Going fast has been a fascination since the beginning of time. Before motorized vehicles our ancestors were racing horses and horse carriages. As time went on and cars were invented, man has become obsessed with going as fast as possible in a motorized vehicle. These days drag racing is a BIG thing and every weekend people get together to watch men and women launch themselves down the 1/4 and 1/8 mile paved race track. You may not realize it, but drag racing and high speed runs in motorized vehicles originally started in dry lake beds. Back in the 30's a few car clubs filled with racers came together to form the SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) and create a set of rules and regulations for land speed racing on the dry lakes. Today the SCTA is still around and runs on one of the first dry lake beds (El Mirage) where it all started.
These days the Bonneville Salt Flats get a lot of publicity as far as SCTA events go, but the El Mirage dry lake races are a bit more intimate and are a little closer for SoCal folks. This past weekend was the opening season races and I decided to make the trip into the desert to see this event for myself. When I was researching the event online I couldn't find much about particulars about the race. In the end I had to ask some friends and locals to get the lowdown on what to expect. The first thing is the event starts EARLY, and the first and last events of the season are two day events. Racing normally starts around 7AM with the fastest cars going FIRST due to the wind patterns and high heats that pick up later in the day. Once you're off of the highway you end up on a two lane road that winds through desert communities until you get to some signs that direct you to the dry lakes.
After a short distance you'll end up at an entry gate where park rangers charge $15 per car for entry to the dry lakes for a 24 hour period. From there you're given an entry pass for your car window and you drive onto a hard packed sandy road. Shortly the road ends and the dry lake opens up and you're truly "off-road" with no markings to tell you which direction to head. We drove straight and followed some dust trails for quite some time until we started seeing some RV's and vehicles far off in the distance. From here you will find the track area that is surrounded by cones. You can park your vehicle anywhere up and down the track side to watch cars. I highly suggest viewing the race from a few different spots. The middle/end of the track on the right side (as you enter) allows you to see just how fast the cars are going and you can see the vehicles at sane speeds as they get pushed or pulled back to the pits.
Once you get closer you really get to see where the "action" is. In the pits and surrounding areas are where most racers camp and park. Once you sign a waiver and get an armband you can wander the pits and see the cars up close and personal. I was surprised how friendly everyone was, with a number of guys happily opening their hood, starting their cars, and just giving us "first-timers" information about the event.
We then moved up to the starting line and we're surprised how close we could get to the cars. Again the drivers and crew were all friendly and let us check out their cars as they waited their turn. The cool part about watching from this perspective was that you could see all the preparation that went into just driving one of these cars. The cars are fitted with very tall gears and require a push start from a truck until they get up to an optimal speed. One downside from this angle is that the cars aren't going very fast and their "rooster tail" of dust blocks your view as they go down the track.
All in all it was a great time and well worth the 2 hour drive I made from Fullerton. I'd suggest planning to spend the majority of the day there and be sure to bring sunscreen, an umbrella or canopy, and plenty of water! Compared to what car shows cost to attend these days I'd say this was a pretty good bang for the buck at $15 for a car full of people! Be sure to check the SCTA site for future dates and rules.