BONNEVILLE SALT FLATS: WORLD FINALS
by: Chuck Hallum
October 20-24, 1999
I went to the Bonneville Salt Flats the first time for the
1999 World Finals where FIA world records (international) and
US records could be established. The meet took place from October
20 to 24, 1999 under what I considered near perfect conditions.
It was 35 to 40 degrees F at night but in the high 60's and low
70's in the daytime with clear skies. The salt was said to be
in the best condition in years with an 8 mile course set up.
Running south there was a 2 mile run up, 3 miles (and kilometers)
measured, and a 3 mile shut off run. On the shut off end there
was more space but maybe the salt was getting thin.
When driving to the pit area the immense area of the salt
flat makes you feel like a spec (of salt). It was about 7 miles
to the pit area. There were already 3 rows of cars set up. We
arrived in Wendover at 3 AM so we slept a little late. The Dempsey
team set up the White Lightning electric car pit at the end of
the third row. In row one in front of us was the Vesco brothers
and the Dempsey-Vesco 4WD Turbinator.
Cars were already running on the course. From our pit you
could make out an RV way-way off to the left which was an official
car at the north start line. The photo above shows this view.
First you would hear a vehicle start and could pick it up by
the 1 mile marker and watch it accelerate to the 2 mile marker
where timing started. The next 3 miles were timed, as well as
the first quarter mile, and first, second and third kilometer.
Even at 150 MPH the cars or bikes seemed to crawl. But when cars
went over 250-300 MPH they gobbled up real estate in a hurry.
At 400 MPH the cars went by the mile markers awful quick. When
looking toward the finish from the front pits (at about 3.5 miles)
the cars disappeared. The finish for the faster cars was 8 miles,
but markers to about 6 miles were visible. At 250 MPH mile markers
go by in 14.4 seconds. At 400 MPH they go by at 9 seconds.
The salt surface has interesting characteristics. Even after
a bunch of cars run across the surface there is little loose
salt. Moisture from below evaporates, flows over any loose salt,
and re-bonds it to the original surface.
The photo above shows a close up of the salt surface in the
pit area where many cars have already driven. Typically the salt
surface is many degrees cooler than air temperature. The surface
is probably close to the wet bulb temperature (being evaporatively
There were probably about 75 vehicles there. There were streamlined
to non-streamlined bikes, roadsters, lakesters, stockers, and
streamliners. The streamliners were powered by everything from
snowmobile engines to drag type engines to gas turbines to electric
motors. The photos above and below show a Saab Sonnet that went
almost 260 MPH and a twin turbo charged '66 Mustang. There were
all kinds of interesting cars.
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