Located in the middle of nowhere, west of the Great Salt Lake on the Utah-Nevada border, the vast salt flats of Bonneville cover some 160 square miles. Since the 1930s, Bonneville’s broad, hard, flat, and unobstructed surface has made it a mecca for efforts to set ever-faster land speed records. The earliest speed records were set at Daytona Beach, Florida, but as top speeds increased, racers needed more room to maneuver safely. In 1931, Ab Jenkins set Bonneville’s first world record in his bright red Mormon Meteor, and racers have converged on Bonneville’s 10-mile-long drag strip in pursuit of record-breaking speed ever since. Burt Munro’s motorcycle speed record was set here at Bonneville in 1967, as depicted in the 2005 Anthony Hopkins movie The World’s Fastest Indian.
Craig Breedlove, in his car named Spirit of America, was the first to exceed the 400, 500, and 600 mph marks. In the 1990s, problems with water from nearby mining operations dissolving the salt made Bonneville less than ideal, so racers like Richard Noble, whose team set the current record of 763 mph in 1997, opted for the Black Rock Desert, 110 miles north of Reno, Nevada. In recent years the salt flats have been restored to their historical thickness and size, and once again, hundreds of thrill-seekers descend on Bonneville every August for “Speed Week,” racing their vintage cars, hot rods, and motorbikes in a series of time trials.