The sun was high and hot in the sky, glistening off the salt flats in western Utah. It was not yet midday and I was already baking, hiding wherever I could find a strip of shade. There wasn’t much to be had, though, at the starting line for the World of Speed races, so I made do squatting in the shadows of large pickup trucks. But while I didn’t want to become lobster-red, I didn’t mind a little bit of sun; I wasn’t going to miss the exhilarating display of machismo and fuel injection held annually at the Bonneville Salt Flats Recreation Area.
What felt like an eternity before standing at the starting line, before the sun had even cracked the horizon to the east, I rolled out of bed and climbed into a Utah Office of Tourism vehicle. We were heading to the salt flats to witness one of the most brazen displays of speed anywhere. I yawned and tried to care at such an early hour that I would shortly see some amazing works of ingenuity and craftsmanship as so many of the vehicles were home-designed and hand-made.
It would only be then, standing at the starting line watching rocket cars launch themselves across the salt, that I’d appreciate Skip Hedrich (not pictured) setting the fastest mark for the weekend with a speed of over 336 mph. Then I would admire the gearheads for a passion and lust for motor vehicles unlike anything I’ve ever known. And it was only then that I realized I’d likely never see anything so unique as this again; no time soon would I again see Mark DeLuca (not pictured), the rider on the fastest bike of the meet, zip across the salt at speeds over 237 mph.
Walking through the pits, watching drivers and mechanics alike prepare for the day, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I heard words with which I was familiar – carburetor this, crankcase that – but I had no idea exactly what they did; I’m about as illiterate when it comes to automobiles as anyone I’ve ever met. I know where the gas goes and where I need to take my car when it’s time for an oil change – only matching the numbers on the odometer with those on the sticker in my window from the last servicing – but I would have no idea how to repair anything on my own.
Years ago, in an attempt to become more knowledgeable about cars, I bought Automotive Repair for Dummies. It has since sat on my shelf serving no other purpose than collecting dust. I probably should have put it to use as a coaster for my coffee table, but I found even that prospect slightly intimidating. Instead, I stuffed it deep in some closet from whence it shall never return.
I was intimidated by the pit crews, because of my incredibly limited knowledge. Everyone wandering around, even the dogs, knew more about cars than I did; I just smiled and waved at the teams, occasionally saying, “She sure is a beaut’!”
I knew they could see through me, but there was nothing else I could do; standing at the souvenir stand not buying anything was already a welcome I wore out.
Cars and bikes – some in the shape of long, cylindrical rockets – began to leave the pits, most commonly towed on trailers behind large pickup trucks. A moment later they slashed through the air, all for a common goal: the fastest speed.
Watching the cars and bikes fly by at hundreds of miles per hour was not as exciting as it sounds, though. For safety sake, the pits were near a mile away from the course. And later, when my group of writers was allowed to watch from a closer checkpoint, the effect was still lost on me; binoculars had to be used to get an accurate appreciation for what was going on. All we could see was some suped-up vehicle flying by out on the salt, nowhere near where we were standing.
The action was down at the starting line. There the mechanics were making their last-minute preparations. At the start, the drivers were getting geared up and securely locked into their rides. And it was there, at the starting line, that a buzz of anticipation, unlike anywhere else on the course, was tangible.
A continual countdown occurred as the judges launched ride after ride onto the course. Some sputtered and farted their way out, misfiring to the disappointment of the crowd. Everyone was there, including me, to see these things break records. We wanted to see them practically fly, barely keeping contact with the salty earth, cheering them on like any other favorite sporting team.
I arrived early in the morning, cynical at what I was going to see; I had no interest in racing and wasn’t sure why I was there. The electric atmosphere, the smell of the exhaust, and the palatable level of anticipation at the starting line captured me, though. I was enthralled with what I was seeing and experiencing – even if it was generally from the diminishing shade of a pickup truck as the sun climbed higher into the sky.
It was becoming so hot that the drivers, wrapped in protective clothing, required shade and extra water before they zipped off across the salt. It was near unbearable at this point, but also next to impossible to resist the urge to stay and watch just one more car shoot out of the start. Just one more quickening; one more start; one more moment and then we could go. Just one more.
I convinced myself that just one more was alright often enough that my lips became baked and cracked regardless of the amount of lip balm I used. I said it often enough that I began to feel the skin tighten on the back of my neck as it turned a lovely shade of red. And I said it often enough that I realized I was missing both something to drink and eat, thus near collapsing on the salt.
So it was at that when I said goodbye to my introduction to Utah’s World of Speed. It was just a taste, though; I was thirsty for a more complete experience, one where I would spend the weekend on the salt with the comfort of a decked-out RV nearby. I could then climb in, take a rest, and have a drink while watching such magnificent creations break records at my leisure.
Surely that would be the way to go. That would be how I would return. This sponsored trip to the World of Speed was simply an appetizer. Now that I saw what I was missing, I wanted more; I didn’t care that I still knew nothing about cars. That is something that can be remedied if I ever decide to read some dummy book and learn to change my own oil. Or, for starters, where the oil even goes in the first place.