El Mirage Season Opener – Dashing Across the Dust
The SCTA just recently held their El Mirage season opener and it didn’t disappoint. Surely you’ve heard of this majestic playa located north of Los Angeles. It’s a magical place with quite a hot rod history.
They’ve been racing at El Mirage Dry Lake since the early part of the 20th Century. “El Mo,” as it is called by its frequenters, is located about 100 miles NE of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert. Used to be, it was way out there nowadays the townies are creeping ever nearer with housing tracts, strip malls and the inevitable traffic.
Nevertheless, the Southern California Timing Association, formed in 1937, continues to sanction land speed racing events every month from May through November except August when the community decamps to the Bonneville Salt Flats some 700 miles north.
Unlike Bonneville, which is a salt lake, El Mo is a dry lake of alkali dust. Most every winter it rains and levels out the bed to form a long, flat race track. Every spring a hearty and hard-working band of pure volunteers arrives to lay out a 1.3-miles course that runs arrow straight west to east.
Every month several hundred racers face the east and try to break a record. The fastest car so far on the lake is the Leggitt-Mirage Blown Fuel Lakester driven by P. Prentice – it went 312.100 mph. There are plenty of records in excess of 200 mph that puts you in the ‘Dirty Two’ club. The fastest motorcycle is John Noonan with a speed of 252 mph.
I’ve made the pilgrimage to El Mirage season opener many times, even bought a race car and raced it and every time I drop down onto that dirty, dusty, hot bed of activity I, like so many others, get a chill from walking where the founding fathers of our sport raced in the 1940s.
The season opener is a two-day affair (as is the last weekend in November). In all, 33 records were broken and the fastest speed of the day was Ed Umland in the Eddie’s Chop Shop Blown Gas Streamliner. It took just 30 seconds to go from a standing start to 277 mph in a mere 1.3 miles. And, the bolide is a stunning, fully polished needle of speed pushed off by the coolest satin black GMC COE.
In fact, there were ten records set at over 200 mph and perhaps the most impressive was the Blown Fuel Roadster of Cummins, Beck, Davidson and Thornberry. With Dave Davidson driving the ’34 roadster, it went 269.876 mph. It is, in fact, the world’s fastest roadster having gone 304.650 mph at Bonneville where the course is several miles longer.
What’s cool about land speed racing is that you can pretty much race anything. There are dozens of classes for every configuration you can think of including steam, electric, or turbine-powered cars. The electric record for El Mirage is 154.670 but at Bonneville the record is 314.958 mph.
Of course, you have to meet the safety requirement of roll cage, fire suppression systems, etc but on the whole it’s an easy going and friendly crowd all hoping and helping you get a record.
The opening weekend field ranged from fairly modern Corvettes and Camaros to an ’84 Dodge Charger that went 188 mph to a Citroen DS to the Suzuki Hyabusa-powered Honda of Warnock, Campbell & Fenn running under the El Mirage Liar’s Assoc., that set a new record of a stout 114.503 mph.
To experience land speed racing and watch all this amazing machinery you just have to pay the Bureau of Land Management $15 for entry to the lake bed (per day). To learn more about the SCTA and to get a schedule of race dates visit scta-bni.org or visit their Facebook page.