[ Kevin Martin wrote a whole series of articles from his regular visits to the salt flats. They all feature his vivid photography and colorful commentary. Each subsequent chapter can be accessed via inks at the bottom of each post]
Twice a year my neighborhood grows to include two important events. The first is Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats in August, sanctioned by the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA). The second is a smaller event in October sanctioned by the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association (USFRA). I say neighborhood since getting to Bonneville from my house is a relatively straightforward proposition-hook a right on I-15 for a couple of miles, turn left at I-80, then hold the steering wheel more or less straight for the next 120 miles.
You will travel through scenic bombing ranges (Dugway) and alkalai wastelands (everywhere) until you hit Wendover, or as we locals affectionally call it, Bendover, Utah/Nevada. There are two Wendovers: East Wendover, Utah which has all the charm of post-apocalyptic Armageddon; and Wendover, Nevada, which, while not exactly charm city, at least has full-strength beer (max in Utah is 3.2) and casinos.
At the risk of being disingenuous, I’ll state straight off that there are no curbs at Bonneville, and therefore, technically, no Curbside Classics. But you will find one of the most eclectic assemblage of cars you are ever liable to come across-to wit, the Phoenix.
The Phoenix fits the CC demographic perfectly: it’s a truck (1943 International K-7 dump truck); it’s an oil burner (Detroit Diesel 16V92) 16 cylinder, 2-stroke; and obscenely fast (272.6 mph in 2003).
It’s also from Oregon, specifically, Grants Pass, just south (OK, a whole bunch south) of Eugene.
The truck was campaigned from 1990 until 2003 by the team of R.B. Slagle, who died in 1998, and Carl Heap, who died in 2004. As with many Bonneville entries, the vehicle was a protean effort, each year sporting new refinements. The Phoenix’s apotheosis was in 2003, the last time it ran. The truck is still in possession of the Heap family. They are looking for a worthy automotive museum to display the Phoenix.
There are only two amateur racing events in the US that have both national and international visibility-Bonneville, and the Pikes Peak Hillclimb (tune in later). The craftsmanship and attention to detail, apparent not only in the competitors’ vehicles, but also in the parking lot, is mind blowing. And nothing is off-limits. You can walk into any pit and engage the drivers/owners in conversation. You can talk to them on the starting line. You can stand right next to the cars when they launch. You can photograph anything you like.
There are a couple of websites that are particularly informative on the Phoenix: http://rvsafetysystems.com/The%20Phoenix%20LSR%20Truck.htm; and http://www.ugofadini.com/phoenixstory.html.
In forthcoming weeks I will be posting more Bonneville photos, as well as vintage photos that I have shot at the Indianapolis 500 (1965 and 1977), the US Gran Prix (1973), Lime Rock and other venues.
The following photo shows the international appeal of Bonneville. I include it to make Bryce feel all warm and fuzzy. The full text at the bottom reads “Kiwis can’t fly but they sure run fast…” The most famous Kiwi to run at Bonneville was, of course, Burt Munro, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in “The World’s Fastest Indian”, one of my favorite films.