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Why Land Speed Racing?


It is the earliest and most primitive of all of motor racing--even simpler than point A to point B—and the only thing that is recorded is the speed averaged over a kilometer or a mile. And yet, it is also the most difficult to master and arguably the most complex and uncharted of all of the different types of motor racing there is. It is also the fastest.

It seems so simple. Just hold the steering wheel straight, foot to the floor, and see what she'll do, right?

No, not by a long shot. The first problem is space. Unlike drag racing, which evolved from land speed racing and only needs about 1/2 a mile of pavement to run and stop in, land speed racing requires miles, at least 9 or 10 miles of flat surface in order to be able to build up speed, and then hold it for a mile, and then have enough room to slow down and not run into anything. Not too many places like that.

The first land speed races were held out at the dry lake surfaces of Southern California. Places like Muroc and El Mirage, the absolute beginnings of hot rodding, and where land speed racing continues to this very day. These were fine venues in the beginning, but they were small, and as speeds increased, a bigger place was sought out and found in Utah--The Bonneville Salt Flats--the fastest place on earth. It's a lake bed made of salt. When the lake fills up, the water creates a perfectly flat surface and after draining through and evaporating, it leaves 240 square miles of billiard table flatness. Well, almost. On a clear day, if you squint just so, you can see the curvature of the earth. And it's not quite like a billiard table, hey, it's salt!

The surface quality is more like a partially hardened slurpee that never melts. Sometimes it's harder, sometimes it's slushier, most of the time it's both. There are other venues, like Black Rock Desert in Nevada, that are bigger, but they just aren't the same. They are dusty and not so flat with cracks in the ground, but most of all they are missing an intangible indescribable element that is purely The Bonneville Salt Flats.

What can I say? The place gets into your blood, it kicks your butt time and time again, and you come back because the challenge is one that throws all the weirdness of Mother Nature and meta physics that exist in the universe, and you can't resist it because you're hooked and you know it. There's nothing you can do about it. I have yet to meet anyone who went to the salt once and never went back. It gets under your skin and lives with you until the day you die. Did I mention all the highly toxic chemicals in the salt? I highly recommend it.

Land Speed Racing is the last form of racing where a guy with a dream can take on the big boys, and win, if he's creative and thoughtful enough and comes up with better ideas. No two cars look the same. That's just one of the many cool aspects of the LSR experience.

If the first difficulty in land speed racing is the lack of knowledge, the rest should all be familiar to anyone involved in any other form of motor sports; aerodynamics, traction, weight, more power, safety, braking, weather, and yet, they each have their own twist and lack of knowledge as no one really truly knows what will work on some other guy’s car, just what works on their own car, and more often than not it's very different than what the other guy swears works for him.

So with all that, here's what you need to do to set a record. You need to make a run with an average speed over a mile that is faster than the current record. If it is a FIA event, you need to turn your car around, prep it to run, pack the chutes and do it again, in the opposite direction, in less than 60 minutes, or you start all over again. If it is a SCTA event, you make your run, then you have 60 minutes to bring your car to impound (not that easy since it is way the hell out there....) and then you get to go the next morning and run again. World records are the average of the two runs. What if it rains the next day or it's too windy? Too bad. Start over. It isn't all that easy to run fast to begin with, but the way I explained it to my kids is that in order to set a world record, it's like hitting a Grand Slam at the bottom of the ninth, then doing it again the next day.

Is it worth it? Hell yes--it's the greatest ride on earth. - Amir Rosenbaum

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