The weather slowed things down Friday, but it didn't stop record seekers from racing at high speeds.
On a day that started with rain and finished with a healthy blow, four world records and a racing first were recorded. Nolan White of San Diego, Calif., became the first driver to take a single-engine car over the magical 400. In this case it was 401.982 in the measured kilometer. In the measured mile he turned a 395.497, which was an unofficial FIA record. For the overall run - which combines two runs, one up and one back - he clocked 379.532, as his first run was 363.566.As the sun set and headlights started to come on and lightning flashed in a distance, White climbed into his sleek streamliner for a last-minute attempt.
What did not go down was the record that five drivers came specifically to break - the world record for a wheel-driven vehicle of 409.277 miles per hour set 25 years ago by Bill and Bob Summers.
Opening day was, as one driver explained, a time to see what the wind was doing and to make a few shake-down runs . . . "There always seems to be a few little things you have to contend with on the first day. Little, annoying things that you find on the first couple of runs."
The event started with a light shower before sunrise, but a hot sun and a stiff breeze had the 11-mile track in racing condition before 9 a.m.
The wind, gusting at times up to 10 mph, bothered the racers and slowed down speeds.
The first record of the day was turned in by Al Teague of Santa Fe Springs, Calif. He unofficially turned a speed of 357.516 mph to better the old record of 345.76 mph. That, of course, was bettered by White later. All records must be checked and approved by the FIA, the governing body of all land-speed records, before they become official.
While Teague's speed is impressive, it is far from his fastest. The California driver is the fastest active race driver in the world. Last year he turned a 397 mph runs, and this past August he ran a 393 mph run on Bonneville.
Friday he rolled the car out of the trailer, pushed it to the starting line, climbed in and ran . . . "And everything looked good. On the way down, though, I lost the tread off one of the tires at 350 and I had to slow down.
"On the way back the car started to vibrate more than it should have. I think it was the wind, but I'm not sure. Anyway, I backed off."
(Under land-speed record rules a car must make two runs within one hour, with the record being the average of the two.)
Teague admitted he has gone faster on past attempts and should have had the record before now, but said he could never get the car ready for the return run within the one-hour limit.
"This time we did, and it's a good sign. We'll work on the car now, then seal up the motor and get ready to try for 400 in the morning. Right now I feel pretty good about it, I think we'll break it."
Two other records followed: Hank Lawshe of Kalispell, Mont., broke a record he set just a month ago. Lawshe turned an average speed of 153.822 mph to beat the 143.398 mph he turned in August.
Lawshe set the record with a 1948 six-cylinder engine he said he has had and raced since 1953.
The Alfa Romeo team set a new record of 144.408 mph, the previous one being 120 mph.
The Strasburg team from American Fork had half a record down. Going for a 255.985 mph record, Mike Strasburg posted a 267.926 mph first run, but blew an engine on his return run.
Chet Herbert of Anaheim, Calif., with a new four-engine car, was about to pull into line for a record try, but found his car's batteries had been destroyed.
"It's something we didn't think about. We ran the car once last month. At the time we had aluminum wheels and they were so rough they about shook the driver to death. We had no idea it hurt the batteries, but it did. We'll be ready tomorrow for the 409 mark," he said.
Racing will begin today at 8 a.m. on the Bonneville track that drivers say is in "excellent" condition. They will continue to make runs throughout the day. Drivers will return to the salt at 8 a.m. on Sunday, then finish up on Monday morning.
This is the fourth year of the Mainstay World of Speed. In order to allow cars the best opportunity to set world speed records, only the top 100 cars in the U.S. are invited to participate.