The summer sun bounces off of the salt in a singular blinding highlight, causing hazy vision and an almost immediate sunburn. In northwestern Utah lies the sleepy town of Wendover. Here, you’ll find two casinos, a 7-11 and four hotels. Wendover is likewise home to the famous Bonneville Speedway: a little portion of one of many world’s largest salt flats that’s focused on motorsport. And it’s here that speed junkies have attempted land speed records since the 1930s.
With a few events each machines, year and men are constantly being pushed on the salt. Yet SpeedWeek, locked in August, is undeniably the most important gathering. With hundreds competing to set the best speed in severalBonneville is otherworldly – even without the noise of lazy V8s bouncing off the nearby mountains. Alternatively, the sight of torpedo-shaped specials approaching 500mph and leaving a wisp of salt floating from the heat haze – the Flats are simply just a breathtaking place to be.
The sensation of love and dedication for the sport is detected in every breath. You often hear people talking about camaraderie in racing, and Bonneville takes it to a new level.
And while we were there to absorb this unique sport and lifestyle, our story would revolve around Joe Moch with his fantastic quest to break 235mph in theirin the world built for top speed and caked in salt. Its blue hue blended with Bonneville’s infinite horizon and garnered surprising attention in a field of home-built hot rods and high-dollar missiles.
Joe’s love for speed isn’t something new, though. He’s been obsessed all his life. “In 1965, I was walking past a Jaguar dealership and saw a gold on red XKE,” he reminisced. “I was really a senior in high school at the time but would eventually buy one in ’67.” Once the E-Type, a love of fine Italian automobiles took hold.
Joe has owned 11 Tour de France Ferraris, which is over any other private owner. His favorites included a ’63 250 Spyder California plus a ’54 250 Europa GT, if you were wondering… “I’ve just always loved Ferraris,” he laughed.It was actually fitting, then, that when Joe met Jim Busby, a former Bonneville record holder, the idea of breaking a speed record was embedded in his mind. Something he’d attempt in a Ferrari.
As you might imagine, the 550 Maranello has never been built for top speed runs using salt. It was purposed as a comfortable GT having a massive 5.5-liter V12 up front, a deluxe interior and room within the trunk for a set of golf clubs.
Like many things, racing a Ferrari on the salt “Seemed like a great idea during the time! ” And after racing virtually everything, from Formula 500 to vintage series, Joe figured a land speed record wasn’t impossible.
Team ACAT 08
2001 ACAT global ferrari 550 maranello joe moch 07
2001 ACAT global ferrari 550 maranello joe moch 03
As CEO of ACAT Global (Advanced Clean Air Technologies), Joe is at the forefront of catalytic converters, producing the finest and smallest on the market. They get the same conversion efficiency as modern cats but at one-third the size and style, as well as a 30dB noise reduction without using a muffler. This isn’t obscure technology, either: Before too long, joe is confident we’ll see his cats on OEM vehicles and every emissions system. “We’ve already passed GM’s durability tests,” he confided. And what better way to prove his product than setting a speed record?
The 550 was prepared for its first salt flat outing at SpeedWeek 2012. Jim Busby Racing, with help from Van Butler and Lee Kennedy from the Southern California Timing Association, built the car with Joe’s supervision. “You can’t imagine how much needs to be discarded from a modern Ferrari,” Joe recalled. “We filled so many five-gallon buckets just from scraping putty out of theThe interior was caged and stripped before custom tires and wheels were fitted. It doesn’t actually have front brakes, counting on the rear factory units as well as two parachutes. Insane!
In 2012, Joe hit 216.33mph, which was 30mph faster compared to the factory speed record. “It’s such a desolate place,” Joe recalled. “There are no trees or anything. You’re just following a line in the salt and you view the mountains on theAs you may imagine, driving on salt is unlike other things. “I had no idea what to expect on my first pass. I used to be in first gear, but the ratio was so high it could hit 107mph. Once I’m used to road-race cars so that it was an odd feeling once the engine kept pulling and you also haven’t shifted. I kept wondering as soon as the redline was coming. When would I grab another gear? ” You can imagine his anxiety in the cabin, mixed with lots of adrenaline.
“The car moves around under you. The secret of being successful in the salt is just not overcorrecting. The auto starts to move to the side and yes it takes patience to bring it back over a fraction. At 200mph, any quick reaction could be the end. It requires such delicate corrections. But there’s a comfort you feel once you have it dialed in,” he remembered.
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Land speed record car gauge cluster 13
For his 2013 attempt, Peter recalled his second experience. “Perhaps one of the worst aspects of SpeedWeek is the waiting. Everybody stands around for much of the relaxing, day and watching, anticipating insane speed and praying for a trouble-free run. Finally, we had been in a line of cars. There seemed to be sweat cascading down my face within the 127? heat. All you want is for your time to come but you’re waiting in that damn line, anticipating, wondering. It gets very claustrophobic,” he admitted.
We had been waiting, camera in hand, for what seemed like an eternity for Joe to fire the 12-cylinder beast and get going. The team was aiming for 232-235mph this time around. “It was within our grasp and definitely inside the capability of the vehiclehad been moved to the trunk for better weight distribution. Was just seeing 400psi, though the motor required 800psi oil pressure. So the ACAT Global Ferrari 550 Maranello cut short its SpeedWeek adventure only 125mph, never even leaving first gear. “We pulled the plug, and then for business reasons, we recently sold the car,” he said regretfully.
You can’t argue with business, though it’s difficult to believe he’d do that after so much effort. Joe and also the team will return to Bonneville this year with… a Dodge Viper – it doesn’t have the same ring to it, we but appreciate the guy’s conviction, as well as the fact he continues to appear to SpeedWeek with less conventional cars.
The Bonneville Salt Flats are a fascinating place. Or simply provide an appreciation for your earth and its wonders, you absolutely must go, if you enjoy cars and motorsport. Bonneville should be on everybody’s bucket list but take a hat, lots of sunscreen, good sunglasses and water!