Mother Nature outraces Speed Week, resulting in cancellation at Bonneville Salt Flats

Rains flood the pit areas on the Bonneville Salt Flats over the weekend. This year's Speed Week was canceled because of rain that caused muddy conditions.

Rains flood the pit areas on the Bonneville Salt Flats over the weekend. This year's Speed Week was canceled because of rain that caused muddy conditions. (Mike Nish)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — The racing conditions were fairly good when Jason Marsh arrived at the Bonneville Salt Flats on Friday.

Marsh, a Salt Lake City-based coachbuilder and racer, was one of many racers from across the world who descended on the natural wonder in Tooele County for the annual Speed Week, a decades-old tradition of high-speed time trials on what's considered one of the best high-speed land surfaces in the world.

His team, Catzilla 2, was planning to test out the alterations they had made to their vehicle as they sought to get it traveling up to 300 mph.

Then the rains came.

Monsoonal moisture pushed storms over the West Desert on Saturday, drastically changing the salt flat surface. It ultimately forced the Southern California Timing Association and Bonneville Nationals Incorporation to cancel this year's events that were originally slated to run from Saturday to Friday.

It left racers who came to the West Desert to break speed records, like Marsh, disappointed but also in awe of Mother Nature.

"You know, if it wasn't such a bummer and so deflating, it would actually be about the most beautiful thing you'd ever seen," Marsh told KSL.com on Monday, describing the scene at the Bonneville Salt Flats this weekend. "It was almost as if you were walking on the clouds. You can't tell where the sky stops and the ground starts — it's like being on a great big mirror."

The storms poured between a tenth to a quarter inch of rain Saturday near a pair of weather monitoring sites at the Salt Flats in western Tooele County, per a report from the National Weather Service. Some areas near the Salt Flats received more than an inch of rain, such as the Utah Test Range. Some rain also fell in the area on Friday.

Racing teams and spectators posted photos of the soggy conditions and water all over Salt Flats. The rain flooded pit areas and made it difficult to travel by vehicle, according to those in attendance.


That's sort of the romance about it, really. You're racing Mother Nature to boot.

–Jason Marsh


Pat McDowell, the president of the Southern California Timing Association, and Bill Lattin, the chairman of Bonneville Nationals Incorporation, initially announced on Saturday that racing would be postponed to Monday while they waited for the land to dry. Then, on Sunday, with no signs of improvement, they decided to cancel the event because of the "unforeseen weather conditions."

Marsh has raced on the Bonneville Salt Flats for the past two decades, so he wasn't as surprised by the storms. Monsoons typically arrive in Utah in July and August, which puts Speed Week at risk every year that the monsoons do venture up into the West Desert.

"That's sort of the romance about it, really. You're racing Mother Nature to boot," he said. "The line of progression is kind of Mother Nature, your machine and then you. That's what the beauty of the whole experience is. ... You can't be too upset with things that are completely out of your control."

Racers have used the Bonneville Salt Flats for racing for over a century. Speed Week is one of two events that the Southern California Timing Association holds at the Bonneville Salt Flats every year, drawing people in from as far away as Australia and Europe.

For local racers like Marsh, the most devastating component of this week's cancellation is watching his fellow racers who came across oceans to compete in Utah only to leave with no time out on the Salt Flats.

Southern California Timing Association's second event, World Finals, is scheduled to be held in the area beginning on Sept. 27, according to the Bureau of Land Management. The Utah Salt Flats Racing Association is also scheduled to hold its World of Speed event beginning on Sept. 8, which Marsh is gearing up to participate in.

Rain isn't really his big concern going forward. With his experience, he's sure that the Bonneville Salt Flats surface will benefit from it in long run.

Debris from an abandoned campfire at the Bonneville Salt Flats on July 29, 2022.
Debris from an abandoned campfire at the Bonneville Salt Flats on July 29, 2022. (Photo: Southern California Timing Association)

He's instead worried that future mining and how people handle the open space are a bigger threat for the Salt Flats. For instance, race organizers documented plenty of litter and campfire debris as they set up for this year's Speed Week. That's not only bad for natural spaces but can be dangerous for vehicles traveling hundreds of miles per hour.

It's not that Marsh is against people who camp out and enjoy the space, he just hopes visitors treat the Bonneville Salt Flats with the same appreciation as racers have for it.

"It's a blessing that we live so close (to the Salt Flats). I just wish people would, one, go out and enjoy it but, two, do so respectfully, and not leave so much garbage," he said. "It's a wonder of nature."

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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