1 of 8
Tom Smart, Deseret News

There are no speed limits, not on the track, and mufflers are not required. Roll cages and safety suits are. In some cases, so are parachutes.

Speed, of course, is the objective. How drivers get it is the lure of Bonneville. That and the salt itself.

The salt, racers claim, gets in their blood. Nothing like it in the world. Nothing can compare to running on miles of a flat, white salt bed at speeds close to or exceeding world-record levels.

That's why the Carter family, Glen and Ed, have been coming to Bonneville for 39 years. And why Rick Vesco came back to run the same car his father did 51 years ago. It's why Skip Higginbotham has been coming to the salt for 49 years. And why John Puryear came to Bonneville for the first time this year to fulfill a 44-year-old dream.

This year, Speed Week drew more than 525 cars and motorcycles, with drivers and several thousand spectators over the course of seven days.

It is, said JoAnn Carlson, media liaison for the Southern California Timing Association — the organization responsible for Speed Week — an event becoming more popular every year.

"More exposure is one reason. Every year we get more new cars, more new racers and more and more interest from the younger generation," she noted.

"I think when we do the numbers this will also be our largest spectator audience ever."

As usual, most of the entries came from within the United States, with a large number from Canada. Carlson said there were also eight entries from the United Kingdom, 11 from New Zealand, and a few from Germany, France and Scotland.

Because of the large number of entries, three tracks instead of the usual two were open this year. The long course, for the fastest cars — 200-plus miles per hour — was eight miles long. The two shorter courses for lesser speeds were five miles long. More than 2,000 runs were timed over the seven days, some for world records.

Puryear said he first read about Bonneville in a Hot Rod magazine in 1964, "and I've dreamt about running here ever since. Making the first pass was the answer to a 44-year-old dream come true." He and his son, Sean, drove 1,400 miles from Texas to race at Bonneville.

Puryear and Sean came to Bonneville in 2006 and 2007 as spectators.

"We bought the car and modified it over the winter. My dad and I have been working on the car for about 10 months. Driving it on the salt was a dream," said Sean, an engineering student.

The record they were after was for AA-gas lakester — 285 mph. Sean said the car is capable of 300 miles per hour when all is in perfect running order.

Terry Nish and his son, Mike, were on the salt to "shake out the cobwebs," in preparation for a September run on a record they've been chasing for roughly 16 years. The Nishes reserved the salt track the past two years for a special run at a mark of 409 miles per hour set in 1965 and as of yet is unbroken. They have reserved it again this year, starting on Sept. 22.

The 43-year-old record stands as the fastest for a naturally aspirated, wheel-driven car.

Mechanical problems two years ago plagued the crew. On the first pass last year, a rod bent, damaging a $100,000 engine. Last week, with a smaller engine, Mike turned an average speed of 371 mph. His top speed was 377. They plan to use the bigger engine for the next record attempt.

"We hoped for 385, but are happy with the run. Mainly we just wanted to check out the car and get ready for next month. But it was a good run and right now we've got high speed for this meet," Terry said.

"It's not easy, though. You've got to go from point A to point B and try to keep all the parts in the car happy and running at incredible speeds."

Higginbotham, of Nevada, brought an 11-year-old long streamliner to the salt that was originally designed to hold three engines.

"For this meet, for financial reasons, we're running one engine. We've had the car running close to 300 (mph). On a test pass we did 255. The record we're after is 309," he said.

"I've raced boats and airplanes, and one of the reasons I like coming to Bonneville is the camaraderie. My driver hurt his knee, so I asked the man (in the pits) next to me to drive. He did. He didn't have to. It's not his car."

Brothers Ed and Richard Thomason visited the salt for the first time in 1979. Two years later, they were back with a car in tow. Their check-out run last week was 308 mph. The first record attempt was 315. Then, said Richard, "We'll come back in, make a few changes and run on a record of 342. Can we do it? Yes."

It was back in 1957 that John Vesco first introduced his seemingly unstable streamliner to the crowd at Bonneville.

"It was an experimental car," remembered his son, Rick. "They all thought it would tip over, so they made him run in intervals until he got up to top speed, which was 166 (mph) with an antique Model A Ford engine.

"We rebuilt the car last year, the 50th anniversary of my dad coming to Bonneville, painted as close as we could to the original colors and even put on some of the decals my dad had on the car. We put the Model A back in the car and were able to get up to 196 (mph) on the first run. Now we're running the Chevy engine. We'll put the Model A back in when we come back here in September."

Vesco was one of those claiming a new world record. The old mark was 323.126 mph. On Friday, he ran a 323.460.

He said he documented 2,800 hours of work that went in to getting the car ready for new speed records.

Also at the track on display was Vesco's "Turbinator," the turbine-powered car that holds a record of 450 mph with his brother, the late Don Vesco, driving. Rick said he was looking for a driver and hopes to top 500 mph.

There were more than 2,000 timed runs over the seven days and more than 150 new records, ranging from those under 100 to Vesco's 323 mark.

Drivers and crews returned to their respective homes over the weekend, and almost to a person they all pledged to return — better and faster than this year.