Bonneville Speed Week 2013, a City on the Salt

by Sherri Candland :: posted in Editorial on August 19th, 2013
The Bonneville Salt Flats today are a densely packed saltpan located in Tooele County in Northwestern Utah. They are the remnants of the Pleistocene Lake Bonneville, a prehistoric lake that covered much of the North Americas Great Basin region over 32,000 years ago. The lake covered most of present day Utah and ran into Idaho and parts of Nevada. The lake was nearly as large as Lake Michigan but was significantly deeper and dried up 14,500 years ago leaving only the existing Great Salt Lake behind. The lake was named after Benjamin Bonneville, a U.S. Army officer who extensively explored the Intermountain West in the 1830’s.

Since the early 1900s, the Bonneville Salt Flats have been used to test the ability of vehicles, motorcycles and the human being to go as fast as they possibly can. The flats were tested in 1907 for suitability to race and support weight by two businessmen in a Pierce-Arrow. The first land speed record was set by “Terrible” Teddy Tetzlaff (appropriately named because of how hard he was on his engines and his propensity to crash) in 1914 with a 300 HP Benz. The “Blitzen Benz 2” crossed the line going 142.8 miles per hour. That set the precedence for many events held each year at the Bonneville Salt Flats to see who could be the fastest.

The SCTA, Southern California Timing Association, Speed Week held annually in August, is the king pin of events. It is a gathering of speed demons from across the globe that literally set up a city on the salt. Trailers, hot rods, motorcycles and pop up tents populate the salt and create a community for one week with one common goal: be the fastest you can be.  One such driver is Ali Youngblood of Kaysville, Utah. Ali began racing the salt flats after watching her younger brother, JD, experience some success. At the age of 38, part time biochemist and mother of three, Ali Youngblood has now broken three land speed records, one of which belonged to her brother. She holds one in the naturally aspirated class at 124 mph, 159 mph in the H blown class and 174 mph in the G blown class. Ali’s father, of Youngblood Hot Rods, has built the two 32 roadsters which have allowed her to climb rapidly to the top. “Even though hitting 174 mph was a bit nerve wracking, my next goal is definitely the 200 mph club,” said Youngblood.

  Next local racer is a young biochemical engineer, currently attending Utah State University in Logan, Utah. Michael R. Morgan has been instrumental in the development of an algae biodiesel fuel as well as a yeast biodiesel fuel that his dragster burns on the salts. The Aggie A-Salt Diesel Streamliner houses an 836 cc V-twin diesel engine, with 22 horsepower and runs solely off the USU renewable biofuel. This environmentally friendly dragster holds a top speed of 73.318 mph set in October of 2012. Morgan has high hopes for this form of energy for all vehicles in the future. “Millions of dollars of research has gone into this biofuel, and the possibilities are endless. Even though it is most likely at least 10 years out from wide spread application, it is very exciting!”

Many famous vehicles return to Speed Week each year and one of the most anticipated was the Triumph Gyronaut X-1, named “The World’s Fastest Motorcycle” in 1966, when pilot Bob Leppan reached an astounding 245.667 mph. The Gyronaut X-1 has been missing from the racing scene for 43 years after a near fatal crash in 1970. In 1970, a new record of 265 mph had been set by Cal Rayborn, and Leppan and the Gyronaut were out to beat it when the front suspension on the 6 year old chassis broke at 280 mph. Pilot Bob Leppan was lucky to escape the crash and nearly lost his arm. Even though the Gyronaut X-1 would not be taking a turn on the salt flats, it has been restored to its original glory and is now touring the country in the honor of The Lipoprotein Foundation whose mission is to prevent cardiovascular disease. The Gyronaut X-1 is a traveling piece of racing history and a true tribute to its creator, famed automotive stylist Alex Tremulis.

Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats is an experience beyond compare. Even though there is an aroma of competition in the air, the friendships that have been created over the years last longer than many of the speed records themselves.

For more information on Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats visit

For more information on USU Biofuels visit

For more information on The Gyronaut X-1 visit

Photos provided by Terry Call for more info visit
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