The Bonneville Story


If you were dropped blindfold in the middle of the great Salt Lake of Utah you could be forgiven for thinking you had arrived on another planet. The sun angles off its ancient surface and sends contusions of light that warp your sense of perspective.

To the west, the north and the east all that is visible is the suggestion of torsional curve and jagged peaks capped and cased in white. The horizon and the sky meld in a halo of heat. The only sound is the crack and the rub of the saline crust beneath your boots.

That’s of course if there are no vehicles racing on the lake. If there are you will perceive the low, long rumbling sounds of powerful engines. Internally combusted. Aspirated by ramjet and supercharger. Blown with nitrous oxide. Teased into movement by solar panels. No matter what technology has driven these vehicles this strip of flat lifeless desert has contained the aspirations of a hundred thousand men intent on traversing this otherworldy space with the speed of an otherworldy race.

Stretching over around a 159 mile square pocket of land that straddles the border of Utah and Nevada dissected by the I-80, its culture is entwined in the multiple narratives of America. There is the culture of the Native Americans and their right to host lucrative, score settling gaming resorts – an unnerving singularity that attracts legions of the polyester clad rump of America into its maw.

On the Utah side of the plain there is the hyper-traditional, besuited followers of the Church of the Latter Day Saints – a jarring juxtapoz to the coin-chucking excesses of the casinos over the white horizon. But bang smack in the middle of these two poles of Americana the flats gather a seasonal flurry of speed freaks that transcends both in its richness and its diversity. The aesthetics have shifted over the century from burbling Benzs and oil-driven behemoths– through to fluid streamliners and chopped, dropped and flopped rods and mods to three wheeled rocket cars and supersonic projectiles wrought more in physics labs than the greasey workshops of yore.

Times change. The Salt Lake never does. And as long as there are engines and men they will be there to test their mettle on the curve of the earth.

All images courtesy The Life Archive