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High-speed racing in the USA: Mad Max in a speed rush

Hans-Dieter Seufert
High-speed racing in the USA
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J every smile hurts. As soon as the lips open a bit, it grinds like cleaning teeth. The damn wind blows the mix of dust and sand everywhere. In her trouser pockets, in her shoes - and in Betty's suction pipe. The natural peeling doesn't seem to bother the 52 Buick Super Riviera with the lovely name. Nervously sawing, his eight-cylinder puts everyone on the starting line of the lake bed on alert.

The only official, a plump man in white overall, calmly pulls his peaked cap over his face and looks at the track announcer, who grumbles information about the driver and car into a microphone in a caravan. After a minute, the big man gives the Buick his thumb. At the start signal, the audience raised their cell phones and cameras into the wind - everyone wanted to catch the storm, which is about to break out with 100 octane. 'Yeah! Bigtime! ”Shouts a bearded giant. A group of grandpas with trucker caps cheers. Then Betty clicks the clutch, digs up the ground and shoots to the first light barrier with a roar of thunder.

The lake bed is used to that. Rock-hard and flat as a rock, it spreads across the Mojave Desert and looks like a magical natural race track. Who knows, maybe at some point the Americans will have pumped out all the water so that they can race here undisturbed. The only witnesses are the secret mountains in the east. They shimmer in the sun, which here reliably burns all year round. The wind likes to freshen up in spring and autumn.

High speed in a Mad Max setting

The generations of amateur racers have never kept this away; For more than five decades they have been making a pilgrimage here to nowhere in California for a handful of days, an hour and a half drive from LA. Behind huge campers, massive pickups and battered vans, they pull heavy trailers - their treasure troves on wheels.

On the eve of the race, the air on the former banks tastes like campfires. Hugs here, the clatter of beer bottles there - you know each other, appreciate each other, help each other. While all the awnings and caravans are up around nine, the ratchets creak until well after midnight: fine-tuning among friends, every piece of advice is discussed at length. After all, nothing can be left to chance in the hunt for speed. About joys and sorrows - those present know that- Often just a tiny turn of the carburetor mixture screw is decisive.

Jeff loves this mood. The wiry jeweler with the mischievous smile even accepts a day and a half to travel there. He's just climbing out of the flat Buick in black, fireproof clothing and yellow racing goggles, still thinking about the last run. How fast was his Betty ...? While a motorcycle chases across the track in the background, he puts the white helmet on the extremely chopped coupe roof and places the removed steering wheel on the aluminum bucket seat. The cracks of the sea bed are reflected in the polished tin dress of the Buick, sand trickles through the opening of the rear window - a scene like from “Mad Max”.

Straight ahead for 61 years

When Jeff starts to shake hands, his tattoo is visible on the back of his hand. Two target flags swivel over a large 87. His father drove his whole life races under this number, motorcycle races. Not in a circle. Straight. One goal in sight: speed. Jeff has also fallen for the most original form of American motorsport: Landspeed Racing, in German high-speed races over land. Shortly after the success of the Ford Model T, there were supposed to have been guys who fiddled their boxes in order to scurry through the nights. Illegal.

El Mirage is proud to have been practicing this type of racing in a club for 61 years: SCTA stands for Southern California Timing Association and introduced uniform safety standards early on, which are checked before every race. The SCTA organizes the races on a voluntary basis, some of which take place on the dry salt lake in Bonneville, which is known for its white underground. The rules are simple: Each vehicle starts alone on the straight route, which is divided into three areas. After the acceleration lane (here you can also push) the speed measurement area (1.3 miles in El Mirage, one mile in Bonneville) and finally the run-off zone.

Jeff and Betty danced on that salt in Utah for the first time in 2009 - in the XO /GCC class. The classification of each vehicle increases the attraction and ensures equal opportunities. Betty starts out as one of many gasoline-powered (G) “Competition Coupés” (CC) and has an in-line engine under the hood (XO). On its maiden voyage in 2009, the Buick achieved 134.084 miles per hour (mph). A year later, after a few modifications, it ran 141.821 mph, breaking the record in its class. Jeff was happy and stimulated at the same time: Last August he went up with Betty again and came to 162.480 mph.

Betty's double-charged sister waiting

This example shows what Landspeed Racing is all about: the will, yourself and hisContinuously optimizing the machine and breaking the record, including your own. Of course, failures are part of it. Here, at the end of the season in El Mirage, Betty was supposed to break the 165 mark, but she didn't do that on either of the two days. Sometimes the wind was too strong, sometimes the engine stopped. Jeff takes it like a pro, he smiles, takes off the long hood of the Buick and calls out to a few old racers if they have an idea to make the car faster. “Just one?” (Only one) they call back, come closer and get caught up in a conversation that is as instructive as it is funny. That too is part of the magic of El Mirage: Here passionate screwdrivers meet their own kind. Everyone lends a hand here, everyone is professionals and amateurs alike. And here everyone is happy for each other.

When we later say goodbye to Jeff, he whispers in our ear: “Next time I'll come with Betty's sister, who is currently being built in the barn: same model, same engine - charged twice. But shhh, that should be a surprise. ”

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