Bonneville Dreams of the 200 MPH Club

Land Speed Racing History at the Bonneville Salt Flats

Malcolm Campbell's 1927 Land Speed Record car, Bluebird, land speed racing, motor racing history

[Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird, Land Speed Record setting car, circa 1927. Photo courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection at http://ibistro.dos.state.fl]

I think ever since engines were invented, men across the globe were seeing how fast they could get them to go. Eventually this became known as land speed racing. It was in 1898 that the first documented attempt for land speed racing was recorded. The man was the Conte de Chasseloup, the street was a long road outside of Paris, and the whooping speed that set the record was 39.24 mph! Since then we’ve been seeing how fast any sort of engine-powered, wheeled contraption would go…from empty roads, to Florida beaches, to Australian dry lakes, and of course… to salt flats in Utah.

Why would so much effort be put into seeing how fast you can go? Quite apart from such factors as national prestige and technical advancement that are bound up inseparably with this Land Speed Record, there is satisfaction in knowing that you have driven faster than any other human being without any possible question of dispute. [p.13, The World’s Land Speed Record by William Boddy, 1951]

While the “Land Speed Record” is a little bit different then the variety of class-records that most people go after, the underlying passion is the same in all of land speed racing. And for quite some time now, it could be said that the mecca of land speed racing is the Bonneville Salt Flats –with the event of the year there being Speed Week.

Bonneville Salt Flats Starting Line, land speed racing, land speed record, speed week 2010

Since the whole purpose of land speed racing, Bonneville, and Speedweek is namely, “speed,” it only makes sense that there’s a special club to recognize the people and cars that go fast. It’s known, simply, as the 200 Mile-Per-Hour Club.

Although SCTA/BNI officially began to sponsor land speed racing at the salt flats in 1949, it wasn’t until a few years later in 1953 that the 200mph Club was established. Upon first hearing of the 200 MPH Club, I thought it seemed pretty straight forward …people going 200mph or over, right? Well, yes and no. Back in 1953, 200mph wasn’t being reached too often. With nearly sixty years of engineering advances since then, 200 mph is now a very attainable goal. So now, no…you can’t just run at 200mph and get in the club. Now you have to break a record over 200 mph to gain your lifetime 200 MPH club admittance.

Do you realize that driving 200 mph means covering 293 feet per second?! That’s almost an entire football field’s distance every second!

Not only is there the 200 MPH Club, there’s also the 300 MPH Chapter for those breaking a record over 300mph. You can tell these special members apart from the rest by the color of their hats. While 200 MPH members get a red hat, the 300 MPH Chapter has a blue hat. There are also different 200 MPH Clubs for whatever location you’re racing at. In the US you’ve got Bonneville, The Texas Mile, El Mirage, Maxton, Maine, and Muroc. These tracks vary according to racing surface and length. Bonneville is the only salt-covered racing surface. El Mirage is dirt, thus dubbing their club the “Dirty 2s”. The others are held on runways. Only five of these 200 MPH Clubs is admitting members, as Muroc is presently shut down.

As of 2009, there were 665 total members in the Bonneville 200 MPH club (with only 76 in the 300 MPH Chapter.) Some are big names, others less so. Some are young, others old. Some have been chasing the dream for decades before being admitted, others are newer to land speed racing. Most are men, a few are women. In fact, I’ve had a chance to talk with a handful of the approximately 17 women who are in the 2-club and I’m excited to share with you more of their stories!

Last year during Speedweek 26 new 200 MPH Club members were admitted. This year 22 made it in. I don’t know about you—but even though I’m still just learning about cars, creating something that will one day get me into the 200 MPH club is definitely on my bucket list! Hmmm….what racing category will it be?…I can already guess what body type I’ll choose!