El Mirage Dry Lake SCTA, Fuel Curve

El Mirage Photo Essay – Doin’ it in the Dirt

El Mirage Dry Lake has a long and glorious history in hot rodding. It’s a special place where man, woman, and machine throw caution to the wind in pursuit of speed. How did this happen?

Southern California Timing Association born in 1937, is an association of seven car clubs that banded together to legitimize racing on the dry lakes. Initially these intrepid pioneers of hot rodding met and raced at Muroc dry lake; however, Hitler and Tojo had other plans, and Muroc became a military base and has been ever since. Today the SCTA, the oldest sanctioned racing body in the United States, races at El Mirage dry lake, just a hop, skip and jump from Los Angeles. The November meet, like any other given year was the last event of the season.

El Mirage Dry Lake SCTA, Fuel Curve

El Mirage Dry Lake SCTA, Fuel CurveThe SCTA

Over eighty years ago when Hot Rodding was a dirty word, and a moniker avoided by youthful radicals who altered their production vehicles; land speed racing was born in Southern California. “Hot Rodders and Hot Rods” as the press, police, politicians and public loathingly christened them, were in danger of being legislated out of existence. The answer to their mutual problems lay in the high deserts of California’s barren and dry lakebeds.

El Mirage Dry Lake SCTA, Fuel CurveEl Mirage Dry Lake SCTA, Fuel CurveEl Mirage racers, like their uniquely crafted vehicles are as varied and diverse a group of personalities as the vehicles they race. Even the spectators watching the races are a patchwork quilt oddity. A mixture of new, off-the-line cars, hot rods, motorcycles, buggies, ultra-light aircraft, and even some that resemble the dystopian Mad Max War Boys can be observed roving the flat baked earth of the lakebed.

El Mirage Dry Lake SCTA, Fuel CurveEl Mirage Dry Lake SCTA, Fuel Curve

El Mirage Dry Lake SCTA, Fuel CurveAbsent are giant corporate balloons and logos of sports drinks, and in their place is ingenuity, determination and the average Joe, or Jane. Like Bonneville, racing at El Mirage is about beating the clock and making speed while the Timex is ticking. El Mirage is only 3-miles in length for the land speeders. Mile one, gain-speed, official timing is for approximately a hundred feet afterwards then a shutdown mile…that’s it in a nutshell.

El Mirage Dry Lake SCTA, Fuel CurveSome have referred to El Mirage as a long drag strip. Like Bonneville, records are set and broken. The “Dirty two” are the elite dirt devil racers who have broken records in the 200mph zone, and an even fewer have broken the 300mph barrier at the desert playa. A mighty feat when considering the limited amount of real estate a driver has to accomplish this deed.

El Mirage Dry Lake SCTA, Fuel CurveWhile the fast cars making mighty steam are a sight, the small machines, mere teakettles compared their bigger counterparts are legion. Roadsters with four-bangers, inline-6 and inline-8s, lakesters, motorcycles, vintage vehicles and bikes of every description are all part of the El Mirage experience.

El Mirage Dry Lake SCTA, Fuel CurveThere are no TV crews, no cash prizes, just a timing slip and the euphoric quest for speed. And that is really what land speed racing is all about and if you have to ask…you just don’t get. Got it?

El Mirage Photo Extra!

Without question, Mike is a brilliant photographer who has a keen eye for composition and color. Having nearly two decades of experience in the magazine business, Mike has spent the better part of his adult file photographing cars and the people connected to them. Sealing his fate as a gearhead, Mike's first car was a '73 Camaro. Currently, he is working on bringing a '62 Ford Galaxie and '58 Chevy Apache back to life.