Posts tagged ‘Mach One’

October 15, 2010

THE UNIVERSE IS EXPANDING: MACH 1 AS THE BIG BANG

Thrust SSC moments before a Mach 1 attempt

by Cole Coonce

(This story originally ran in Drag Racing Monthly in 1998. Excerpted from TOP FUEL WORMHOLE: The Cole Coonce Drag Strip Reader, Vol. 1The piece was later expanded into the feature-length book, Infinity Over Zero.)

 

In the Northwest corner of Nevada, in the shadow of Granite Peak on the Black Rock Mountain Range, there dwells a valley whose innards are the desiccated bowels of a prehistoric lakebed that stretches nearly 80 miles longitudinally.

One gets the feeling that this here prehistoric lakebed has seen its share of paradigm shifts—and weathered them all. It is a very cynical landscape: A cracked, upturned seabed that is mostly gypsum and lithium and is surrounded by abandoned mining claims etched into gargantuan lava rock whose elements make up half of the periodic table. It is hard to fuck with.

And this charred chunk of alkali has a history that resonates both spiritually and in a secular fashion: 100,000 years ago when the Ice Age melted into the Stone Age, the condensation yielded the leviathan Lake Lahontan, a body of water with a mass greater than most sovereign states in the Northeast of the US of A. This wonder of nature eventually evaporated into playa dust, not too long before the local Pauite Injuns were pulverized by “Superior Caucasian Forces” from Virginia City, forces who understood that the Black Rock desert was a strategic fork in the road, both for Bible-totin’ homesteaders who could bear right into the Oregon territories and for till-the-wheels-fall-off 49ers who could hang a louie, follow the Truckee River into Donner Pass and do some righteous prospectin’ in Gold Country out California way. Parenthetically, this intersection’s dusty tributary is known as Nobles’ Trail, named after a golddiggin’ trailblazer.

All of this went down on a lakebed that is so uninhabitable only scorpions would call it home. Yet in the presence of all that history in the American Outback, you get the feeling that time is completely still—a notion reinforced by the service in the local coffee shop—or that the universe is expanding at a velocity us mortals can’t fathom. Either way, you realize this is the perfect tableau for humanity’s attempt at emulating a supernova via traversing land faster than the speed of sound…

And although ol’ Nobles has been picked-over coyote meat for over a century now, the terrain that bears his name is still a launch pad into unchartered territory, most recently for two teams of Land Speed Record crusaders, one from across the pond in the United Kingdom and the other hailing from the far side of the Donner Pass. The trail these folks set out to blaze had a mother lode somewhat more esoteric than Nobles’ cache. For the teams of Thrust SSC (UK) and the Spirit of America, paydirt was thus: the honor of traveling at the Speed of Sound. Mach 1. On Land.

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September 27, 2009

BURY MY HEART AT EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE… or The Sands Will Come Again…

(excerpted from TOP FUEL WORMHOLE: THE COLE COONCE DRAG STRIP READER, VOL. 1)

(photo by Cole Coonce)

(photo by Cole Coonce)


“We did it all, and we’ll never see times like these again.”—Dean Batchelor, The American Hot Rod.

At first I thought it was a mirage. Or an apparition. I was suffering from an acute lack of sleep, my disorientation and sensory deprivation amplified by a lack of proper coffee as well as the blinding reflection of the morning sun as it bounced off of the milky-white, crystallized floor of the dry lakebed. I shook my head, threw back the dregs of the caffeine, and blinked. It was no hallucination. There I was at Edwards AFB, deep in the heart of the cruel and unforgiving Mojave Desert, a landscape that a French philosopher once called a “slow catastrophe,” and three paces from my bones was the man who organized hot rodding after WWII on this very same uninhabitable desert. That’s right: Wally Parks, President of the Southern California Timing Association in 1946. Editor of Petersen Publishing’s Hot Rod Magazinein 1948. President of the National Hot Rod Association during its birthin’ in 1951, until Dallas Gardner stepped in during the Reagan Years. And probably the first man to call the linear pursuit of horsepower a “drag race,” way back in 1939 in the Racing News.

I was stunned and I was silent. I did not know how to approach the man. Or, closer to the heart of the matter, maybe I did not know how to approach the myth and the legend that is Wally Parks as he stood there larger-than-life, towering over the proceedings at the most mystical and legendary plot of real estate in these here United States of America.

Ah yes, the mythology. There has been more history, folklore, and mythology concocted at the Muroc Dry Lake than anywhere else on the planet since the days of Apollo and Aphrodite making noise on Mt. Olympus. For it was at this wasteland where the Muroc Racing Association, predecessor to the SCTA, predecessor to the Russetta Timing Association, predecessor to the NHRA, etc., etc., etc., began in 1932, hosting competition between renegade hot rodders from the far side of the San Gabriel Mountains, men who would test their mettle, bravado and mechanical acumen by racing hari-kari across the lakebed, sometimes four or five abreast, kicking up such a furious tempest of dust and debris in their wake that only the leader of the pack could actually see where he was going. The other drivers? Well, crashing into your colleagues and barrel-rolling, hobbling into the nearest hospital in Palmdale, 30 miles away via an undulating washboard of a dirt road, only to find upon your return—assuming you survived—what was left of your race car had been scavenged and stripped down to the frame rails, that was the price one paid for inferior horsepower out there in the Mojave Desert during the years of Herbert Hoover and FDR. This, race fans, was the true genesis of drag racing.

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