT FLATS MOTORIZED EVENTS
Speed Week: August 10-16
Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials: August 23-29
World of Speed: September 12-18
Mike Cook’s Bonneville Shootout: September 20-24
World Finals: October 1-4