75th annual Bonneville SpeedWeek – Perseverance, Dedication and Teamwork make for a Memorable Week
Excitement for the 75th annual SpeedWeek, August 5–11, was at an all-time high in the weeks leading up to the famed event at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats because the salt was in the best condition it had been in years. But a rainstorm on August 1, just four days before racing was to start, left the race course underwater. This forced the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) to put everything on hold, and access to the salt was closed to everyone until the water receded. Would SpeedWeek be cancelled for the second year in a row? It was up to Mother Nature.
Despite the flooding, hot rodders and race fans from all over the United States continued to roll into town. Casino and hotel parking lots filled with race trailers, and teams worked on their cars in the parking lots waiting for the latest news from race officials. The Nugget was the place to be on Friday night, as the parking lot turned into a massive car show. There were cool cars, bench racing, cold beer and a lot of skepticism about what would happen in the days to come. Some were optimistic the salt would dry out while others were confident the race would never happen.
SCTA officials continued to check the salt conditions twice a day and kept the racers and spectators up to date via social media and word of mouth. To stay ahead of the game, technical inspection (which usually takes place on the salt) was held at the nearby Wendover Airport while the salt continued to dry.
With daily temperatures in the low 90s and no more rain in sight, SCTA President Bill Lattin was confident there would be racing; it was just a matter of when. Finally, on Monday morning, race teams were allowed to enter the salt and set up their pits, and racing would begin on Tuesday.
Race teams were told that most of the standing water was at Land’s End, where the paved road meets the salt. This meant everyone entering the salt would have to drive nearly two miles through two inches of standing water to get to the pits, but the race course was looking good since it was on higher ground.
Tuesday morning came, the sun rose above the salt and excitement filled the air. The SCTA staff and volunteers had worked diligently for days to get to this point; now it was time to go racing. Lattin addressed the racers during opening ceremonies and reminded the teams they were going to run a three-mile course instead of the traditional five-mile course. Although it was out of his control, he apologized for the weather and said, “Now let’s go have some fun.” That was followed by a huge round of applause from everyone on the salt.
Within minutes the staging lanes were packed with roadsters, lakesters, streamliners, trucks and motorcycles. One by one the drivers suited up and got strapped in. The first car left the starting line at 11:35am and it was full throttle until 7pm.
SpeedWeek had been reduced to 3 1/2 days, but to the hard-core racers who stuck around, it was worth it. When racing concluded, racers had made over 400 runs and set 26 new records. The fastest car of the weekend was the Speed Demon with Chris Raschke at the wheel. Raschke stopped the clocks at 333.360 mph, earning the Speed Demon team their 11th Hot Rod Trophy, which has been awarded to the fastest car during SpeedWeek since 1949.
Land speed racing is arguably one of the most challenging forms of motorsports on the planet and 2023 proved that. Consider that even under the best circumstances, land speed racing takes place on a one-of-a-kind racing surface under extreme weather conditions. Many drivers compete only once a year and they’re racing against the record book — either you make history or you don’t. But when one adds in weather that threatens to send everyone home for the second year in a row, just getting to race at all this year should be considered a victory.
2023 Bonneville SpeedWeek Photo Extra!
Photos by Marc Gewertz