Posts tagged ‘richard noble’

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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