In rural northwest Utah, down at the bottom of the craggy mountains, the Bonneville Salt Flats stretch for more than 36,000 acres. They’re a natural salt formation that is left behind by an ancient lake as large as Lake Michigan. As water evaporates over the eons, a solid, flat mineral deposit remains, shining bright white in the Utah sun. The place catches the interest of auto racers in the early 1900s. Where else could they head out into the wilderness, find a perfect track made by nature and drive land machines straightaway for the chance to hit top speed? Ever since, for scientists and enthusiasts alike who are obsessed with speed, the Bonneville Salt Flats becomes the place to race.
Racing History on White Salt
By 1935, the Bonneville Speedway is hosting events where racers are breaking world land speed records. One of the most notable in history occurs in 1960, when Mickey Thompson becomes the first American to hit 400 miles per hour. Listing all the historic moments at Bonneville would be less than a speedy process, although the track tests numerous early land speed record breakers like Sir Malcolm Campbell, Craig Breedlove, Dick Beith and Gary Gabelich. Over the years, Bonneville feels the power of some incredible vehicles, too – like the fastest diesel racer (JCB Dieselmax Diesel Streamliner), the world’s fastest bagger (Harley-Davidson Road Glide), the fastest electric vehicle (Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3) and the fastest street-legal production motorcycle (Kawasaki Ninja H2).
Recent Push for Restoration
Racing fans are disappointed in 2014 and 2015 when track deterioration at Bonneville Speedway means Speed Week and most other racing events must be canceled. A passionate group of enthusiasts from the Bonneville area – plus supporters from around the world – work together to draw attention to the pressing issue of salt flat deterioration. The Save the Salt Foundation lobbies the Utah legislature to dedicate much-needed funds. As a result, the Bonneville Salt Flats is receiving $5 million from the state in early July 2019 for the restoration of its racing surface. The Save the Salt Foundation is still working to secure another $45 million needed over the course of the next 10 years to preserve the flats entirely. If you love salt flat racing, now’s the time to step up and help.
Visit Bonneville Salt Flats in the Fall
Today, the salt flats are in the process of restoration and are back open for racing. The once 13-mile-long track, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is about five miles shorter, due to erosion and the changing landscape. Yet, it’s still the place to see some of the fastest vehicles in the world scream across salt flats with gorgeous Utah mountains in the background. Speed Week is in August, the World of Speed is in September and the World Finals are in October. Take a road trip out there if you can. For motorsports fans, the Bonneville Salt Flats hold a mystical allure that’s unmatched anywhere else on Earth.
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