The day when we will no longer see sanctioned racing on the Bonneville Salt Flats may soon be at hand after the Southern California Timing Association decided on Monday to cancel the Bonneville Speed Week for the second year in a row.
The announcement came after weeks of speculation and multiple visits to the salt flats by SCTA and Bureau of Land Management officials to determine whether enough salt remained to comprise a reasonable racing surface for this year’s Speed Week, which was scheduled to begin August 8. Instead, hundreds of racers from around the world will now have to wait to see if other events in the short land-speed racing season at Bonneville will follow the same fate.
A number of factors combined to cause this year’s cancellation. Heavy rains earlier this year left the salt flats swamped, as usual, but also triggered mudslides from the surrounding mountains and onto a section of the flats used for the SCTA’s land-speed racing courses. While the annual flooding of the salt flats typically recedes by late summer, leaving behind the plain white moonscape racers have sought out for more than a century, the mudslide has remained.
In addition, as the Salt Lake Tribune reported earlier this month, the layer of salt has become increasingly thinner in recent years, leaving little to keep vehicles from breaking through to the soft mud below. “Experts from the BLM found some areas where the upper crust is thick and healthy, and able to support high-speed racing and other recreation,” the Tribune’s Emma Penrod wrote. “But in some portions of the area generally converted into race tracks during Speed Week, the salt is extremely thin or missing entirely.”
According to the SCTA, that meant that the best its officials could come up with was a 2-¼-mile stretch of salt to safely race on, short of the 3-mile and longer courses the SCTA typically reserves for its high-speed runs. “Mother nature was not good to us this year,” Bill Lattin, SCTA president and race director, said.
By some estimates, the salt crust has reduced in thickness from two feet to just two inches and in area from 96,000 acres to about 30,000 acres; some racers point to nearby potash mining as one reason for the shrinking and thinning salt. The BLM has committed to further study of the problem and has in the past ordered one of the mining operations to replenish the salt.
Last year’s Speed Week cancellation came after heavy rains flooded the salt flats. Water remained on the flats long enough to force the cancellation of the Speed Week rain date and of the World Finals in October.
In its announcement canceling this year’s race, the SCTA noted that “if the wet salt gets dry, future events could be possible.” Other Bonneville land-speed racing events planned for this year include the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials, scheduled for August 30 to September 3; Utah Salt Flats Racing Association‘s World of Speed, scheduled for September 12 to 15; Mike Cook’s Bonneville Shootout, scheduled for September 17 to 21; and the SCTA’s World Finals, scheduled for September 29 to October 2. A test-n-tune event scheduled for earlier this month has already been canceled.
For more information, visit SCTA-BNI.org.
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