History of Racing at Bonneville Salt Flats

History of Racing at Bonneville Salt Flats

Imagine a place that is so flat and barren that allows you to see the curvature of the Earth, so much a world of its own where not even the simplest form of life can exist.


Early attempts to promote automobile racing on the Salt Flats failed until the 1930s when Ab Jenkins, a Utah native driving a Studebaker dubbed the Mormon Meteor, began setting endurance speed records at Bonneville. Jenkins was later instrumental in promoting land-speed racing and luring British racing legend Sir Malcolm Campbell to the Salt Flats in 1935. Since that time the Bonneville Salt Flats have attracted racers from throughout the world and have become the site of numerous land speed records. Their attraction for these racers is due to the hard, flat surface that is continually renewed by nature each year. 


Motorcar racing has taken place at the salt flats since 1914. The first land speed record was set there in 1914 by American race car driver, Teddy Tetzlaff who was well known for his Indy 500 racing fame. Tetzlaff would set this first record in a custom built 200hp car known as the Blitzen-Benz. To set this record, Tetzlaff was able to get the Benz up to 141.73 mph on the flats.


Racing takes place at part of the Bonneville Salt Flats known as the Bonneville Speedway. There are five major land speed events that take place at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Bonneville "Speed Week" takes place mid-August followed by "World of Speed" in September and the "World Finals" take place early October.


These three events welcome cars, trucks, and motorcycles. The "Bub Motorcycle Speed Trials" are for motorcycles only. World records are contested at the Mike Cook Shoot Out in September. The Southern California Timing Association and the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association organizes and plans the multi-vehicle events, but all event promoters contribute to prepping and maintaining the salt. "Speed Week" events in August were canceled for the second year in a row in 2015, due to poor conditions of the salt in certain parts of the flats. The salt flats had been swamped by heavy rains earlier in the year, which usually happens, but the rains also triggered mudslides from surrounding mountains and onto a section of the flats used for the land-speed racing courses.


The public can gain access to land speed racing events by paying an entrance fee and following route markers onto the salt to designated viewing areas. Reservations for spectators are not required. Bicycles, motorcycles, and ATVs are permitted on the salt flats


Some of the astounding land speed records established at Bonneville over the Century.


1914  Teddy Tetzlaff, Blitzen Benz, 141.73 mph 

1935  Sir Malcolm Campbell, Bluebird, 301.126 mph,
1940  Ab Jenkins, Mormon Meteor III, 161.180 mph, 24 hr endurance run
1947  John Cobb, Railton Mobil Special, 394.194 mph, 

1960  Mickey Thompson First American to break the 400 mph barrier, Challenger 1
1964  Craig Breedlove, Spirit of America, 526.277 mph,
1965  Craig Breedlove, Spirit of America, 600.601 mph, 
1967  Burt Munro, Munro Special, 183.586 mph, 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle
1970  Gary Gabolich, Blue Flame, 622.407 mph,
2001  Don Vesco, Turbinator, 458.440 mph, 
2006  Chris Carr, BUB Streamliner, 350.884 mph, motorcycle
2006  Andy Green, JCB Dieselmax, 350.092 mph, diesel

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