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Thirty years later, and little has changed at the Bonneville Salt Flats

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Back in 1989, ESPN sent Peter Graves out to cover the racing at Bonneville, almost on a play-by-play basis with color commentator Rick Vesco. Speeds were high, records were set, and the salt stretched out as far as the eye could see. More interestingly, little seems to have changed out at Bonneville in the last 30 years.

Sure, fashion has moved on from bright pink team t-shirts and pushbroom moustaches and modern pickups have replaced the assorted support vehicles seen in the background, but take those away (and update the speeds and the vehicles’ power outputs) and much remains the same. Many of the same racers mentioned and interviewed still compete at Bonneville today, and the quotes about Bonneville being the last bastion of true DIY amateur racing could have come from any story written about racing at Bonneville this year.

And while the salt crust thickness has certainly changed over the last 30 years, the concern about the dwindling salt – as expressed in the video by the BLM’s Gregg Morgan – hasn’t. It’s what led CBS News to do its recent report on Bonneville (which, in turn, led to racers’ complaints about CBS’s report, which, in turn, resurfaced the 1989 video) and what has led to some recent efforts to address the dwindling of the salt, whether through legislative or academic means.

So, if anything, we have seen a change in how much attention the situation at Bonneville has received and in how much we’ve come to understand the underlying causes. However, the question remains: Will the salt still be around in another 30 years? And, if so, will racers keep flocking to what’s left of it every late summer and early autumn to keep trying to set new speed records?