“We got a lotta wind down there, 15 miles per hour,” he says.
“That’s maybe 20, 25 kilometers.” He tightens the harness.
The Triplets’ “rookie run” is only to test the car. Frank is told
to go two miles, then turn out and come back. Inspector Lee
Kennedy will follow in a pickup. If all goes well, they then make
the actual qualifying run.
The car starts. It makes a lazy jackhammer noise. Gilles
gets in the push truck. Jean and an assistant lower the hatch.
They’re about to step away when Frank whistles. They take the
hatch o=. He needs something adjusted. They do it, and put
the hatch back on. He whistles again and the same thing happens. Then again. Bill Taylor is looking nervous. At last, the
hatch is on and the car is idling. Bill peers in at Frank through
the side window, then gives the thumbs up through the nose.
Several people—including me—are filming it. Just as the
push truck engages, Jean dashes out and wipes a smudge o=
the moving car.
Frank obediently leaves the track after two miles. The announcer, misinterpreting his exit, declares: “The air car has run
out of air.” People at the starting line laugh.
On the other course, Jamais Contente has finally appeared
for its qualifying run, and Bob and I dash over to catch it while
the Saline Burner heads back. We get there just as it’s about to
go. After the cobbled-together Burner, the boxy, high-tech Bullet looks like the space shuttle. It launches — barely needing its
push vehicle — smooth and silent as a shark. The two guys next
to me turn away in disgust.
“You can’t even hear it,” one says.
“Takes all the excitement out of racing,” his buddy replies.
With that, my Salt Fever breaks. There’s something childishly exhilarating about vroom vroom, but what about the exhilaration of innovation? Where is the enthusiasm for something
new and better, something that doesn’t just do what cars have
always done—go faster than the cars that came before—but
does it without burning fossil fuels? Ingenuity is where all
this began, but the most ingenious cars here are treated with
a steady stream of scorn. The message of Speed Week seems
clear: if there is going to be a sustainable automobile in the
future, it will come from students and foreigners.
THE SALINE BURNER makes its o;cial timing run at the very
end of Thursday, clocking in at 49.823 miles per hour. It goes
into Impound, and on Friday it gets up to 60.455. Averaging
the two runs, the Saline Burner now holds the world land-speed record in the Omega Streamliner category: just over 55
miles per hour. Frank cries like a baby. Then the Triplets pile
into their VW bus to do some sightseeing. They want to visit
Jamais Contente also gets its record, averaging 307.666
miles per hour. But for Brigham Young, this is not the year. On
Friday, their driver loses control at around 170 miles per hour,
rolls the car several times, and crashes. He’s okay—thanks
to good design and the SCTA’s stringent safety rules. The car,
however, will need a makeover.
Bob and I leave Wendover the next day and head east on
I- 80 through the Great Salt Desert. Having come clear across
the country to catch a glimpse of the car of the future, we must
drive the 2,300 miles back to New York. Even in a Prius, that’s
fifty-one gallons of fuel. About sixty miles from Wendover,
we pass a flatbed truck loaded with tan toilet units, exteriors
smeared with salt. We recognize them at once: the portajohns
from Speed Week. A few miles later, we pass a second truckload of toilets, next to a tanker truck labeled HUMAN WASTE. The
tanker has a bumper sticker that reads GLOBAL WARMING: SCIENCE B Y HOMER SIMPSON. We take a picture before passing them
in The Hummer. Neither of us needs to say it: we both know
they’re full of shit. But then again, so are we. A
To learn more about Ginger Strand’s time on Utah’s salt flats, listen
to her talk about it at orionmagazine.org.
Dream of the Milking-Cow
Despite the vintner’s dirge,
I’ll make way through the frail clusters
and bring to bear
the broad bulk of being with calf
and my earthy color, the smear
walnut of a bruise.
Farmhands are no bother.
The ewe and doe regained dominion
with great unfussiness.
In loving turn, the master’s hands
pass my parts each dawn
in a sure, recurring aubade.
Even the black mares shy at my lowing,
a sickle heaving hay.