It's hard to know when it bit. It could have been with Dick Godfrey's first car, a lowered (close enough to the ground a book couldn't fit under), leaded (no door handles, hood ornament or trunk latch), snow-white '49 Ford convert with tear-drop spots, fluffy dice hanging off the mirror and the latest AM single-speaker radio with push-button selection.
Or maybe the first time he revved the engine, popped the clutch, peeled rubber and hit a cool 50 (mph). Or later, at old airport No. 2, as he watched drivers flee like rabbits as a cop car moved across an open field. Drag racing was illegal then, even on deserted airstrips.Fires inside old 50-gallon drums marked start and finish lines back then, and races started with the dropping of a flag. Arguments were common because it was either too close or too dark to tell winners. Challenges were usually made on State Street and then moved to the "strip." Too often, though, police moved in before drivers had much of a chance to match cars.
Or, it could have hit opening night at the old Salt Lake Raceway. It was Godfrey's first try as a racing entrepreneur . . . one strip of asphalt, make-do timing hut, bleachers for 500 when 5,000 showed up, his very own version of timing clocks, airplane landing lights along the track to keep drivers on course, and two floodlights pointing down the track for the fans to see. This was legal drag racing back in 1965.
Whenever, Dick Godfrey was bitten by the race bug. Hard. Enough so that he quit a cushy job as an engineer for Pan American in Florida, crossed back over the continent and opened a drag strip at 3220 W. 2100 South.
Two years later, he built Bonneville Raceway Park. He had visions back then of pits for mud racing, oval track for stock cars, a bumpy dirt track for moto cross, sand strip for sand rails and even a big pond for boat races.
In the spring of 1975, however, the track was leased and Godfrey retired to running his trucking firm a few doors east of the strip. Close enough to know what was happening, but not too close. Racing fever is contagious, and he'd suffered through one bout.
Last year, he was asked to come back. Manage the track again. He was well, but not cured. He did. He still does, he says with a shy smile, enjoy racing, any racing.
Things have changed, though. He remembers when Don Garlits, king of drag racing, gladly traveled to Bonneville from Florida for $1,500. Now, he says, it would take "a minimum of $15,000, if you could get him." Nitromethane, the hot fuel for AA fuelers and funny cars, ran an astronomical $7 a gallon back when he started. "Now, it's $1,000 a drum (55 gallons).
Speeds, he admits, are one of the biggest differences.
"Our fastest fueler turned around 180 miles an hour. I think he once hit 200 at the old track. No one figured they'd ever go much faster than that," he recalls.
Fuelers and funny cars are now closing in on 300 mph. At Bonneville they've run the quarter at 260. Jet and rocket cars go faster.
And what about this year? Godfrey will open Bonneville's moto cross tonight, then go for the first major drag race of the season on Saturday. It will feature funny cars.
The two events will kick off probably the most ambitious year ever at the facility. Heretofore it was drags on the strip, stocks on the oval and motorcycles on the stadium track.
This year, Godfrey will bring in some of the events he envisioned years ago. On the north part of the track there'll be a pit for mud races, next to it a couple of hundred yards of sand for sand drags. Using part of the drag strip, the pit areas and the old return road, sports cars and motorcycles will hold road races . . . but no boat races this year.
But then there will be a couple of graffiti races with cars from the lower-leaded-AM era. After all, there's a good chance that's where Godfrey got the racing bug.