Well, it isn't land speed racing per se but since we're racing in Ohio and Arfons was from about three hours up the road from Wilmington, we thought this was approproate to share here. I remember the first time I saw the lead photo in this story and the thoughts that ran through my head. “Is that….wait…I think…HOLY CRAP IT IS!” Yes, you are looking at Art Arfons’ famed “Cyclops” jet car mounted on a couple of sponsons, pontoons, floats, whatever you want to call them as Art planned on breaking the water speed record with this creation…while also employing tires to “drive” across the water. We’re not kidding on that last part and we’ll get to those details in a little while but this is a creation that was built and was actually set into the water a time or two, unfortunately it never even began to sniff the 300mph zone and apparently barely even sniffed the 50 mph zone before the project was scrapped due to either lack of funding or the realization that this was a really, really wonky idea.
Having seen the glory of the leaf blower supercharged Monza in person at the 2013 season’s first ECTA event in Wilmington, Ohio, I was super interested to see the rest of the story about how the guys bought, dyno tested, hot rodded, and installed five back pack leaf blowers to act as superchargers for the car’s engine. The work was done at Jeff Lutz’s shop and we’re guessing that Lutz has never worked so hard in such a short period of time on such an…interesting project. As virtually all the Roadkill episodes have been, this is a fun watch and you’ll fell yourself actually wanting to go shopping for a four speed V8 Monza of your own by the time this is over!
There are few moments if any in American racing history that can rival what you’ll see below. It is a few minutes of narrated footage which I believe is from a Goodyear produced film called, “The Wildest Ride” which documented the huge triumph of Craig Breedlove at Bonneville in 1964 and also highlighted how he was nearly killed in about six different ways during the run that ultimately sealed the record for him. This is about as good as it gets for racing history lovers because the video is clear and crisp, the narration is perfect, and the human element in this is virtually indescribable. On the technical side, you will watch Breedlove become the first man to driver over 500mph and he is also the first man to set a record at Bonneville over 400mph in this video. Before things started to go bad (rapidly) on his return run, Breedlove hit a speed of 539.89 mph. Remember, this is 50 years and one month ago!
Bill Barnes may have been one of the most unlikely heroes of the last Ohio Mile event of the 2014 season but it turned out he certainly was the most historically significant. Barnes, riding a steam powered motorcycle of his own construction went over 80mph on his fasest pass of the weekend, nearly tripling the existing record for a steam powered motorcycle recorded almost 120 years ago. The bike is a steam purist's dream as it is 100% mechanical and uses no electronic monitoring or modern tomfoolery. It was a true pleasure to watch this baby operate and even moreoso knowing that Bill was chasing some big history with it. We hope to see him back next year so that he can bump his own number.
Being that 2014 was a complete wash at Speed Week, I delved back into my photo archives to see what coolness was lurking in there from 2013. I found some cool engine shots and that got me looking for more.
While lots of people are seduced by the amazing bodies and incredible chassis fabrication at Bonneville, I am a knuckle dragging, horsepower loving kind of dude, so motors are my obsession. There are so many different ways to get your car down the salt and no two are exactly alike. They look different, sound different, and all make different amounts of power. From the old Indian motorcycle engines that are working for all they are worth at relatively low speeds to the nitro burning monsters powering a couple of the streamliners (as well as roadsters and other cars!) and everything in between, internal combustion exists in a myriad of forms on the salt. The 16 photos below don’t necessarily represent by 16 favorite engines or 16 engines I have been dreaming about, but they do show a huge cross section of power plants.
Of all the impressive stuff I witnessed on the salt, the thing that sticks with me the most is how much horsepower guys are able to get out of stuff like a GMC 302 inline six, a flathead Cadillac, and other engines of that ilk. We’re talking several times improvement over the factory rating and sustaining that power at WOT for miles and miles on end. That is super impressive stuff as even the best modern parts are at the mercy of the prehistoric aged block that they’re living in.
One of my favorite cars to watch at ECTA meets is the belly tank lakesker of Connecticut's Ron San Giovanni. Powered by a flathead V8 that appears to be wearing a hat which looks very similar to an 8-71 blower, it sounds the business and can wick up to more than 170mph by the end of the mile long course. On Ron’s first run in 2013, things were looking good as he made a clean lap with respect to the front half of the course, but things went awfully wrong for him in the shutdown area. Just as he crossed the timing trap at the end of the course, the car launched into a series of spins that show you a cool, albeit high speed panorama of the facility. After sliding off the course, the car got into the grass and thankfully stayed on all fours. It sure was wild to watch it go down from the announcer’s stand. In true racer fashion, Ron got it cleaned up and hit the track again, running 170mph later in the afternoon with no spinning dramatics. That was cool to see.
PRESS PLAY BELOW TO SEE SOME CRAZY IN-CAR VIDEO FROM THE OHIO MILE – WHAT IT IS LIKE TO SPIN A LAKESTER AT TERMINAL VELOCITY! CRAZY STUFF!
Sometimes you just need something cool to balance our your day, especially on a Sunday when you are relaxing and gearing up for a work week that is looming ahead. We found a couple of really amazing films taken at Bonneville in the early 1950s that show everything from the SCTA setting up the course, to the technical inspection process, to hot rods racing down the salt. My first experience at Bonneville came last year and it forever changed me and my understanding about hat exactly happens out there on the vast whiteness of the salt flats. The thing that I was most interested to see was how the experience stacked up against the old films and videos I have watched over the years, similar to the ones you see below. Outside of the look of the push trucks and some of the more modern aerodynamic designs, I believe that it looks and feels much the same as you’ll see in these videos.
Yes, there are more spectators for the first few days, but let’s be honest. The place is still in the middle of absolute nowhere, the cars are all very cool and unique and outside of some banners and stuff there is no corporate presence that is dominating the racing. No pyro, no jumbo-trons, nothing of that sort is even on the radar at Bonneville. The whole point of the exercise is for people to bring their stuff to one of the harshest environments on Earth and run it as hard and as fast as it can go just like it was 100 years ago when the first runs were made there.
The 2014 running of Bonneville Speed Week will be something else because of the fact that it is the 100th anniversary of the world’s coolest natural race track being used for top speed runs and the best part is that the 100th will be honored as the 1st and 99th were, by the hard work and peak performances of the racers that flock there every August. People talk about the purity of competition at Bonneville and what we can tell you is that it still feels the same way that these videos look and that has only been through the hard work and dedication of the SCTA. THIS is some truly neat stuff. Watch the videos below.
PRESS PLAY BELOW TO SEE THREE FANTASTIC FILMS FROM BONNEVILLE IN THE 1950S -
One of the things that has presented the steepest learning curve for a life-long car only enthusiast is figuring our the madness that is motorcycle land speed racing. There's a massive array of classes, engines, and chassis that riders use. Entertainment value from 50cc all the way up to the big, hairy turbo bikes is high and with each meet I find myself learning a little more about these neat machines. In this video we ride along with Joe Heffernan with the awesomely named FoilHat Racing crew as he rips down to the fastest 500cc mile pass ever at a shade above 185mph.
The most interesting thing about this video is watching Heffernan deal with a crossing headwind at speed. Having seen many motorcycles come through the traps with some "lean", it is a completely different thing to actually see what that looks like from the driver's perspective. Wow does it look creepy! Joe kept the throttle pinned wide open on this run and you can actually see the digital dash reporting the RPM and speed of the motorcycle as it streaks down course.
This is a fun rider's eye view of what it is like to tackle the course on a motorcycle!