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El Mirage Magic
The entrance to El Mirage is found on El Mirage Road north east of Victorville which is about 100 miles north of Los Angeles.
I've managed to tick off quite a few items on my motorsports bucket list: The Goodwood Festival of Speed, Le Mans, Bonneville, the British Grand Prix and now sleeping on the lake bed at El Mirage. Of course, I've been to El Mirage dry lake numerous times and even raced the old Thacker & Shine Roadster there but not until recently have I actually slept out in the open with no tent right on the lake bed during a race weekend. And, let me tell you it was all it's cracked up it to be.
Sleeping on the lake bed is one of life's cool pleasures as long as somebody doesn't run over you during a drunken spree in the night—it has happened!
Formed in 1937, the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) still runs monthly speed events there from May through November. They break off in August to go to Bonneville but weather permitting they run six times a year bookended by two-day events in May and November. Somebody asked me why they run in the summer when it's hot instead of in the winter when it's cooler. Well, in the winter the lake reverts to, well, a lake or it can if we get enough rain but typically it floods around February and March and it's the flooding and eventual evaporation of the water that gives the lake bad its crusty flat racing surface.
Engine builder Jon Beck stole my D/BSTR record of 206.454 mph with his 1200 hp Model A Roadster--it went 208 and change. That's young Donny Cummins behind the wheel.
The SCTA and its member clubs with evocative names like the Sidewinders and the Gear Grinders all volunteer and take turns in prepping the course which includes walking the full 1.3 miles and picking up all the little stones so that they don't puncture the bald lakes-racing tires. It's hot and dusty work—and a thankless task. They also have to deal with all the yahoos who go out there and unwittingly damage the course with their off-road vehicles. The course can't really be prepped: mother nature does that like she's baking a pie with a very thin crust of mud.
El Mirage which lives up to its name as a shimmering moonscape lies to the north east of Victorville about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. Getting there used to be a nice jaunt through a sparsely populated desert. Now though, you have to drive through miles of boxey tract homes with romantic names like Tuscany, Sonrisa, Amalfi and nowhere could be further from the vision of those places than the high desert. Yucca trees and dust is what there is. What there isn't is rolling green hills and vineyards. Oh well. I guess they have to sell their little boxes....
Barney's early Ford still stands up against the 2010 Ford Mustang GT
Our reason to be cheerful was that we were there for a photo shoot for Rod & Custom magazine. We'd hauled Barney Navarro's old roadster out there to meet up with Mike Herman from H&H Flatheads who now owns the Navarro brand as well as a good tribute to Barney's original push car—a '38 Ford two-door sedan. The photographer was Randy Lorentzen who takes his time with the details until the sun starts to set and then it's hurry up and let's go in order to capture the best of the "golden hour" as the suns dips down behind George Calloway's wrecking yard—now that's worth a visit. Lucky for me and despite being told I have a big head, I was the only one in the group that could get on the vintage helmet and goggles that we'd brought along so I reversed my modern day logo'd T-shirt, donned said helmet and climbed aboard. I promised I wouldn't tell the full story here—you'll have to read that in Rod & Custom—but suffice to say I time travelled back to those glorious post-World War II years when hot rodding was being born. What a trip.
Yours truly behind the wheel of the Barney Navarro roadster about to get pushed off across the lake. I can't tell you the full story as that will be in Rod & Custom magazine around December or January.
I returned the following day with my daughter and we cruised the pits on our beach cruisers but the wind was up as it usually is in the afternoon. Racing had been shut down and the beer was open. Most racers take a motor home and a barbecue and stay out on the lake telling tall stories until the stars pop out, the beer takes over and the noise from all the contraptions that people drag to the lake dies down.
My good friend Eric Hansson of Scandinavian Street Rods runs this old belly tank with a blown flathead Ford motor producing almost 600 hp. He set a new record at 194.744 mph. That's awfully close to 200....
El Mirage is a recreation area so there are race cars, dirt bikes, go karts, microlites, land yatchs—you name it. We even saw a B2 stealth bomber heading over to Edwards Airforce Base which is located at Muroc dry lake, the spiritual home of lakes racing. Eventually, we crashed out on the floor and curled up in blankets to keep out the cold desert night air. I lay there looking at the stars and blinking plane lights a realised how lucky I was to be able to enjoy such an experience. However, by 4:30 am the peace was shattered by early bird racers firing their motors. It's not a bad sound to wake up to. Of course, the accompanying buzz of flying machines and dirt bikes is less than appealing. Likewise the port-a-potties. Nevertheless, the cool thing about the lakes is the the wacky racers. Everything from Cosworth-powered elongated Fiat Topolinos to Austin Devon vans with Rover/Buick engines. You can see it all at El Mirage--it's worth the trip. For more information go to www.scta-bni.org
Story & photos: Tony Thacker
Sadly Austin owner Jack Masson managed only 90 mph in his delivery. That's abut as fast as you'd want to go in one anyway....
There's a class for pretty much everything. Bud Wiley went 107 mph in his 1960's wagon.
Young Mike Herman of H&H Flatheads now owns the Navarro brand and does a heck of a marketing job. This '38 Tudor is a good tribute to Barney's original push car
Jim Snyder managed 191 mph in his 'Cuda and looked good doing it.
Legendary customizer Gene Winfield, now in his early 80s, runs this pointy-nose '32 Roadster. He's reached 200 mph but this weekend had some trouble staying within the cones. But where else can an eighty-year-old man go 200 in a home-built car?
Believe it or not, there's a '34 Coupe in there somewhere. Dan Hostetter marches to his own tune with this car that doesn't fit any class but is allowed to run for speed anyway. He's go his own record and went 144 mph. I said we saw the Stealth bomber--this is it...
Mike Cook's Alfa went 185 mph--now that can't be a stock motor???
People bring the strangest contraptions to drive around the lake bed just for fun!
Bill and his chummy. Well, two chummys actually. You see all sorts at El Mirage but this flamed Austin 7 special with front-mounted fuel tank was definitely different.
B2 stealth bomber put in an appearance