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World

Racers: Speed Week on Utah Salt Flats Good to Go, so Far

The Southern California Timing Association will hold races for Aug. 13 to 19, as long as the weather holds out

An aerial view of the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, photo: AP/Rick Bowmer
1 year ago

SALT LAKE CITY — Wet weather and rough salt have forced the cancellation of Speed Week races at Utah’s famous Bonneville Salt Flats for the past two years, but organizers say they now have enough miles of smooth, dry salt to hold the event.

The Southern California Timing Association is planning the races for Aug. 13 to 19, as long as Mother Nature cooperates, according to association president Bill Lattin.

Speed Week is the largest event of several annual races staged at the treeless, white expanse about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Salt Lake City. For decades, people have used the flat, glasslike surface to set speed records sometimes topping 400 mph.

Speed Week was cancelled in 2014 just days before the time trials were scheduled to begin after monsoon storms dumped ankle-deep water on the flats.

Last year, it was called off weeks in advance after organizers found mud and slush. It’s unclear exactly what caused those poor conditions, but racers said the patchy, thin salt crust confirmed their suspicions that the flats have been deteriorating for years.

The racing community says nearby mining is draining a salty aquifer that helps replenish the flats each year. Racers who have sounded the alarm want Congress to step in and pass a law because they think federal land managers aren’t doing enough to restore the flats.

The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the flats, has pointed to heavy rains as the cause of poor conditions and has noted that the agency requires the mining company to pump brine back onto the flats every winter with the goal of thickening the salt crust.

Lattin said he and other racers want to see much more brine pumped on the flats every year.

The BLM has said it’s waiting to see results of a study expected in 2018 from a University of Utah professor examining the salt crust and the effects of human activity, weather and other factors.

Kevin Oliver, manager of the BLM’s west desert district, said the agency is looking forward to the races returning this summer and has been monitoring conditions at the flats.

“The warm evaporative weather is shaping up the salt flats nicely,” Oliver said in a statement, adding that the BLM hopes monsoon storms don’t interfere with events for summer and fall.

With dry weather, Lattin thinks organizers can clear an eight-mile track for long races next month and a shorter course of three or four miles. About 500 racing teams are expected this year.

MICHELLE L. PRICE

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