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Bonneville Speedway - Track Review

The real allure of Bonneville Speedway is its surreal setting.

David Pratte
Feb 4, 2013
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Specs & Details

Bonneville Speedway

Location Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah (near Wendover)
Track Configuration 10-12-mile straightaway
Other Facilities Salt, and plenty of it

Chances are you’re familiar with the moonscape that is the Bonneville Salt Flats, given how significant a location it is in the world of speed and how often it’s used as a dramatic location for film and TV. In fact, the feature film The World’s Fastest Indian is a NetFlix must-watch, based on a true story about a speed-obsessed Kiwi who shipped his shed-built ’20 Indian motorcycle across the Pacific en route to setting a land-speed world record during the ’67 Speed Week at Bonneville Speedway.

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One of the most intriguing things about Bonneville Speedway is that, unlike traditional racetracks or dragstrips, it doesn’t have a permanent location. That’s because the conditions of the western salt flats near Wendover, Utah, where the 10-mile-long straightaway is set up, change from year to year, so the organizers select the best piece of flats when setting up the course.

The Speedway was set up by the state’s Department of Transportation, but 20 or so years ago, the responsibility was offloaded to the two major event organizers: the Southern California Timing Association, which hosts Speed Week, and the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association, which hosts the World of Speed, both of which cater to land-speed racers from across America and around the world. Track preparation is a relatively simple affair, with grading to ensure a flat surface and some surveying to ensure the accuracy of the distance-traveled timing system.

The real allure of Bonneville Speedway is its surreal setting—the dry salt lakebed that is utterly devoid of vegetation or other signs of life, and the mind-bending machines that make the annual late-summer pilgrimage there in search of land-speed glory. The stars of the show are the streamliners—long, missile-shaped creations that run at speeds normally reserved for jets and UFOs (the current land-speed world record is held by ThrustSSC at a speed of 763 mph).

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Some notable sport-compact–based land-speed machines have set records at Bonneville, from Racing Beat’s famous FD RX-7 that flipped at 220 mph in 1993 and then returned in 1995 to set a class record at 241 mph, to Hondata’s recent straight-line blasts to glory at the ’11 Speed Week in its 230-mph twin-supercharged Acura RSX and 220-mph 1.5L turbocharged Honda CRX.

Wanna see Marian and Doug from Hondata go ridiculously fast in their Hondas? All the Bonneville land-speed events are open to the public, so there’s no reason you couldn’t drop in to see the action in person. That said, there are no facilities to speak of at Bonneville, so bring sunscreen, a big-rimmed hat, food and water, and even a bike or scooter if you have one (lots of distance to cover if you want to take a look at all the cars in the makeshift paddock area). And don’t forget your camera, either, because you’ll see some motorized machines here that will completely blow your mind.

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By David Pratte
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