Out of print and often difficult to locate, George Lepp’s Bonneville Salt Flats, Speed Limit 1000 MPH has become a coveted classic among land speed racing enthusiasts. Short on words, but crammed to capacity with spectacular well chosen photos; it expresses what Bonneville racing is all about with minimal verbiage and the carefully chosen photographs of an award winning sports photographer. The title says it all; Bonneville Salt Flats where the speed limit is 1000 mph plus and no one has ever been caught speeding despite the annual convergence of the fastest cars and drivers on earth.
The book is widely recognized for its striking dust jacket and racy cover image which conveys the sobering urgency of speed on the Bonneville salt flats despite the unwritten fact that the cover car never came close to its projected speed potential of 300 mph plus. To be sure it did set a long standing Class A record of 268 MPH thanks to a valiant driving effort by Bonneville veteran Don Stringfellow, but fell far short of the 300 mph mark largely due to poor preparation, insufficient power and lack of commitment by the team owner. Sadly, the car has sat immobile for nearly 25 years while more dedicated private efforts claimed the coveted 300 mph passenger car record.
Despite this shortcoming which the author could not have foreseen, the book reinforces the time honored adage that a picture tells a thousand words. Photo captions provide brief descriptions, but it is largely the immense power of Lepp’s photography that tells the story with all but the briefest of narrative. From a historical perspective the book is nowhere near as robust as “Landspeed Louise Noeth’s renowned Bonneville classic Bonneville: the Fastest Place on Earth, but that was never its purpose. Lepp is a photographer not a writer. He publishes his photos in books to tell the story of subjects that interest him. He tells his stories with photographs and he is damned good at it. He has stated that the mystique of Bonneville and the unique lighting conditions drew him to the inevitable photographic essay that emerged as a classic comment on land speed racing at Bonneville.
The book is dated to the mid-eighties by the cars within, but it is nonetheless a timeless effort; a unique snapshot of epic struggles that conveys the passion and intensity of landspeed racing not in words, but rather a rich Kodachrome tapestry of the world’s greatest racetrack and the dedicated racers who respond to its high speed challenges. Lepp’s photographs are pre-digital and the color is accurately reproduced, taking full advantage of Bonneville’s spectacular lighting conditions. Critics have faulted this book for a lack of narrative, but they are missing the point. Lepp’s photographs elicit emotional responses that stir the gut. Viewers marvel, admire and ultimately long to become part of this time honored spectacle of speed.
A powerful aerial view of the course and pits provides a unique perspective of the enormous challenge the racers face. This is a five mile drag race and the finish line is lost somewhere beyond an indistinct horizon. You’re hard on the gas long after you disappear from sight, but breaking a record is hard to do and the evidence of failure is evident in the broken shattered parts set aside on the salt while fervent racers rebuild their machines to once more have a go at the lengthy giant. Lepp’s photographs graphically illustrate the drama of these endeavors and the broad diversity of racers and machines, each personally configured to confront a specific class record and some specifically designed to pursue the ultimate challenge; the wheel driven land speed record. Words are not required. The pictures speak for themselves.
The highest confirmation of excellence is the classic stature this book has achieved among land speed racers who recognize its unwritten tribute. It is a must have book to display in any racing enthusiasts collection. Critics be dammed; this is one cool book that you ill page through many times over. Copies can still be found via the internet and small dedicated book shops. Get yours while you still can and feel the need for speed. − JB