Looking down the long course I spotted a pinhead-sized dot with a faint rooster tail behind it; but heard nothing. The dot got bigger, the rooster tail dissipated and a hum emerged from the background noise. The dot began to resemble a wheeled vehicle and the hum became a growl. Then the car snapped into full focus and full volume as it screamed past in a huff and a puff short of warp speed. Then it dawned on me, in the span of less than 30 seconds that vehicle traveled three miles. Further, I was a quarter mile away from the racing surface and it was a still blur as it passed by. I never tired of watching this triple-digit drama unfold and could soon recognize what a 'fast' run looked like compared to a 'slow' run.
Moving to the staging grid I could sense the rise of anticipation and jittery nerves in the drivers and crew as they got closer to the starting line. While out on the course the allure was the technological prowess of the cars and their blinding speed. In the staging area it was much more emotional, seeing the drivers strap in reinforced the fact that real people were inside those blurs. I also noted that the field is dominated by ballsy old guys, many making the "pilgrimage of salt" for decades-some chasing an adrenaline rush, others chasing a record, many, like me, just feeding off the residual buzz. Some racers were very ritualistic and deliberate in their actions, others were boisterous and carefree but they all knew the danger and heart-thumping excitement that awaited them once the helmet visor dropped and their car lurched toward the first mile marker.
Having finally made the pilgrimage myself I can say I have walked away enlightened. Seeing the salt start to glow as the sun peers above peaks named for famous Bonneville racers is pure magic. Just as one settles into the serenity of the place, the calm is shattered by revving engines and turning wrenches as hundreds of racers prepare to assault a common foe-the clock.
As wildly interesting as the cars were it was the people I found most fascinating-they were generous with their time, open about their cars and insisted you pull up a chair, crack open a beer and sit a while. And the yarns they spun, each a slice of automotive history, were well worth the price of admission. The beauty of Bonneville is if you can dream it and build it you can run it on the salt; where else is a car made from a bomber's belly fuel tank considered a normal mode of transportation?