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How It Works:
What Really Goes On At the Bonneville Salt Flats

Bonneville racing events are different from many other forms of racing. In most forms of racing, each class is called to the Starting Line or Staging Lanes as a class group and that class runs, then the next class is called up and runs. This is NOT the case at Bonneville. At Bonneville, each car runs alone on the race course, competing only against the Timer's Clocks. Since there is no side by side competition, cars are allowed into the Staging Lanes and the Starting Line in completely random order. When any competitor feels that they are ready to run, they simply tow or push to the staging lanes and “Get In Line”.

To a spectator walking the staging lines this makes for one of the great spectacles in motor sports. With as many as 200 Bonneville racers in the Staging Lanes, one car might be capable of 75 MPH and the next 475 MPH. It is an amazing display of mechanical ingenuity, creativity and diversity, highlighted by the contrast of being side by side in the Staging Lanes.

As these cars move near the front of the line, they are met by “Assistant Starters” who are in constant radio contact with the Chief Starter. These guys job is to inform the Racers of approximately how soon they will run, and to notify them get into their fire suits, helmets and drivers restraints and if necessary to warm up the engine, so that when their turn at the Starting Line comes they are “Ready to Run”. The work done by these Assistant Starters is what allows literally hundreds of cars to run one at a time each day on a single course.

When they reach the front of the line, suited, seated and belted in, they are given a final inspection and belt tightening by the Chief Starter. The Chief Starter checks in via radio with the Course Timer who has verified with the Course Stewards stationed every mile and a half down the length of the course to see if the course is clear. When the Chief Starter gets the all clear, he gives the driver any last second instructions, tells the crew “The course is yours”, and off they go. Many Bonneville vehicles are geared so high (for top speed) that they need to be pushed away from the starting line.

The only exception to this First Come, First Served arrangement is the Record Runs. All Bonneville Records are the Average of Two Runs. The first run over the existing Record Speed is the “Qualifying Run”. This run “Qualifies” the car to make a Record Run. All “Qualifiers” must check into the “Impound Area” within one hour of the time stamped on their “Qualifying Time Slip”. The Impound Area is supervised by a senior racing official who “Checks In” each Qualified car as they arrive. Once qualified cars check into Impound (The coolest place to park on the entire Planet) crews are free to work on their cars and prepare them for their Record Run. Record Runs are held first thing the next morning. If for any reason a vehicle is removed from Impound, the record is forfeited and the vehicle must re-qualify. After a vehicle leaves the starting line on a Record Run, any interruption such as spinout, loss of engine power, etc. will terminate the Record Run and the vehicle must re-qualify. Experienced Bonneville Spectators make the extra effort to be at the track at sunrise to watch the day's Record Runs.

One Bonneville tradition that tells you a lot about the nature of Bonneville competitors is the order that cars make record return runs. If there are two competitors from the exact same class in Impound together, it is the custom to allow the slower of the two to run first. That way, if they can run fast enough on their Record Run that the two run average exceeds the previously existing record, they are the new record holder. Then the faster of the two cars from the same class runs. Even if the faster car raises the record set by that first car, the first car did hold the record, if only for a few minutes.

After their Record Return Runs, all record breaking vehicles must again report immediately to the Impound Area where race officials will inspect the vehicle for compliance with body class, engine displacement and technical requirements. After this last inspection for compliance with all the class rules, the time slips from the Qualifying Run and the Return run are signed off and combined with official paperwork to confirm a new Class Record.

At Bonneville there are two courses, a Long Course of seven or more miles, and a Short Course of four or 5 miles. The Starting Lines for these two courses are usually very close together, and share Staging Lanes. These courses diverge (angle away from each other) so that the area in between them becomes wider as speeds increase.. The fire, rescue, safety crews, and course stewards are located in this widening area between these two courses so that any vehicle that has an emergency can be seen and reached as quickly as possible.

All cars (except Streamliners) must qualify to run on the Long Course by first demonstrating the ability to run over 175 MPH on the Short Course. By running over 175 MPH at the 2 1/4 Mile Clock on the short course, the owner can get a Long Course Sticker for his windshield. This little round sticker just says 175 MPH and gains the car access to the long course. This rule keeps cars that top out under 175 MPH and cars that may be faster but are still working out bugs, from tying up the long course. Streamliners, due to their slippery aerodynamic shape, are automatically allowed on the long course, as the longer available shutdown area may be needed

I invite you to come out to World of Speed. There are few racing spectator experiences that rival an early breakfast at the Red Flame in the cool dawn air while watching the morning’s Record Runs thunder past.

See you on the Salt.

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