“Speed, it seems to me, provides the one genuinely modern pleasure.”
This is Bonneville. It’s here, during the trials of the late summer and early fall on a desolate salt flat in nowhere Utah, that motorheads, drivers, engineers, tinkerers, and speed-obsessed crackpots from around the world congregate in an annual pilgrimage to crack the code of speed. In the air hangs the fragrance of fuel: gas, diesel, alcohol, and jet menacing the nose, pressuring the sinuses. Around us, dotting the glassy desiccated sea of salt, are the trucks, trailers, vans, pop-up tents, and umbrellas that have been used to transport and house jet cars, drag trucks, speed bikes, rocket sleds, and pretty much every conceivable form of land-based velocity machine you can imagine.
It takes a certain type, as the risks are incredible. The vehicles are more-or-less water balloon animals built around a bamboo frame; easily tearable, maim-able, breakable. And it’s not just the driver but the entire crew, the race staff, and the community that bears the burden of danger. With so much at stake, preparation is taken seriously and the vehicles are finely-tuned and delicately-tweaked with maddening precision in the days and weeks leading up to the trials. Small adjustments standing still are exponentially amplified at speed; a shimmy at 80 mph means catastrophe at 300. Is the fuel mix right, the tire pressure dialed in, the engine running correctly? These things tend to manifest only when the vehicles are pushed to their limits.
In the end, the challenge is simple. No turns, no jumps, nowhere to hide and nothing but time. Point the thing, punch the gas, steer it straight, go for broke. Such is the quest for speed.