I’d never been the Utah before but found the place fascinating, and not just because it came with a temporarily unusual density of 216mph Fords. The plains are so vast you seem to be on an altogether more immense planet than that seen in little old Britain, but then end abruptly in that immense barrier called the Rocky Mountains. Any pioneer who looked at those vast peaks then looked back at his family and rickety old wagon and concluded that this was probably far enough would have my sympathy. Today, Salt Lake City is a pleasant, if somewhat remote State capital.
But not as remote as the town of Wendover, about 120 miles down the I-80 transcontinental Interstate to the west. It’s a strange place, made stranger by the fact the Utah/Nevada border runs right through the middle of it? So what? Well, Utah is the only state in mainland America where every form of gambling from the humblest slot machine upwards is banned, whereas Nevada is the gambling capital of America. So there’s east Wendover which is fairly modest and anonymous, then the state line painted across the middle of the road, then its casinos, glitz and kitsch galore.
What Wendover lacks, however, regardless of which part of it you’re in, is so much as a monument let alone a museum recognising the fact that literally five minutes away lies the greatest natural motorsport arena in the world.
I am of course talking about the Bonneville Salt Flats. I first learned about this place in 1970, when I became as obsessed as any four-year-old could be with a faraway place where a man called Gary Gabelich had just piloted a rocket called The Blue Flame across the surface of the earth at 622mph. Back then I thought his car was the most exciting machine I’d ever seen and, 47 years later, I’ve had no reason to modify that view. When The Blue Flame came to the Festival of Speed a few years ago, I nearly missed a run up the hill because I’d spent so long gazing at it. But I had never been to the scene of its triumph. Today as I write this, and yesterday if you’re reading this on Friday, I put that right.