“Speed Week” at Bonneville Salt Flats Cancelled Due to Deteriorating Conditions, Lack of Salt

SEMA News—October 2015

FROM THE HILL

By Eric Snyder

“Speed Week” at Bonneville Salt Flats Cancelled Due to Deteriorating Conditions, Lack of Salt

  Bonneville
Despite a rich history of racing for more than a century, the Bonneville Salt Flats have significantly decreased in size, strength and thickness over a number of decades as salt brine has been channeled away from the area.
   

Deteriorating conditions and wet weather at the Bonneville Salt Flats (BSF) forced the Southern California Timing Association/Bonneville Nationals Inc. to cancel Speed Week. The event organizers were unable to identify more than 2¼ miles of salt suitable for a safe course. Speed Week began in 1949 and is the largest annual racing event held at the BSF, with hundreds of teams racing every type of vehicle, from hot rods, roadsters and belly tankers to motorcycles, lakesters and streamliners. The event was also cancelled in 2014 due to rain, which marked the first cancellation since the ’90s.

Despite a rich history of racing for more than a century, the salt flats have significantly decreased in size, strength and thickness over a number of decades as salt brine has been channeled away from the area. The BSF’s international track once measured 131/2 miles long but has been reduced to eight miles or less. This means that the world’s fastest cars—jet-powered machines—can no longer compete at
the BSF.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has managed the land since 1946. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

SEMA and other organizations and companies comprising the Save the Salt Coalition have been working for years to help save the BSF. The racing community began raising concerns about salt deterioration as early as the ’60s. The coalition contends that the BLM has done little to address the problem aside from conducting numerous geological studies. SEMA and the coalition worked with an adjoining potash mine owner to begin pumping salt brine onto the BSF in 1997. While the program was made permanent in 2012, the amount of brine pumped in recent years has not replaced the millions of tons of salt removed in previous decades.

Salt Flats
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has managed Bonneville since 1946. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern and the Bonneville Salt Flats Special Recreation Management Area.
 
   

Last summer, the coalition deposited about 2,000 tons of dry salt at the end of the access road to the BSF. Although modest in scope, it demonstrated that it was possible to return dry salt along with the wet brine.

In response to the current deteriorated conditions at the BSF, the BLM intends to launch a detailed study of the salt crust later this year. The government has conducted multiple studies since the ’60s. “Bonneville has been studied to death,” said Stuart Gosswein, SEMA’s senior director of federal government affairs. “It’s time for the BLM to do something.”

The coalition is now approaching federal and state lawmakers and regulators to pressure the BLM to implement an advanced reclamation program. Elements could include more wet and dry salt returns, replenishing the shallow brine aquifer that supports the BSF and construction of surface and subsurface barriers around the racing area to prevent the pumped salt brine from migrating away and to block mud and other contaminants from entering the vicinity.

“It took decades for the BSF to deteriorate, and it will take decades to undue the damage,” said Gosswein. “The coalition is setting goals for measurable progress. The ultimate objective is to restore the international track to its 13½-mile length. The coalition is now engaged with lawmakers, regulators and the public to establish the framework for achieving this goal.”

SEMA PAC President’s Club Spotlight: Rob Fisher

  Rob Fisher
Rob Fisher (left) with automotive media personality Courtney Hansen at the SEMA Washington Rally.
   

Rob Fisher is the general manager of Circle Track, which is part of TEN: The Enthusiast Network. The company is headquartered in Los Angeles. Fisher is a five-year member of the SEMA PAC President’s Club.

“As a motorsports journalist for more than two decades, I’ve seen firsthand how our sport and the auto aftermarket have changed,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s not always been positive. Government regulation and legislative missteps threaten our industry and livelihood on a daily basis. The results can be devastating. I joined the President’s Club to help ensure that SEMA continues to have the resources necessary to fight for our industry’s health and our rights as car guys well into the future.”

For more information, contact SEMA PAC and Congressional Relations Manager Christian Robinson at 202-783-6007
x20 or christianr@sema.org.

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