Racers want restoration plan for salt at Bonneville

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Avid car racers and their supporters rallied in Salt Lake City Wednesday night to chart a course to save the Bonneville Salt Flats. Organizers were forced to cancel speed week each of the last two years due to bad weather and deteriorating salt. Now, they want to raise awareness for the problem and come up with a long-term restoration plan with the BLM, which manages the area near the Nevada border.

Last August, ankle-deep standing water on the Bonneville Salt Flats shut down the races. Hundreds of racers from more than a dozen countries and more than 10,000 supporters went home disappointed.

"People come from all over the world to race here," said Mike Nish of Nish Motorsports of Salt Lake City.

This summer, the races were canceled again. That's a major concern for Nish and 600 other racers who were registed to race on the salt. There is no big prize money for these racers. They do it for the love of the sport.

He's raced 412 mph in his Royal Purple Streamliner.

"It's a spiritual experience," he said. "Really it is."

But for now, there's not enough track for that kind of speed.

"Year after year, we see the size of the racing surface decrease," he said.

The racers, the Save the Salt Coalition and Utah Alliance are talking with the salt mining company that works that area, and they plan to take the West Desert District manager of the BLM, Brian Oliver, out for a look on Monday.

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"To show them what the people that owned that mine did in years past compared to what they're doing now," said Rick Vesco of Vesco Racing. He first raced a motorcycle on the salt flats when he was 17. He's made hundreds of runs since.

Some in this coalition say the weather is the leading cause of the deterioration of the salt. Others say the salt miners and BLM have let the conditions deteriorate.

Oliver said Wednesday night that none of the BLM long-term studies show a disappearance of the salt crust, but they are eager for the results of another 12-year study from the University of Utah this fall.

The racers want a long-term restoration plan for the salt.

"We're not mad at anybody, we just want to fix it," said Vesco.

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Jed Boal


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