A volunteer organization with its start in 1937, the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), combined with Bonneville Nationals, Inc. (BNI), maintains rules and records for land speed racing at El Mirage Dry Lake, California and Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah. (NOTE: We used the Official Results posted in the SCTA site for driver and team names, and all timing results you see in this article.)
Weather permitting, racing is held five times each year at El Mirage and twice annually, including world famous speed-week, at Bonneville. Upon our arrival at El Mirage for the final event of the year, two days of racing on November 14-15, 2015, we didn’t realize the ominous implications of the fog in the distance, hugging the ground in the left and center of this photo, that we would later be driving blindly through!
After paying the $15 BLM day fee per vehicle at the entrance, we began our innocent-enough seeming journey to race camp. That’s when the vehicle in front of us sort of just … evaporated into the mist.
At times, visibility was less than 10 feet. After finding the pickup in front of us again, I decided to stop following them when crossing through a series of traffic cones, a disturbingly eerie feeling when you know you are approaching a race track where vehicles are driving at speeds in excess of 200 mph!
Finally, as the fog begins to lift we see race camp, consisting of at least 300 recreational vehicles, emerging from the distant haze. We learned later that due to the restoration efforts ongoing at Bonneville, that area’s racing has been cancelled for the past two years. And the October meet at El Mirage was rained out. JoAnn Carlson, media director for SCTA, said there was such pent up demand, they had so many racers registered for this event, 173 from all over the country, it was one of the largest meets in many years.
Racing was already underway upon our arrival at check in at 7:30am, after the two hour drive from Los Angeles. OK, the great country breakfast we stopped for at a diner on the way may have had a part to play in that! No, no food pics!
But here is what it looks like from near the starting line. 😉
All of the drivers, teams and race officials are extremely safety conscious. That was clearly evident after one vehicle spun out while going over 200 mph. The car was totaled. The driver walked away unharmed, not even a scratch.
Many of the cars are geared for such high-speed, they have no first gear and are unable to start off the line without a little push, like for driver Mike Fitzmorris of Team McLeish Bros. as he began his 201.074 mph run.
Apparently, it doesn’t really matter what you use to get a push, as driver Pat Blevins used an RV to begin his 177.163 mph run!
There is some serious engineering going on in some vehicles, like driver Al Ehshenbaugh’s racer from Steinegger and Eshenbaugh on his 215.959 mph run.
Others are home built, like this classic roadster from owner/builder Larry Urey.
Larry is really enthusiastic about his work. He even offered to build a chassis and body for me for a surprisingly reasonable price. I meekly declined, holding up my camera, advising Larry that, “I already have a money pit. And … this one won’t kill me!” 😀
Yes, there are motorcycles racing too, like this BMW beauty ridden by 7x Land Speed Record Holder Valerie Thompson of Valerie Thompson Racing on her 203.401 mph run.
While some vehicles get a good start, like driver Tom Evans of VP Spl., yet are unable to finish …
You have to think others, spewing thick black plumes of smoke, would have no chance, like this pickup driven by Tim Boyle of Salty Box Racing who managed a speed of 141.251 mph.
The event is a wild mix of hi-tech designs …
Classic roadsters …
And motorcycles of all kinds.
Along our walk out to the Timing Trailer, the race track is 1.33 miles long, we met so many friendly people, and quite a few characters along the way! Two of the nicer characters were Denis Mariani, a member of the 200 MPH Club, and his co-Rod Riders Patrol official Dave Silveira, a member of the 300 MPH Club. No, those who haven’t earned a Club hat may not purchase one! 😉
In the Timing Trailer, we met Chief Timer Ruth MacLean …
And Assistant Timers, James Rice and Frank Scott.
James, along with his brother who was out racing, developed the software that SCTA uses for recording official race times. Besides time and speed, there is a timing trap 132 feet before the finish line, data captured from the weather stations includes wind speed, barometric pressure, temperature, density, altitude and humidity.
Wandering the pit area is another adventure!
Which allows you to get up close and personal with many of the vehicles.
Meeting drivers and crew members as they ponder their futures was lots of fun, like driver/owner Jeff Stewart of Stewart Family Racing. Jeff informed me he’s using a 1930 Ford Model B Flathead engine in this racer, which has exceeded a speed of 150 mph … so far!
Then there are the mechanical challenges.
When asking the owner what year this Indian motorcycle is from, he queried back, “Which part?!”
Brothers Gary and Jim Hahn have obviously spent hours preparing and caring for this beautiful 1968 Mustang, which has hit a top speed of 191+ mph this year. In 2010, this car ran at 235 mph in Bonneville.
As the sun began to set on race camp, this journalist had to return to Los Angeles in order to get the photos out for deadline syndication to magazines and news organizations around the globe. So we unhappily declined a very nice dinner invitation in race camp as we set out on our return to Los Angeles.
At dusk, a lone Joshua Tree beneath a crescent moon stood watch over our departure.
Click the thumbnails below
to view full-size photos
- Southern California Timing Association (SCTA)
- SCTA November 14-15, 2015 Meet at El Mirage – Official Results
- El Mirage Dry Lake (Bureau of Land Management)
- Bonneville Salt Flats (Bureau of Land Management)