The Spectre team glides by, towing the Infidel. They set it up
on an empty stretch of Salt and line themselves up for a commemorative photo shoot. They are leaving, having broken three
records. Two were their own: they beat the A-engine record so
easily that they went back and beat themselves, so the record
wouldn’t be “soft.” Then they reinstalled their AA engine and
beat their own record in that class too.
A bad vibe is brewing in Tripletville, so we decide to go check
in with the Buckeyes. The Bullet is parked under their canopy.
Gildo Pallanca Pastor, a young millionaire from Monaco, is on
a lawn chair working on a laptop. Ohio State’s Center for Automotive Research gets about $10 million a year from the auto industry, but it isn’t enough, so the car has additional sponsors,
including Pastor’s electric car company, Venturi.
We chat about the car with some of the students. This is the
There’s something childishly
exhilarating about vroom vroom,
but what about the exhilaration of innovation? Where is the
enthusiasm for something new
third iteration of the Buckeye Bullet. The first was powered with
batteries taken from cordless drills, the second by hydrogen fuel
cell. This one, powered by lithium batteries, is Buckeye Bullet
2. 5, because it’s a bridge to next year’s car, which they hope
will break 400 miles per hour. To distinguish it from Buckeye
Bullets 1 and 2, it has a French name: Jamais Contente — Never
Satisfied. We would be satisfied, we tell them, just to see it go.
Back at the food tent, some inspectors are having lunch. Kiwi
Steve arrives and tells them that the Triplets are ready to be inspected again. They don’t budge from their burgers. I go over
and mention that I’m keeping tabs on the Saline Burner. “We
will not let a car go if we don’t think it’s survivable,” Kiwi Steve
declares with the same exasperated tone all the inspectors take
when discussing the Triplets. Then he tells me I ought to be following the BYU car. It sailed through inspection this morning,
he says, and just completed its qualifying run.
Annoyed at having missed the first alternative-power run,
Bob and I race over to Impound. The BYU car, a shiny blue beak-
shaped beauty, is lounging on its trailer slurping watts. Clean-cut
Mormon boys in khaki pants and polo shirts buzz around it. It’s
much smaller than the Buckeye Bullet, but, like the first Bullet,
runs on batteries from cordless drills. It takes thirty-three minutes to recharge, and their first run clocked in at just over 139
miles per hour.
The blue car gleams in the sun as if lit from within. Unlike
everyone else on the Salt, the Brigham Young team doesn’t seem
to be sweating.
IT’S MIDAFTERNOON by the time the inspectors return to the
Triplets’ pit. Frank is in the car. This time he executes a mock
bailout without any acrobatics. The Frenchmen clap again. The
inspectors act resigned.
“We want you to be safe,” Kiwi Steve says. It’s not an apology,
just a statement. And then, at last, they a;x stickers to the car:
INSPECTED: 150 MPH SPEED LIMIT. Everyone is ebullient.
A regular entourage sets out for the starting line: Gilles driving the push vehicle, Frank being towed in the Saline Burner,
the rest of the Frenchmen piled into a VW microbus, Bob and
I bringing up the rear, a new BONNEVILLE SPEED WEEK PARTICIPANT sticker proudly a;xed to The Hummer’s bumper.
On the queue for the starting line, people keep coming over
and getting down on their hands and knees to look through the
clear nose. “It looks like a pontoon!” someone says. The general
attitude is bemusement.
The overeager Triplets have poor Frank suited, helmeted,
and stu=ed into the sweltering cockpit before the driver ahead
of them, hanging out in his tighty-whiteys, even starts yanking
on his jumpsuit. It seems like the last twenty minutes take forever, but finally we are at the starting line. Bill Taylor, antennae
poking up from his headphones, gets his face right down next