Driver Cal Rothe of Aardema Braun Lattin on his 222.464 mph run.

SCTA Land Speed Races: 2017 Season Opener

This was my third time to have the honor to photograph the SCTA Land Speed Races (LSR) at El Mirage Dry Lake near Adelanto, California (links to past coverage follow the gallery below). Each time, I learn more about the races, the vehicles, and SCTA – Southern California Timing Association. Together with Bonneville Nationals, Inc. (BNI), they sanction official races, keep the records and maintain safety standards at both El Mirage and the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Entrance to El Mirage Dry Lake
Entrance to El Mirage Dry Lake for the SCTA – Southern California Timing Association’s 2017 Landspeed Races Season Opener.

The big realization this year? There’s no money in it!

Literally, no purse, no prizes, and few sponsors. Just the glory of going fast and holding a record, regardless of how brief that record might exist. The next vehicle down the track in your class just might better your record, but your’s remains in the books, certificates are issued, and for those who qualify, induction into the 200 mph and 300 mph clubs with nice red caps. Drivers frequently talk of “borrowing” a record after having had theirs exceeded by someone else. It’s all in good friendly fun with lots of smiles and congratulations each and every time!

Driver Brian Dean of Thomas & Deans Thundersalt on his 212.903 mph run
Driver Brian Dean of Thomas & Deans Thundersalt on his 212.903 mph run.

There is also a 400 mph club which, due to the many challenges required to overcome in order to attain that speed, tends to be a bit exclusive. The track at El Mirage is 1.3 miles long, so it doesn’t allow enough distance for racers to reach speeds of 400 mph. But a few, a very few, have managed to break 300 mph here. There are three tracks at Bonneville Salt Flats, the longest stretching  5 miles. That’s where world records are made.

The lakester from Aardema Braun Lattin on its 222.464 mph run
Driver Cal Rothe of Aardema Braun Lattin on his 222.464 mph run.

Racing on a dry lake bed is always a dusty affair. This day, dust was a factor for the early morning racers, often causing delays while awaiting visibility to improve after a previous racer.

Driver Robert Sights of Udder De Lite on his 136.156 mph run
Driver Robert Sights of Udder De Lite on his 136.156 mph run.

Motorcycles are also part of land speed racing fun, with a few breaking 200 mph at El Mirage.

Rider John Noonan of Wossner Pistons Noonan on his 225.325 mph run
Rider John Noonan of Wossner Pistons Noonan on his 225.325 mph run.

The oldest operating racing organization in the United States, SCTA got its start way back in 1937 when a bunch of young adults in their 20’s formed the association to encourage camaraderie, establish safety standards and keep records. There are four classes of vehicles in land speed racing; Special Construction, Vintage, Modified and Production. The classes are explained well at BonnevilleRacing.Com.

Driver Burl Brown of Texas Justice VII on his 165.707 mph run
Driver Burl Brown of Texas Justice VII on his 165.707 mph run.

Geared for high-speed, many of the vehicles do not have a first gear, so they need a push off the starting line to get going. I’ve seen everything from RV’s to Semi-trucks used as push vehicles. But this ATV drew a giggle from onlookers.

Driver Harold Hanneman of Harold H Hannemann on his 106.471 mph run
Driver Harold Hanneman of Harold H Hannemann on his 106.471 mph run.

Land speed racing tends to be a family affair, often with two or three generations of racing families present in the pit area. Marking the 50th anniversary of legendary Burt Munro’s record at Bonneville, his great nephew Lee Munro, riding the “Spirit of Munro”, carries on the family tradition.

Rider Lee Munro of Munro Scout (great nephew of legendary Burt Munro, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Burt's Bonneville record) on his 161.336 mph run
Rider Lee Munro of Munro Scout  on his 161.336 mph run.

In 1967, at the age of 68, riding a 47-year old 1920 modified Indian motorcycle, Burt set an under 1,000 cc world record at Bonneville that still holds today. Burt’s story was immortalized in the film “The World’s Fastest Indian” starring Anthony Hopkins as the legendary rider (rent the DVD from Netflix). You may follow Lee on Instagram @lee_munro_racing.

Rider Lee Munro of Munro Scout (great nephew of legendary Burt Munro, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Burt's Bonneville record) on his 161.336 mph run
Rider Lee Munro of Munro Scout on his 161.336 mph run.

Drivers get very focused right before their runs, as evidenced by the intense looks of concentration in their eyes right before starting off the line.

Driver Dan Chilson of Chilson Racing prepares for his 135.009 mph run
Driver Dan Chilson of Chilson Racing prepares for his 135.009 mph run.

Having already mentioned the dust in the morning (above), visibility improved somewhat in the afternoon, giving spectacular views of the San Gabriel Mountains (and snow!) to the south.

Snowcapped Mount San Antonio in the San Gabriel Mountain Range as seen from the race course
Snowcapped Mount San Antonio in the San Gabriel Mountain Range as seen from the race course

Yet driver Fred Dannenfelzer had problems with visibility on his run.

Driver Fred Dannenfelzer of DRM Racing did not finish his run
Driver Fred Dannenfelzer of DRM Racing did not finish his run.

He was unable to see towards the end of the course and turned out before the finish line.

Driver Fred Dannenfelzer of DRM Racing did not finish his run
Driver Fred Dannenfelzer of DRM Racing did not finish his run.

With wind a constant factor throughout the day, dust devils whipped through race camp and the pit area several times during the afternoon. This one went right next to the starting line.

Dust Devils blow through the pit area of race camp
Dust Devils blow through the pit area of race camp.

The racers persisted though, including Doug Chase in this 1946 or ’47 (“Which part?!”) Hudson.

Driver Doug Chase of Chase Race on his 111.147 mph run
Driver Doug Chase of Chase Race on his 111.147 mph run.

And Wendy St. John in a turbo charged, diesel fueled Studebaker.

Driver Wendy St.John of Zonker on her 103.228 mph run
Driver Wendy St.John of Zonker on her 103.228 mph run.

As the afternoon progressed, the course began to degrade, resulting in the need to move the track and shutting down the races early in order to make the move for Sunday’s races. While disappointing, it did make some time for a bit of scenic shooting of the surrounding Mojave desert terrain before heading to race camp for a few cold ones with friends.

Views of Joshua Trees and the San Gabriel Mountains
Views of Joshua Trees and the San Gabriel Mountains.

A great way to end a day at the races, in race camp with friends! 😉

Race camp atmosphere
Race camp atmosphere.

Click the thumbnails below
to view full-size photos

 

Want more Land Speed Racing? View our coverage of the 2016 Season Opener and the 2015 Season Finale!

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