CONCORD, Calif. – Last August, Damion Gardner and his crew journeyed to the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah for the first time.
For the veteran sprint car driver, who wanted to become the “World’s Fastest Sprint Car Driver,” it was basically a journey into the unknown. Beginning this weekend, Gardner will be back at Bonneville for his second shot at the salt. He recently took some time from working on his Green Demon sprint car to answer some questions on what it was like the first time and what changes he has made heading into this year’s efforts. Here is what he had so say.
Q: You went to Bonneville last year to become the “World’s Fastest Sprint Car” and in hopes of going 200 mph. You got the title, but you missed the speed by a little more than 5 mph. How frustrating was not to not get 200 mph?
Gardner: Not real frustrating. We knew we would be doing this for at least a couple years. Our goal was to be the World’s Fastest Sprint Car. We did that. We got that almost immediately and then we wanted to go 200. It was so close. The big focus became going 200. I was pretty happy leaving there as the “World’s Fastest Sprint Car.” I told Big Mike (Mike Grosswendt from Surf N’ Sprint) it gave us something to do next year and something to work for trying to go 200.
Q: Actually, you did get the car up to 200 mph, but both times you spun before the runs became official, correct?
Gardner: Right, they don’t get counted (when you spin). By the time we got there last year the salt was really bad. We did not get there until it was like day five of the event. A lot of cars had already raced by then and that is why the salt had deteriorated so much. We were trying, but right about that point, about the 200 mark, the car would get pretty unsettled. I would try to drive through it, but it ended up spinning. After three spins, they tell you to take it home and go figure something out (laughing).
Q: You are usually racing on quarter to half mile dirt tracks and if you spin, it is not a crazy long deal. What is a 200 mph spin at Bonneville like?
Gardner: When you first do it, obviously you are a little concerned. After that it is just big long spins and you can see the horizon and mountains as you are spinning around. It is kind of quiet as you turn off the motor. It is not really as scary as people might think. You just hope nothing happens and fortunately it didn’t.
Q: The salt changes quite a bit over the length of the event doesn’t it?
Gardner: Oh yeah. Last year we were racing (in the USAC-CRA Sprint Car Series) at Santa Maria and Watsonville so we did not get there until Monday. Then I had to do my licensing. So, it was like Tuesday before I could try to go fast. Cars had already been on it since Saturday by then. The salt is just like a dirt track. It gets ruts and it kind of breaks up. Depending on the year, it can be worse than other years. I guess last year was kind of bad. When it cools at night, the salt kind of sets, but by the afternoon, the water kind of comes up to the surface and kind of breaks up the salt.
Q: I remember talking with you guys last year and you guys told me that the salt gets extremely slick.
Gardner: Yeah, it is not even what you can imagine. It is way slicker in the day. I did not realize when I was going there that was going to be such a big challenge. I did not know at all. I went to El Mirage (to test) and it was slick, but nothing like Bonneville.