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Salt & Speed: Record number of entries test Bonneville's flats

Published: Thursday, Aug. 16 2007 12:38 a.m. MDT

Trucks and cars begin lining up at Bonneville at first light.

Ray Grass, Deseret Morning News

WENDOVER — The cars come in all shapes, sizes, models, makes and wheelbases. The one common thread is salt ... white, granular in nature, as firm as concrete when bonded.

To the 400-plus drivers gathered for the 59th running of Bonneville Speed Week, salt is the main ingredient for speed ... as much as the cars and drivers can take.

This attraction to the salt is seen in the frequency of their visits, in the cars they choose and even in the names they pick, names like Salt Shaker, Saline Solution, Salt Lick, Salt Sabre, Salty Dog, Salty Six, Salt Dancer II, Kiwi-A-Salt, Lil' Salt-T and Salty Soup, to mention a few.

But the one underlying reason they come to the salt year after year is the drive for more speed.

A record number of drivers preregistered for this year's event on Bonneville Salt Flats. The early count was around 520, which is about 100 more than last year.

Some suggest all this new interest is because of increased publicity on salt-flats racing. Others think it may have something to do with the movie "The World's Fastest Indian," released a few years ago, which portrays the life and Bonneville record attempts of Burt Munro of New Zealand in the 1950s.

Whatever the reasons, the list was a record. Not everyone showed up to race, however. Rain two weeks ago softened the salt and threatened to cancel the event, which caused some to change plans.

But racing opened at noon last Saturday and will run through Friday.

Conditions on Saturday were a little slippery, but, as one driver said earlier this week, "They change day to day as the salt dries out."

Within the seven days of racing, world land-speed records will fall, that much is certain.

In one little corner of the mile-long racing pit located in the middle of the flats, history is being written by Ford and a Buckeye engineering team from Ohio State University. Between them they have built and are testing the Ford Fusion Hydrogen 999 car.

The story of car 999 goes back to 1903 when Henry Ford, as a means of promoting the automobile, drove a modified car at an average speed of 91.32 miles per hour to set one of the first land-speed records.

Running the Fusion car is a way of introducing it to the public as a "car of the future." It runs on liquid hydrogen, which generates electrical power, and has "zero" emissions. Ford officials hope to get the car to run between 200 and 220 mph.

The students from OSU's Center for Automotive Research came to Bonneville in 2002 to test a student-created electric car called the Buckeye Bullet. In 2004 it set a record of 315 mph.

"But we realized it could go no faster on battery power," said Isaac Harper, one of the student engineers.

So, OSU approached Ford with the idea of creating a hydrogen fuel-cell streamliner. The students have their streamliner and next door Ford has its Fusion 999.

Harper said work on the students' car started in December of last year and consensus is the Buckeye Bullet II is capable of speeds of more than 350.

Both cars are powered by a 770-horsepower electric drive system. Both are run by hydrogen compressed into a liquid.

The Ford team is not the only newcomer to the salt. Tim Manning from Anaheim, Calif., has wanted to come to Bonneville for more than a quarter century.

"I had carpal tunnel and got that fixed so I could sit for longer than 10 minutes on a bike," he said as he leaned against his motorcycle. "I figured I'd better get here before something else goes wrong."

He then recruited Katrina Herbert, also from California, to ride a second bike.