The Bonneville Salt Flats are one of the world’s fastest places. The sound barrier was broken there in 1997. Multiple records have been set there over the years. It’s also the only racetrack where the ground underneath you can give you sunburns…and taste bad! I’m hoping to the 2014 Speed Week (August 9-15) with my dad. I thought it would be smart to tell you what to do and bring as a spectator. Enjoy.
- The Bonneville Salt Flats are in the high desert of Utah. The Salt Flats are located just 5 miles away from Wendover UT, and West Wendover, NV. West Wendover is a casino town, and Wendover is a pretty neat little town. Wendover Air Field is located at the edge of Wendover, and it’s the same air field that the Enola Gay took off from with both atomic bombs both times. There’s a small museum honoring the brave flight crew and the Manhattan Project.
- Bring a cooler with a LOT of ice and water bottles! Fill up your cooler with at least 15 water bottles. That might seem like a lot of water, but temperatures can go as high as 120 degrees. There is a gas station on the frontage road leading to the Salt Flats that sells gas, water, snack food, and sandwiches. It is advised to fill up with water and/or gas here. Vendors sell food and water on the Flats, but they have been known to run out in the past. Bring your own snack food and a LOT of water and hydrating drinks (people say that Gatorades, Vitamin Waters, and iced tea are also good things to bring).
- Sun protection is REALLY important here. The Bonneville Salt Flats have never heard of shade. Bring your own. Be imaginative – bring beach umbrellas, sun hats offering head and neck protection, and snow-worthy sunglasses. The reason for the sunglasses being that tough is that the salt is so reflective that you can get snow blindness. Vendors do sell heavy-duty sunglasses, but they are overpriced ($20). Veterans of the salt say to bring skiing sunblock – the reflectiveness of the salt, plus the Sun beating down on you can make your skin look like a tomato. Running long-sleeved shirts are also a good investment – they mean that you don’t need to worry about your arms, and they help keep your torso relatively cool.
- Spectators are encouraged to walk the pits and talk with the racers. Last year, the pits were over 3 miles long and 4 city blocks wide! They are expected to be larger this year. Bring a bike or some other form of two-wheeled transportation.
- Camping chairs are a good investment. The salt is way too hot to sit on. The salt will leave burns a mile long on you! It will also go into your pores and hurt like crazy to get out! Since there are no grandstands, bring camping chairs with cup holders and an umbrella stand. You’ll thank me later.
- Radios are good to bring. Racer/race information is broadcast on the 1610 AM radio frequency. Racers also communicate with race officials or their pit crews with CB radios. If you don’t have a radio, you should get one. Otherwise, you won’t know anything about a racer or how fast they went! There is no PA system except for a driver’s meeting on the first day that everybody is invited to.
- Tarps and shoes: The salt gets everywhere, and it corrodes whatever it gets on. Bring a heavy-duty tarp and smooth-soled shoes are a good investment. I don’t mean VANS, I’m thinking shoes like sneakers.
- Binoculars are a good thing to bring. Those tiny birdwatching binoculars you have won’t cut it. Their field of vision is too small to track a vehicle going 200+ mph down the course. Spectators can be anywhere from the start line to the final mile marker (Mile 6), but they are always 1/4 of a mile away from the cars for safety reasons. Get big binoculars with a wide field of vision. Because many cars are going in excess of 200 mph (some even go 400+!), this is too fast to track with the human eye, according to veteran spectators.
- Optional entertainment is a good thing to bring, as Bonneville Speed Week isn’t meant to be fast-paced, even though the cars and motorcycles go bloody fast! Bring the day’s newspaper, a good book, a new magazine, etc. Some people bring iPads, but it’s hard to read or do whatever on something that reflects the Sun into your eyes. Taking a nap or working on your tan is also a good idea.
- Cameras are a must. Make sure that your camera has a good zoom feature that can capture a car at least 1/4 of a mile away. Also, make sure that you have something to download the hundreds of pictures you took that day onto.
- Be prepared to meet lots and lots of nice people. Lots of the racers are ex-engineers, ex-JPL employees, etc. When you ask some of the racers what they worked on, and they give you, “If I tell you, and then I kill you” response, they aren’t joking. Don’t go further than that with them! Many racers are nice people who will go out of their way to show you their car, offer you a drink, or just chat with you for hours on end. While there are some people who aren’t people people, there’s a LOT of nice people people.
- The engines from the cars are very, very loud. Think Top Fuel on steroids kind of loud. This is because the engines are large and they have no restrictive exhaust systems on them. The high-octane racing fuel will burn your eyes if you are too close.
- Vendor food is good. If you can name it, vendors offer it. The food is good, but everybody says the Enola Gay Cafe is the best. I don’t doubt them. It’s even got folding tables and chairs for you to sit in! It starts cooking at 6:00 AM (many racers arrive before then to work on their cars), and stops cooking at 5:00 PM (when everybody leaves the salt). Many vendors sell t-shirts and other souvenirs.
- How to get to Bonneville from Wendover is important. Here are directions on how to get there from the main drag in Wendover, UT. https://www.google.com/maps/dir/Wendover+Blvd,+Wendover,+UT/Bonneville+Salt+Flats+International+Speedway,+Bonneville+Speedway+Rd,+UTemail@example.com,-113.9657532,12z/am=t/data=!3m1!4b1!4m16!4m15!1m5!1m1!1s0x80ac2f5b4f0db3a7:0xb33345362043f07d!2m2!1d-114.0355344!2d40.7375496!1m5!1m1!1s0x80ac308e73f0ed1b:0x6c5d8e3c50acde7!2m2!1d-113.895972!2d40.762569!2m1!6e4!3e0. As you can see, it’s pretty easy. Also, the volunteers who put on Speed Week have an entry/exit road marked with cones. Stay inside of the cones. Going out will mean your car will bury itself into the slushy salt and it will take lots of digging and tugging from multiple pickup trucks to extricate you.
- Salt Corrosion is one of the worst fears among those of you living back East. Salt is extremely corrosive, and the Bonneville Salt Flats are no exception – they will turn your car into vehicular swiss cheese! Think twice about taking your brand-new Ferrari onto the Salt. If you do, there is a truck stop just off of the I-80 that has a large carwash. It is recommended that you take your car, rental car, motorcycle, whatever you are driving there, and wash EVERYTHING off! With your bikes, a garden hose or compressed air will do just fine. I’ve already talked about shoes, so I won’t go too far into that – just make sure that you can’t find any on them when you get into the car – it tracks everywhere, and it is difficult to get rid of.
- Where and what to stay in is always a good thing to ask yourself when going on a trip. There is a Best Western and other small hotels in Wendover, UT. West Wendover has a Super 8 and multiple casinos. All of these are booked solid through August 20th. Same thing with the RV parks. The mud flats outside of the Salt Flats are your only choice right now, unless you want to stay in Park City, or Salt Lake City. Both of those are 110 miles away from the Salt Flats. The mud flats are what they sound like.
- Clothing is always good to have on hand. Do NOT wear blue jeans – the tiny rivets in them will leave small, painful burns all over your hips and legs! If you wear shorts, put sunblock on. Make sure that your belt buckle cannot touch any skin – it will hurt! Make sure your shirts are lightweight, light-colored long-sleeved running shirts. Make sure your hats have a big brim that protects your face and neck. Skiing sunglasses (not skiing goggles, alien) are also good.
- Where to eat in Wendover is a good thing to know. Long story short, follow the racers. Many of the racers have been coming to the Salt Flats for years, and they know where the best places to eat are. The Mexican restaurant at the truck stop is a good place to eat, as well as Mildred’s Custom Burgers. Following the racers is a good idea, but waiting for them to finish eating isn’t. Waiting for a table can take hours. Neither restaurant knows what reservations mean, so driving quickly to get ahead of the hordes of hungry racers is smart. But, sitting at a table inside (where all the racers are) is nice. The racers talk about their day on the Salt, and previous experiences on the Salt. Listening to their banter and chatting with them is smart. Just be thoughtful of those waiting for your table.
- What to do in Wendover/West Wendover is also good to know. Wendover Air Field is now a small airport, but it was where the Enola Gay took off from both times with the atomic bombs, and there’s a small museum honoring the brave crew and the Manhattan Project. The hangars look like they are right out of WWII, but inside, there is a multitude of cool helicopters, planes, and other stuff. West Wendover has not one, but five casinos! Wendover has a small movie theater that offers an air-conditioned escape from the boiling desert heat. There are a few National and Regional Parks (Bonneville is a National Park) in the area. There is even a 9-hole golf course that takes advantage of the desert to lure golfers onto rocky hills.
- Gas stations are always a good place to get drinks and gas. Buy at least 15 water bottles at the gas station on the frontage road leading to the Salt Flats. The Wendover Truck Stop I have talked about, as well as the small gas station on the way to the Salt Flats. Don’t ever underestimate Bonneville – it gets hot, and always keep drinking! Dehydration is a bad thing under the best of circumstances, but you could be dead by the time the helicopter from Salt Lake City arrives.
- What to do after the racing ends is good to know. The Bonneville Salt Flats close about 5:00 PM, and they open at 5:00 AM. Bonneville is on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, and it is fenced off and gated at 5:00. When racing is winding down, go back to your car and pack up and head out. It gets crazy getting out of there at 5:00! Go into Wendover for a burger or Mexican food. The racers enjoy an ice-cold beer or two, but don’t let that discourage you! Go up and talk to them! They are cool folks!
- When to get to Bonneville to set up to watch racing: Bonneville opens up at a bright-and-early 5:00 AM, but most racers get there about 6:00 AM. The courses open up at 7:00, and the quickest runs happen from 7:00-9:00 AM, as the air is cooler and less humid there. You have to pay a small amount of money as an entry fee every day as a spectator (racers pay for it when they register their car for Speed Week), but it’s really not much. Getting there earlier is better.
- Bring a lot of cash. Some vendors don’t take credit cards, and the Bonneville volunteers collecting entry fees don’t take credit cards or checks. Plus, cash is good to take wherever. You can use it to tip, donate to the Wendover Air Field museum, or even donate to the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA).
I’ve also attached one of my favorite Roadkill episodes, where they attempt to set a landspeed record. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEcbwvNaxE8
Also, take a peek at the SCTA’s website. http://www.scta-bni.org/Bonneville.html
The colors, excitement, people, cars, and the beauty are just some of the reasons why people return to Bonneville year after year. It’s called Salt Fever. Catch it! Come to Speed Week 2014 and hopefully you can meet up with me and my dad! Plus, getting to Bonneville is a beautiful road trip in itself. Enjoy the trip to Bonneville and your time there!