Introducing Project 240SX – Land Speed Racer
by Chuck Johnson
Around the turn of the millennium, I had a gear head epiphany. I had spent the half-decade prior figuring out how to shoehorn a SR20 into a B12 Sentra and then turbo charge it. With the exception of many all-nighters furiously wrenching and a few days at the drag strip, the sum of my automotive experiences could be detailed on the slim piece of paper found inside of a fortune cookie. As much as I love wrenching, I came to the realization that it's the experiences that you have with your project car that makes all the knuckle-busting sacrifices worthwhile. For the next ten years, this epiphany would inspire me to immerse myself in the automotive world and experience as much as I could, from racing in the Silver State Classic Challenge to building and piloting a super fuel efficient vehicle with a college SAE team. Out of all these experiences though, only the nostalgia of land speed racing at Bonneville has left me really wanting more.
They call it “salt fever.” This seemingly incurable disease first infected me after reading an article about the Progress/Vortec Honda Civic Si setting a new land speed record at Bonneville. The nostalgia of Bonneville intrigued me, while the idea of setting a land speed record challenged me. Challenge and intrigue; it was a perfect combination. Unlike drag racing or AutoX though, you can't just drive over to your local racetrack and set a new land speed record; and obviously, there is only one place to truly gain the experience of Bonneville. After scouring the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) rulebook, I was disappointed to find that only a heavily prepared car, safety wise could legally race on the salt.
The 130 and 150 MPH Clubs
My dreams of running on the salt were halted until I found The Utah Salt Flats Racing Association (USFRA). A perhaps lesser-known organization, the USFRA runs an event every September at Bonneville called “The World of Speed” and offers a 130 MPH and 150 MPH club tailored just for mildly prepared street cars. The USFRA's motto for these clubs is, “It only sounds easy.” Although it would turn out that my Nissan Sentra made more than enough brutish horsepower to overcome its Soapbox derby car aerodynamics and get the job done, it would still take me three agonizing years to finally secure membership into both clubs. Why? In short, the Bonneville Speedway turns into Lake Bonneville after a good rain.
|After a 9 hour tow to Utah and one fouled pass, it began to rain and I woke up the next morning to find Bonneville Speedway under water. They were right, “it only sounds easy.”|
The “Triple Crown”
After finally entering both the USFRA 130 and 150 MPH clubs, I figured that my addiction for the salt had finally been quenched. As it would turn out though, this little venture would merely whet my appetite. Only a few minutes after making my final pass into the 150 MPH club, the proverbial stick and carrot would be dangled in front of my nose once again.
|Photo by Bryn MusselWhite|
Feeling awfully proud of myself, I sat humored on the tailgate of my truck as I watched a man carefully tape up each seam of his Porsche when a lady commented, “Not bad kid.” Two clubs in two days, you make it look easy.” When I looked over, a lady well into her golden years and wearing all white, to perhaps reflect the intense sun, walked over to me and then sat down. “Ever heard of the Triple Crown? I think only a couple of people have done it before.” For the next few minutes, the lady explained that the “Triple Crown” was when someone successfully gained entrance into the 130, 150, and 200 MPH clubs. I was hooked.
To be honest with you, I don't even know if this “Triple Crown” thing even really exists. And that lady? Well, she could have easily been a desert mirage brought on by dehydration and too much sun. Regardless, the “Triple Crown” sure did sound cool.