Searching for the automobile of the future in the land of fast cars
TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY GINGER STRAND
HEN I LEAVE THE PAVEMENT and hit the hard
white of the Bonneville Salt Flats, I press the pedal
to the metal on The Hummer. The speedometer
hits 94, but that’s nothing to brag about at my destination: some
scattered trailers five miles past the end of the road. Mike Waters,
parked in a lawn chair behind them, would not be impressed.
“What did you drive out here?” he asks.
“A Prius,” I say (The Hummer is its nickname). Mike snorts.
He wears sunglasses and a Speed Week hat. His arms are a deep
pink roped in purple scars from excised carcinomas. He has held
eight di=erent world land-speed records during his racing career. The fastest was 257 miles per hour. Now he is an o;cial
with the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), the
host of Speed Week.
“We’ll take Don’s truck,” he declares. He’s agreed to give me
a tour of the course.
Speed Week, a red-letter event on any gearhead’s calendar,
happens every August on the Bonneville Salt Flats. The Salt, as
racing nuts call it, is the thirty-thousand-acre hard salt bed of
Lake Bonneville, an ancient inland sea. It’s 120 miles west of Salt
Lake City and 6 miles from the Nevada border. The only town
around is Wendover, straddling the state line. Liquor stores,
porn, and low-end casinos dot Nevada’s side; Latter Day Saints
and an abandoned World War II air base occupy Utah’s. Bomber
crews trained at the Wendover base during the war. They built a
city of salt on the flats and dropped bombs on it. The Enola Gay
crew secretly trained at Wendover for the first atomic mission.
Which is the bigger ecological disaster, A-bombs or the
automobile? The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
killed about 110,000 Japanese civilians instantly, and another
250,000 or so over the next five years. Automobile accidents
wipe out 1. 2 million civilians a year worldwide. The radiological contamination caused by Fat Man and Little Boy turned out
to be fairly limited. The environmental legacy of the internal
combustion engine has yet to be fully gauged, but it looks to
be massive. Headlines stream into my phone daily: floods in