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Bonneville - Joining The Club

Go 200, Get A $14 Red Hat

Tony Thacker
Feb 1, 2008
Photographer: Greg Emmerson
Eurp_0802_01_z+bonneville+208mph Photo 1/10   |   I'd think twice about taking this to the shops, never mind hitting 208mph!

I first went to Bonneville in 1975 on my honeymoon, but it would be a quarter-century before I returned with my own racecar. In 2001, I purchased a hot rod with an original 1932 Ford frame, a fiberglass replica '28 Roadster body and a stout 400ci Chevy V8. It holds the B/STR record at Muroc (now Edwards Airforce Base at 165.238mph). It was a car built in the tradition of the original weekend racers, designed to be driven to the lakes, stripped of its windshield, fenders, mufflers, etc and raced. I bought it for fun.

After learning the ropes at El Mirage dry lake, my partner, Jimmy Shine (of Hard Shine TV fame), and our motley crew drove the 700 miles from Los Angeles to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

With a Bill Mitchell World Products Chevy engine, I was the first in the team to go 175mph and graduate to the long course, before Jimmy bumped it up to 182mph. Man, we were ecstatic.

Racing Bonneville is a weird experience. The surface is kinda flat - the SCTA scrapes it with a giant iron girder. However, it changes constantly as the temperature rises from around freezing in the pre-dawn darkness to maybe 100F or more at the height of the afternoon. Then, just as quickly, it can rain and leave the lake flooded. Weird place.

Eurp_0802_02_z+bonneville+socal_hhr Photo 2/10   |   Sadly, this So-Call HHR rolled on the salt after hitting a record speed. The driver walked away

We returned the following year. Drove the car again and Jimmy installed an 8-71 Mert Littlefield blower atop a Holley-built Chevy once we were there. Sadly, we were short-changed by tranny problems and a spin-out at 192mph, with Jimmy saying, "It's just like going forwards, only the view is different."

Salt racers typically spin out when they get light and lose traction. Weight keeps them connected to the salt and consequently, Bonneville cars weigh a whopping 4-5000 lb.

In 2004, we were going for broke - literally. Jimmy hit 201.821mph and we thought we'd conquered the world, but I then blew the bottom clean out of the motor and put an end to the celebration. When I told my wife, she asked, "Did you get a record?" To which I replied, "No!" She said, "Then you ain't done yet, are you?" What a gal!

Eurp_0802_03_z+bonneville+scta Photo 3/10   |   The SCTIA have been on the salt since 1949

We spent 2005 taking the car to the MIRA wind tunnel in England because I love the idea of free horsepower, and aerodynamics is the best way to get free power, even from a brick. Theoretically, we gained 50hp and then got a new 301ci motor from Bill Mitchell, bolted on our 8-71 blower and went after the 203mph D/BSTR record.

A blocked gas tank vent resulted in a burned piston, but a day later the motor was rebuilt and Jimmy clocked 208.008mph, qualifying for the record. With the record exceeded you go to impound, where you're only allowed to change fluids or check things out. Then at 7am the next morning you have to run again, and the two runs are averaged. If the speed exceeds the previous record by 0.001mph, the record is yours.

Our second run was made with a weakening motor, but Jimmy managed 204.901mph. That averaged out to 206.454mph and was a new record for our class. Five years and thousands of dollars for a $14 2-Club red hat, but getting there we had more fun than you can imagine.

By Tony Thacker
2 Articles

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