Bonneville Salt Flats

The World’s Best Speedway and The Problem It Faces

More stories from Samuel Warnick

On September 10th 2021, Auto students had the opportunity to attend Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats, one of the most important events for motorsport enthusiasts worldwide. The experience was positive overall but many of the racers expressed concern for the future of the speedway. Here is my review of the culture of Speed Week and how we can ensure its survival.

The Bluebird
Malcolm Campbell and his car the “Bluebird” set the first true land speed record in 1935. He went down in history for making the first 300 mph pass. (Samuel Warnick)

Brief History
First of all, The Bonneville Salt Flats are natural formations near Wendover Utah. Once home to a massive lake, it dried up resulting in a flat salty crust that spans for miles. Many people found this salt to be a near perfect recipe for speed. People have been setting land speed records here for nearly 90 years.

Speed week was made in 1949 due to the rising popularity. Since then the salt flats have attracted the attention of thousands of people, all of them striving to break a record for the class they are competing in.



What We Saw

The “Batmobile” was built in one man’s garage. He and his friends used the fiberglass body from a kit car, but everything else was pieced together by the owner and his friends. A lot of work and planning go into these machines.

Some racers compete with production cars. There are lots of classes ranging from unaltered to heavily modified. These pictures show what I believe was a Monte Carlo. The owners have spent years racing this car and trying to fix every problem they encounter. They even have ammo crates bolted in the engine bay so they can put extra weight towards the front of the vehicle. They even built the wing backwards to prevent the car from trying to spin. The interior of the car has been stripped to accommodate extra gauges, a racing seat, and who knows how many gizmos and gadgets

The Problem
One of the first places I visited was the pit area for a blue SAAB. While I was there I talked to the owner of the car and his mechanic for a long time. They were the first of many to express their concern for the Salt Flats.

The salt flats have actually been losing salt. The salt flats have lost two feet of salt since 1960. There was once near 100,000 acres of salt, but now we only have 30,000. This is most likely the result of a mine nearby. The mine makes what is called potash, for fertilizer. The mine has disturbed the natural flow of water, meaning that salt isn’t settling how it used to.
The disappearance of salt isn’t the only problem. The salt left behind has lost a few of its most important qualities. As the salt disappears, so does the racetrack.
The usually smooth flat surface has seen many more bumps and holes in recent years. At the speed these racers travel it only takes one bump to cause a disaster. Because of this and the shrinking surface, they had to shorten the track. The once 11 mile long speedway has been cut back to 8 miles. This came as a shock to many racers. Most streamliners usually need about 5 miles for acceleration alone. That leaves only 3 miles for braking, if there was to be a parachute malfunction a vehicle could end up off the track.
The owner of the SAAB gave me articles and websites about the salt flats’ deterioration. He was very passionate about saving the flats and The SAAB (top), The Mechanic (mid) and preserving the speedway. People like him are The Owner (bottom) paving the way for environmental change.
Speed week and other racing events raise nearly 3 million dollars a year. Racers have also donated to the non-profit organization Save the Salt. ( The best way
to ensure the survival of the salt flats is to keep racing. The international attention it brings has
helps give momentum to the effort. Utah has decided to use some money to try and
preserve the salt flats and the races that take place on them

In short, Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats was a really neat experience and I’m very glad I was able to go. I got to see some very interesting vehicles and all of the people I met were super nice and loved talking about their builds. I was even able to sit inside a 4th gen camaro built to compete in the modified classes. I also think it’s cool that we are fighting to keep the salt flats healthy for generations to come. It’s not very often you see environmental activism in the form of hot rods and American muscle.


Photos by Samuel Warnick except in the brief history section. Credit to “,_with_crowd,_1926_-_1936.jpg

All Photos were taken with consent of the owners.