SEMA 2023: Land Speed Racing

Las Vegas is about a 3 hour from the El Mirage dry lake in California to the west and just shy of a 6 and a half hour drive from the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah to the north east – the two main locations for land speed racing in the U.S. As such there tends to be a few land speed cars dotted about The SEMA Show.

In land speed racing you have a long straight track. The participant accelerates up the track from either a standing start or from being pushed by another vehicle. About 3/4 of the way down the track will be a timed section which the participant has to get through as quickly as possible to set their speed. The remainder of the track is used to slow the car back down.

It’s something that I’ve wanted to go and watch for a long time. Both the salt flats and dry lake look like absolutely beautiful places to visit, there is also a really rich history in land speed racing and some brilliant characters (Malcolm and Donald Campbell, Craig Breedlove, John Cobb and Ab Jenkins are names that spring to mind) and the set up of the cars is relatively unique.

I’d also like to visit Pendine Sands in Wales which was a location prior to the Second World War for land speed racing. The Ministry of Defense owns the land now, so I believe access is pretty much limited to sanctioned events. That’s a story for another day though.

Team Vesco’s “Little Giant” was present. Little Giant is the world’s fastest electric vehicle hitting a max speed of 357mph in 2021. I saw Little Giant last year at SEMA Electrified: I do like the new livery!

There are a lot of hot rod classes at Bonneville. In America’s era of prosperity following the Second World War, people were buying up all the old pre-war cars to build hot rods. A lot made their way onto the salt flats and dry lakes. Note the extended aerodynamic nose on this car.

Until this year I didn’t know that there were classes for pick up trucks to race in. At Bonneville they run a Modified Pickup class for American full size trucks newer than 1946 and a Modified Mini Pickup class for midsize, small or car derived pickups newer than 1972.

They look like great fun!

This 1957 Pontiac was on the FutureTech EV and Alternative Fuels display. It’s a hybrid with a Chevrolet LS boosted by an electric motor. I should have got a picture of the engine bay, but if you can picture how a supercharger is driven by the auxiliary belt, this kind of works like that but backwards – so the electric motor spins a pulley which goes to the auxiliary belt which in turn helps spin the crankshaft.

I assume it pull away on full electric to get that instant acceleration, then the petrol motor kicks in already at wide open throttle.

It was certainly an interesting build.

Whilst this isn’t in its land speed guise, the team at Big Red Camaro have done loads of different types of racing from 1/4 and half mile drag racing, land speed racing and circuit/road course racing. You can check out their exploits here:

Finally, a number of RC companies have been producing 1/7 scale electric cars that are designed purely for straight line top speed. Notable examples include the Arrma Limitless and the below pictured Traxxas X01. If you can find somewhere big and smooth enough to run them, I think they would be brilliant with the FPV technology that the RC plane and quad guys use. I’d need to sit down to drive it though, I find the goggles quite disorientating haha!

Thanks for reading!

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By Richard Francis

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