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Bonneville Speed Week – On the Salt with Tom McCarthy – Day 5


Bonneville Blog 2016

On the Salt with Senior Editor Tom McCarthy


DAY ONE – 8/10

August each year brings an event known in the Hot Rodding world as Speed Week to the most prestigious race course in world; The Bonneville Salt Flats. If you’ve ever heard or seen the words “World Land Speed Record” in your travels before, the “Salt” as it’s known by the faithful, is where it all began. At the intersecting states of Nevada and Utah along interstate I-80, some 2500 miles from Boston, this is the birthplace of drag racing and is in fact Mecca to people who find all things horsepower based as holy.

I mean no disrespect to any religion but in the world of speed where horsepower is king; there is no more sacred ground than the flat square miles of impacted salt known the world over as the Bonneville Salt Flats. In the Muslim religion the faithful are encouraged to take part annually or at least at some point in their life, to go to Mecca, the most Holy place in their religion, to pray and give thanks for their existence. I mention this because this is exactly how the world Hot Rodding community views the Bonneville Salt Flats, the home of world Land Speed Record racing or LSR as it’s often called in racer speak.

DAWN: This photo taken at day break during Speed Week 1997 was from my first trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats. It’s very awe inspiring to stand in the place where many of the world’s fastest machines have come to prove their worth. Photo © 1997 Tom McCarthy

Everyone who’s into motorsports, at some point in their life should make the trip to Speed Week at least one time in their life to see the world’s fastest racing machines go push the limits of man and machine. Until you’ve had a racer’s breakfast, I feel bad for you. When you’re standing in line, waiting for your morning coffee and you experience a 4000 Hp Streamliner growling into a run at 8 AM as it heads down the Salt looking for a 400 MPH run, shortly after sunrise – this is a racer’s breakfast. Add a side of bacon and toast to my order please.

The Salt is a place where racers and fans can experience things here you can’t experience at any other race course in the world. You can get a sun burn here in your nose and under your ear lobes. Think white salt and reflection folks. You can stand on the starting line but you can’t see the finish line due to the curvature of the earth. It’s that impressive. To just stand on the starting line at dawn and know that many of the fastest machines ever built by man have come here to prove their mettle, is to stand in the place where true giants have been.

A man with a small plane landed during Speed Week in 1997 and I had to ask – “How about a lift for a few minutes?” He obliged and this is what the pit area of the race course looked like in August of 1997. The gypsy kings of speed from all over the world gather here; the birth place of speed. Photo © 1997 Tom McCarthy

I made my first trip to the Salt in 1997 and photographed Speed Week for several publications. 19 years ago I was armed with my Pentax 35mm cameras, a few rolls of Fuji film and lots of awe. I was truly in awe of it all. Like a dog in the woods with so many trees to choose from, it was all a blur to me. This trip will trump my last by a bunch.

I want to make it clear I’m not headed out to the Salt Flats some two decades after my first trip to take some photos and cover another racing event. I’m heading out to Bonneville to take the best photos I’ve ever taken in my life. I’m giving this trip my best effort start to finish.

This is what a full bodied streamliner or “Liner” in racer speak, looks like. Yes this is a motorcycle you see in this 1997 photograph. I hope it’s owner, Kenny Lyon, will be back out on the Salt again this year. Photo © 1997 Tom McCarthy

Some 400 to 600 entries are expected for this race event, racers from all over the world. Triumph Motorcycles has announced it’s Carpenter Racing Rocket Streamliner, powered by twin turbocharged Triumph Rocket III engines, producing over 1000bhp, will be making an official FIM sanctioned world LSR attempt. Other teams will be shooting for this mark as well.

Currently the world’s fastest motorcycle is the Ack Attack Streamliner, with an official world land speed record of 376.156 MPH. If the conditions are right, this record will fall as will others. There was no Speed Week for the last two years due to weather conditions out on the Salt. So for the LSR racers, they are extra hungry to get out on the race curse this year. They’ve been two years waiting for this moment that starts Saturday morning, August 13th, 2016.

There is a class for everything in Land Speed Record (LSR) racing, even twin turbocharged Freightliners! Photo © 1997 Tom McCarthy

AT 4 AM EST, on August 10, 2016, as I stop to write this before I depart, I want to say thank you to Mr. Frank, JC Barros and his dad Jack, DRAGBIKE.COM and Sam Hurwitz. Without your support, this trip would not be happening. I personally have to cover 800 miles a day for the next three days to get to the race course. Time for me to hit the road, I’ll do my best to keep you all posted daily from the Salt on developments.

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DAY TWO – 8/11

Pre-Race Thoughts Speed Week 2016

As my 2400 mile drive from Massachusetts has me within a few hours of the track, while I take a spell at a rest area east of the race course, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on my trip back out to the Salt. My goal in my three day trip to Bonneville was to do 800 miles a day minimum to get me there Friday ready to hit the race course early Saturday morning when Speed Week 2016 begins.

At 3am on I-80 W, it’s off to the Salt.

While I’m not a racer anymore, my heart still beats like one. When I’m headed to a race I’m like a kid at Christmas, forget sleep! Yes the naps come and go, but by and large I’m still in a bum’s rush to get there. So I was wheels out the drive way at 5:06 on Wednesday and at 2:50AM was up again in a Pilot parking lot on Thursday somewhere between Moline and Joliet shooting night shots at a truck stop, just for fun. I-90 West, to I-80 West baby, all the way to the Nevada border, turn in at the Salt Flats sign, you can’t miss it.

Sometimes it photographing Windmills, sometimes it’s racers tilting Windmills, it’s all good, life is a blur.

While my anticipation level is high, that’s nothing compared to the racers lined up outside the gates now waiting for Saturday morning. Danny Thompson, so of racing legend Mickey Thompson has only been waiting for this moment for close to fifty years now to do his dad proud with Challenger II. His dad’s car Challenger 1 went 406 MPH in 1960 and that car resides in the NHRA Museum this very day. Danny is shooting for a new world LSR in the vicinity of 500 MPH. Imagine his anticipation at this time?

Into every cross country trip, a little rain must fall. Better here than on the race course.

For the Britt’s, their new Triumph Infor Rocket Streamliner (no it’s not a rocket – nor rocket powered), has achieved 274.2mph. They are looking closely at Rocky Robinson’s 376.156, I’ll be their anticipation level is off the charts.

All the teams towing out to the Salt have been through the rain storms that are sometimes torrential down pours at this time of year. Stopping only to top off tanks, fill up on junk food and weak coffee. No dieting this week for anyone. As my Drill Sgt’s at Ft. Dix used to bellow at us “It’s just food, it doesn’t taste any different than it did last time you had some, just stuff it in your face and get back out there!”

On Friday, the racers will start getting set up in the pits area and Tech will begin. Remember the scenes from “The World’s Fastest Indian” where the motorcycle comes to Tech Inspection with black shoe polish on the tires to make em look new? Fogettaboutit, that’s NOT happening during a real Tech Inspection at the Bonneville Salt Flats. If you think that Hollywood Hoopla is real, you’ve been watering your lemon tree too long in the back yard.

The rules for racing with the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) for Speed Week are available via hand book or download what you need and get with the program. Don’t even think about coming to the Salt with a bike that’s not to spec. This is NOT Christmas and there aren’t going to be any gifts. Got questions ask IN ADVANCE.

There are three race courses this year, the Rookie course for orientation to help the newbies, the short course for lower powered machines like say a Honda MB-5 and the long course for the high-powered machines with existing records in excess of 200 MPH.


Friday’s tech and orientation is one of great anticipation for all. It’s midnight and I can’t sleep: must be race weekend, no race WEEK!

See you on the Salt and good luck to all the teams.

-Tom McCarthy

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DAY THREE – 8/12

Friday Tech at the Salt

Today’s activity at the Bonneville Salt Flats comprised of my finishing off my 2482 mile drive to the race course and observing today’s Tech Inspection of a few motorcycles. While I endeavored to keep my daily drives to three rounds of 800 miles per day, my last leg of the journey was by far the toughest.
This Prong Horn Antelope at about 325 yards was the friendliest thing I found in Wyoming.
I distinctly recall a radio announcer today describing the Wyoming landscape as vast and rugged. He forgot to mention longer than a Presidential acceptance speech. Driving through Wyoming alone seemed like a bad day on Tatooine. Had I spotted a few Jawas or Tusken Raiders, this would have improved things greatly. If you’re a fan of the landscape of Afghanistan, you’ll love Wyoming. I’d much prefer a root canal to driving back home via Wyoming.


Seeing this for 7 hours is a bit much.
But the good news upon exiting Wyoming is it empties out into Utah and that’s it: Interstate 90 to 80 to Utah, exit 4 off of I-80 W and that’s the Bonneville Salt Flats. Where dreams can become realities and legends are born. This is also where the Gods of Speed reside. And none shall traverse this hallowed ground without tribute. No one backs into a win here or shows up and gets a trophy.

Welcome to Utah

If you want a Land Speed Record you have to earn it and back it up within 1% or better luck next year Bunky. There are no gimmies here and Mulligan does not live here either.


Welcome to the Bonneville Salt Flats!


Tech is easy to find in the pit area.

First a racer must pass Tech Inspection, then meet all the proper licensing requirements before record runs can be attempted. The following photo essay best walks us through a typical Tech Inspection with the motorcycle of Hal Tacker.


Hal is explaining his bikes eccentricities to Tech here.


Hal is told to start his bike and use his Deadman’s Kill to shut the bike off.


Hal’s self-contained Roller Starter is a very slick deal.


Hal steppes on the starter switch with his L foot then clutches the motor and this kicks over the engine. He then pulled out his lanyard and the motor died instantly.


ALL race machines are required to have a tarp under the machine to prevent oil leaks or any chemicals reaching the salt.


Hal’s pit area is well equipped with floor tarps to protect the salt.

The diversity of the race bikes on the salt is enough to make any drag bike fan smile.

A Triumph awaits it turn at the Salt.

Talk about diversity, every machine in this photo has a motorcycle engine in it. L-R, these bikes are powered by, An Indian Scout, a Busa motor, a Harley, a Honda CBR 600 motor, and last but not least, another Suzuki Hayabusa motored machine.



This beauty is owned by Randy Speranza of Idaho. This SC (Side Car) powered Harley is competing in the SC-PF (pushrod fuel) class and is out to break the standing record of 162.42 MPH.



LOOK at the swing arm on this monster from New Zealand.


Even the art work at the Bonneville Salt Flats has balls. Not all of them mind you, but yes, balls, big ones.

DAY FOUR – 8/13

Assault on the Salt 2016: Saturday Qualifying


Qualifying for Land Speed Record racing is vastly different from drag racing; a racer either runs within 1% of the existing record for the class entered or better luck next time.  Some classes, if no record exists, there may be a minimum stated for the class, like for example a 100 MPH standard.  So if a racer goes 99 mph or 101 that’s it, that competitor has qualified to go for a record run the next day.  No more racing for you this day, take your machine and report to impound.


In the impound area, maintenance can be done, but that must be done while remaining in the impound.  Bonneville Tech Inspectors are present and there will be no funny stuff to enhance performance for the next run.


The next day, when a racer is released into the staging lanes from impound, the racer must perform to beat the existing record in the same timed mile course where the existing qualifying run was made.  For example, if a racer is out to beat a record of 150, and they are timed in the first mile at 145 mph, then go 155 mph in the second mile – then on their next run, they must run 155 or faster in the same second measured mile.  If they go 156 in the first mile and break during the second mile of the course, they are back to square one, do not pass go, do not collect the record for that class.


Anders Jonsson of Sweden and his vintage JAWA, running in APS-PF 300cc class, made a run of 111.46 MPH today on an existing record of 101 MPH.  Tomorrow he should be in the record books for his class.


Chris Bridgewater of Yucaipa, California, with tuning help from Wink Eller made a run of 145.97 MPH on an existing mark of 128.96.  Tomorrow they should be celebrating early in the day.



When the SCTA holds a drivers meeting, this is how it looks.


The Nebulous Theorem car is a side-car Streamliner with a look like no other.  Powered by a GXSR motor.


If you lay down on your belly at the starting line on the Long Course, this is your view.


Danny Thompson, son of Mickey Thompson had a great day today, right off the trailer, 411 MPH and ½ of his dream has come true.


DAY FIVE – 8/14

Speed Week 2016: How it’s done


There’s no bigger moment in a racer’s lifetime than when the chief starting line official points at you and say’s GO! This is it, your moment of truth to show the world who you are, what you’re made of.

There are, approximately 450 overall entries as of Monday, August 15, 2016 during Speed Week and close to 146 of them are motorcycles. I can’t supply a fully accurate number because the week-long event takes new entries as arrive – by the hour mind you – all week long. It’s a pretty safe bet that this year’s event will see 500 entries easily.

It’s interesting to note that close to ¼ of the entries are motorcycles. As one Speed Week official mentioned to me in conversation: “Ever since the movie, the World’s Fastest Indian” came out, the motorcycles have been coming out in big numbers every year.” Thank you Burt Munro and Anthony Hopkins.

The LSR legend Mr. Burt Munro, from New Zealand, raced on the salt from 1962 to 1971. Today one of his records set on his beloved Indian Scout, in 2016, still stands. Of this legends are truly made of.

Rather than try to give you all a list daily of who’s doing what, it’s best to show you how it’s done in following one racer who’s run the table this week and achieved his dream in setting a world Land Speed Record during Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats.



62 year old Hal Tacker, took his 175cc, turbocharged Honda to a new MPS (Modified Partial Streamlined) BG (Blown Gas) motorcycle record of 88.085 MPH and he could not be happier. “I’ve wanted to do this since I was 11 years old.” Now at 62, he can scratch this one off his Bucket List.


Hal did the Rookie Course, got his licensing runs done, and qualified on the Rookie Course. His 84 mph run was his qualifying run and his 91 mph run the next day gave him a new record of 88 mph. Once he’d done this his bike was off to Impound for a full Tech Inspection.

Now the tech inspectors did their thing. As one official inspector explained to me, “We have the equipment to do a bore and stroke measurement if the spark plug hole is dead center to the bore of the motor. Unfortunately, Hal’s bike has a slanted plug-hole so his cylinder head must come off.”


16-0815-bonneville-J48A5344Thus Hal and his team had to literally tear the motor out of the frame rails and place it on a table for proper inspection. Once the bore and stroke were confirmed for engine displacement: The new record was official. Congratulations to Hal Tacker, the new world record holder in MPS-BG 175!

Many racer will try and some will achieve their goals during Speed Week 2016. For those who fail to exceed existing records; every race is a learning opportunity, we wish you success next event. In closing out our Speed Week 2016 coverage, here is a sample of some of the racers making it happen at this event.


Patrick Zeigle, of Sun Prairie, W.I. on his Harley Hummer set a new record in MVG 125cc of 61.344 MPH. Here’s his bike in the Impound area, proof you don’t need a million dollar budget to go Salt Flat racing!



The Dyno Jet bike piloted by Dustin Schaller of Las Vegas, NV, clocked runs of 197 and 206 on his was to setting a new 650 APS-BF record. He’s not done yet this week either, there’s more in it!


This beautiful home-made motorcycle was packed into a crate and FLOWN over to the USA for this race with a four-man team from France. Arnaud Senegon and his team mates lovingly crafted the entire bike by hand, bending forming and welding the frame rails, finning the motor: the entire thing is hand crafted, weight: 55 Kilos, roughly 121 pounds race ready!



The old record in the class for this bike was 99.816 mph and this team from France delivered runs of 102.8 and 100.772 MPH to achieve a new mark that will be a part of their lives for all time.



Their team mascot is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing, just like the bike they crafted! Vive La France!



Chris Bridgewater of Yucaipa, Ca, delivered runs of 156 and 145 MPH on their way to a new record in the APS-BG class for 1650cc motorcycles. The ProCharger in the bike and the S&S Carburetor are still learning how to get along, but with Wink Eller and his 40 plus years of experience helping with the tuning, there is a lot more ahead for this race bike.



The Bonneville Salt Flats are a must place to either visit or race if you’re a motor-head kind of adrenalin junkie. If you love horsepower and pray to Our Blessed Mother of Acceleration: don’t live your life without seeing the Holy Grail of racing, the very birthplace of drag racing.

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Tom McCarthy

Article by Tom McCarthy

Until Next time…


– Tom McCarthy

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