Mike, however, can’t think of any. Maybe there’s an electric
motorcycle preregistered, but he isn’t sure. And to be honest, he
doesn’t seem too interested. Instead, he drives me out to where
a grading truck is dragging I-beams over the salt to smooth out
the two racecourses. Guys drinking Millers are laying wire for
the timing clocks, and a giant eighteen-wheel fuel tanker is settling in. Of the roughly 550 race cars coming, Mike says, most
will run on high-octane, leaded gasoline, but the truck also sells
diesel fuel and nitro. By the end of Speed Week, Mike says, the
tanker will be drained dry.
Then, after dropping a remark about “rice burners,” he drops
me back at my Prius. Speeding back over the Salt toward Wendover, I get The Hummer to 101.
I DON’T EVEN LIKE CARS. As machines, they are not particularly impressive. Jet engines are impressive; hydroelectric
plants are impressive. Cars are ine;cient and, for the most part,
shoddily made. They are di;cult to maintain—a hallmark of
bad design— and built to be junked rather than repaired. They
don’t even solve the problem of transport in an elegant way. And
knowing what they do to our environment, we ought to hate
them the way we hate smokestacks, or landfills. We ought to
consider them a necessary evil rather than o=er them our love.
So explain for me Exhibit A: Bob. The man I live with never
wants to join me on reporting trips, but the words “Speed Week”
were hardly out of my mouth before Bob had booked his ticket.
On opening day, he’s downright gleeful as we cruise the pits, a
riotous encampment of RVs, trailers, canopies, and flags. Race
cars are parked all over the place, but because they can’t be under
power except on the course, people are zooming around in every other type of conveyance imaginable: four-wheelers, bicycles,
golf carts, mopeds, electric scooters, dune buggies, and rusting,
banged-up jalopies modified with mash-up glee. A couple ultra-light airplanes swoop overhead, someone has landed a Cessna
right on the Salt, and two little kids zip by in a pink electric kiddie car. Every few minutes a race car flies past on the course,
parachute unfurling in its wake. The place is Mad Max on meth.
We are looking for Les Triplettes de Bonneville, a French team
that has built a car that runs on compressed air. Their car, as
well as electric cars entered by students from Brigham Young
and Ohio State, are the only preregistered noncombustion cars.
Since the Triplets’ streamliner uses neither fuel nor electricity, it
is entered in the Omega class—the catchall for engines using
any thermodynamic cycle other than Otto. The last Omega-class
car to compete was powered by rubber bands.
The Triplets have been blogging for months about building
their car, the Saline Burner. As rendered by Google Translate,
their French is fabulously poetic:
You can see the beautiful connection, the precious
couple and its very valuable setting.
It falls again pile hair!
Cutting the opening component of adjusting tank,
and voila a perfect trap!
It’s what the Triplets!
Nothing stops us.
The trouble is, we can’t find the Triplets. Instead, we wander around the pits, getting distracted by an impromptu history
of American speed. Speed Week has six general car categories,
each with a plethora of engine classes, so there’s everything from
Model A’s to muscle cars to Ferraris to streamliners—
aerodynamic speed machines with airplane tails and wheels cloaked by
cowling. Even I have to admit that the streamliners look exciting.
They aren’t rocket cars — all cars at Speed Week must be wheel
driven— but they still reach speeds of over 400 miles per hour.
And they share the Salt with contraptions that look like garage-built go-carts.
“This is pretty much the last bastion of ‘run what you brung,’”
Rick McCambridge tells me. “There’s no money in it. Pennzoil
and those guys aren’t out here with bleachers and girls in tutus.”
Rick’s shiny green home-built racer, The Flying Pickle, bears
him out: it looks like a giant kosher dill suspended between four
The Flying Pickle is a lakester. When GIs returned from World
War II with mechanical training and a lust for action—both
courtesy of Uncle Sam —they began tinkering with used cars,
putting high-horsepower engines in lighter frames and jettisoning running boards, fenders, and windshields. The more intrepid even began building their own cars, attaching motors and
tires to scrapped “drop tanks”—fighter plane spare fuel tanks