Bonneville 200 MPH Club History – Links In a Chain

When the Dry Lakes racers of the SCTA first ventured to the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1949 they had no idea what they were starting. This pioneering group of land speed racers laid the foundation for what has turned into one of the largest and certainly fastest motor sports events in the world.

The original idea for the formation of a club to recognize the accomplishments of drivers setting speed records over 200 mph on the Salt Flats was the brainchild of So-Cal Special driver Dean Batchelor and Hop Up magazine editor Lou Kimzey. The go ahead and support came from Hop Up magazine publisher Bill Quinnin 1953.

The drivers inducted that first year were:
•Willie Young with the Kenz-Leslie Twin-Ford from 1950,’51 and ’52 at a fastest speed of 255.411 mph. Young was the first American to exceed 250 mph.
•Art Chrisman driving the Chet Herbert “Beast III” to 239.991 mph in 1952.
•George Hill with the Hill-Davis “City of Burbank” at 230.16 mph in 1952.
•John “Sonny” Rogers ran 224.144 mph in Lee Chapel’s “Tornado Special” in 1952.
•Otto Ryssman in the “Post Special” averaging 222.57 mph in 1952.

The first meeting of the 200 MPH Club was held in September at that year’s Bonneville Nationals. The five charter members voted at that time to include foreign drivers who met the Club’s requirements. With this, three more names were added to the exclusive membership:
•Captain G.E.T. Eyston of England, a three time holder of the land speed record with a fastest two-way average of 357.5 with his “Thunderbolt” streamliner in 1938.
•Rudolph Caracciola, a Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix driver, setting an International Class “B” record at 268.9 in 1938:.
•Col. Goldie Gardner of England, holder of many records, with the MG “EX-135”streamliner at 204.3 in 1939.

Attending the Club’s banquet that first year (1953), Captain Eyston was elected the Bonneville 200 MPH Club’s first President.

During his remarks that evening, he predicted that if the Land Speed Record was to be broken by an American, it would fall to a hot rodder who gained his experience at the Bonneville Nationals.

A review of the Club’s membership will find some of the most famous names in motorsports. Internationally recognized drivers such as Art Arfons, Craig Breedlove, Malcolm and Donald Campbell, Gary Gabelich, Don Garlits, Andy Granatelli, Andy Green, Donald Healy, Phil Hill, Bobby Isaac, Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Richard Noble, Mickey Thompson and Bobby Unser have all raced on the salt.

The Land Speed Racing form of motorsports is truly a family affair. The club has a tradition of family members continuing on in the foot steps of those that went before and gaining club membership for themselves. Brothers, fathers, sons, daughters, uncles, grandchildren, husbands and wives all share the exclusivity of the club. A look at the membership roster finds family names spanning several generations. The club can currently boast of 15 female members, proving that land speed racing is not an exclusive ‘boys club’.

The addition of new classes, improved technology and changes in record setting format over the years has increased the number of new members from an average of five in the 60s to 26 per year in the first decade of this century.

But, still, the personal satisfaction that comes with joining these pioneers with membership in a club that celebrates the history of our chosen sport cannot be duplicated. Many of our men and women members have raced for decades before achieving their goal of the certified record over 200 MPH necessary to receive what has become our club’s trademark – the Red Hat of the Bonneville 200 MPH Club. By way of honoring drivers gaining a 300+ mph record, a 300 MPH Chapter was formed with a Blue Hat to mark the accomplishment. For those very few drivers who have accomplished the 400+ mph record speeds a Black Hat marks the 400 MPH Chapter of the club.

That is a strong chain of history going back over 60 years. The chain continues to stretch ahead with a link added with every new induction into the Bonneville200 MPH Club.

Pat Kinne & Dan Warner – 2010