Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Fastest Thing on Earth

This past Sunday I went to the Southern California Timing Association's annual National event at the Bonneville Salt Flats known as Speedweek. 

I've lived in Utah for almost 40 years and have never been out to Bonneville Speedweek.  I guess it's like living in New York and never going to the Empire State Building.  Lots of people aren't tourists in their hometown.

The cool thing about this event is that it isn't one event, it is hundreds of events.  Each minute detail for a vehicle can garner its own land speed record.  There are classifications for production cars, motorcycles, trucks and other vehicles.  Within each vehicle classification there is a motor designation and production designation.  You can challenge the world speed record in any of these categories or sub categories, such as a vintage (1949 to 1981) American made production car with a 300 to 350 c.i. engine without modifications or something as obscure as a pre 1960s 175 cc motorcycle of Japanese origin. 

Each vehicle has to go through the tech people.  They are very thorough and are looking for safety issues as well as differences that would give one racer an unfair advantage over another.  We were there for only about an hour all together and we saw a discussion over whether it is safe for a 230 lb guy who just barely fit into a dragster, to a guy who's motorcycle was disqualified because he build an oil cooler with fins and his classification didn't allow any alterations that would provide him this aerodynamic advantage. 

It was tech overload.  We walked up and down the pits and were able to stand right next to cars that went 400 mph.  We also saw lots of 1930s roadsters cut down to resemble (or actually were) 1950s hot rods.  Everybody was riding everything.  It was a sensual trip to wander and take in the sites.

The people who built these machines were very approachable.  They wanted to talk about their vehicles and each time we stopped we spent a half an hour talking about their classification, how they did and what they wanted to achieve this year.  Everything from getting into the 200 mph club (going at least 250 mph or breaking a 200 mph+ record) to breaking the record for a pre-WWII motorbike of 66 mph.

We then wandered to the start line.  Where else in a major sport could you stand 5 feet from a competitor as they started off without knowing the President?  It was exhilarating, scary and interesting to watch them prepare and go through their routine.  Another sensory assault that made this a wonderful experience.

All in all I don't know why I didn't do this before.  I like cars, trucks and motorcycles and this is a world class event in my own back yard.  All I can say is it was way too long a wait for this.  I was like a kid in a candy store.  So much to see so little time to see it all.   Next year I'm going out for the weekend.

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