A century of speed has rolled across the famed Bonneville Salt Flats. Starting in 1914, with “Terrible” Teddy Tetzlaff, the velocity milestones are still rising, roaring and raging. The 2014 racing season brings Kaylin Stewart, a rookie 16 year-old teenager to the starting line determined to set a class record in excess of 200 miles per hour.
First-time racers at the Bonneville Salt Flats are affectionately called “salt virgins” because running on the panoramic sodium-soaked pancake always imparts startling insight about its many hidden difficulties. Every smarty pants who thinks otherwise gets a life lesson that hopefully doesn’t cost too much in crunched parts and bunched undies. Containers of cash won’t ease the pain either. The original salt virgin came to this hallowed speed Mecca back in 1914. “Terrible” Teddy Tetzlaff was the King of the West Coast drivers, a two-time winner of the Santa Monica road races and holder of innumerable course speed records.
Manns Restoration Does World-Class Work in a Tiny Missouri Town
BY “LANDSPEED” LOUISE ANN NOETH
This small town crew knocks out world class cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles and fire engine that can be found in museums all around the globe. This humble gang of talented guys have won every “Best of Show” from Pebble Beach to Amelia Island and even had a command performance with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle.
Let’s get this out of the way: Festus. Yes, Festus. As in Missouri. A name that begs comical commentary despite its biblical origins. It is certainly not the first place one would think to look for a world-class auto build and restoration shop. However, it is disbelief, not amuse-ment that will greet you when you first step into Festus’ own Manns Restoration & Maintenance.
It was an odd, yet unquestionably puzzling way that I discovered I had been fired. When the January 2015 Goodguys Gazette arrived and my name was gone from the masthead, a spot it been for more than 12 years, I finally got the message. My Fuel For Thought column and the occasional special features and photos were history.
Emails had gone unanswered for months and phone calls were never returned. I should be livid, but I am only saddened by the reality that the one place the land speed racing community could count on reading something monthly about their marvelous motorsport in a national publication was no more.
God Bless ‘em — Goodguys published every one of them in their entirety. I didn’t think my cold dismissal could be about money because I hadn’t asked for one raise in 12 years.
Of the 150 stories about land speed racing for the Gazette, a good number of my columns won international writing and photographic awards from the Society of Automotive Historians (SAH), All American Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AARWBA), Motor Press Guild (MPG), International Automotive Media Competition (IAMC).
In 2009, Goodguys named me “Woman of the Year” and presented me with a fabulous hand-crafted piece from artist extraordinaire, the late bob McCoy.
Because so many land speed racers, enthusiasts, family and friends have told me the only reason they became members of the Goodguys was to get the publication that contained my Fuel For Thought column, I am obliged to inform you of this odd and awkward development.
Perhaps you have come to value more than just my writing and will continue to subscribe, but now you have the facts to decide what is best for your reading pleasure.
Please don’t ask me for the “back story” when you see me, I simply don’t know anymore than I have written here. The ones who have, “the rest of the story” (tip-o-hat to Mr. Harvey) are VP of Media Travis Weeks and Editor John Drummond and they aren’t talking – to me at least.
Below is a letter one loyal reader sent to the publication in response to dumping FUEL FOR THOUGHT. It is letters like this that warm this writer’s heart to know the work is appreciated and ignites inspiration to stay the course in the future.
I was very disturbed to learn that the Goodguys Gazette will no longer publish “Fuel For Thought” prepared by Louise Noeth (Landspeed Louise). When my magazine arrives, hers is the first article I read, long before checking the monthly editorial, or gazing at page after page of advertisements. Not only can she keep her readers in touch with latest news in the land speed world but she also tells the readers the history of land speed racing. Louise has helped bring a whole new generation to the sport of high speed world records. She has also encouraged many of us to visit the salt and to participate. You have done a great disservice by eliminating her articles. She is a valuable resource and not someone to be eliminated on the spur of the moment. Her tireless dedication to the sport is unmatched.
History is very important to us as a country and also to us in our sports. To appreciate what we have today we must study our past. The history of motor sports is directly tied to land speed records and racing. The dry lakes of southern California brought us today’s hot rods, landspeed racing, and drag racing. The beaches of Florida brought us early high speed records and the foundation for NASCAR and the Daytona Speedway. This racing heritage is the foundation for the hot rods that you write articles about, photograph, and promote events. Frequently Louise writes about our racing history. Much of this could be lost without her efforts to keep it alive and recorded.
Please reconsider your decision to eliminate Landspeed Louise from your magazine.
John Kimbrough Neosho, Mo
“Who loves ya, baby? – Kojak aka Telly Savales
One of my readers brought to my attention that my very last published piece in the Gazette also carried a public declaration of unwavering support from the editor that I have linked below (Click on GG_Spangler). This was part of the “letters to the editor” called “Rodders Respond” that appears monthly. The letter was written by veteran land speed record holder Dave Spangler, the current driver of TEAMVesco’s Turbinator II, that is seeking to exceed 500MPH on the Bonneville Salt Flats this racing season. Upon reflection, the actions of the Association and publication staff reinforces my long-held work ethic of, “trust, but verify”. . .
It was a fine day when the “Grey Lady” editors asked me put this piece together. I managed 15 interviews in 5 days with the drivers, crew chiefs and NHRA officials to sort out why women in the pro ranks have, most assuredly, “arrived.” Everyone one of these ladies has a “Wally” or two. I believe it might just be time to offer the option of a “Barbara . . .” “Wally” is the trophy nickname, a tribute to NHRA founder Wally Parks. Barbara was his devoted wife who worked alongside him in the sport for decades. – LSL
But when the starting lights blink green later that day at a National Hot Rod Association drag race 2,500 miles to the west, in Las Vegas, there will be no head-start advantage for the women. The drag races are heads-up, yet in each of the four professional categories for these single-purpose acceleration dynamos — Top Fuel dragster, Funny Cars, Pro Stock Car and Pro Stock Motorcycles — there are female racers in the select group competing in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
In Top Fuel (the long rear-engine machines) and Funny Car (barely recognizable replicas of production models), 7,000-horsepower nitromethane-fueled engines rocket the cars through the 1,000-foot course in less than four seconds and power past 300 m.p.h. Even the gasoline-burning Pro Stock cars and motorcycles that use the traditional quarter-mile track rip past the clocks in under seven seconds. In this straight-line division of motorsports, racers don’t leave the starting line as much as they launch from it.
When the N.H.R.A. season of two dozen races concludes on Nov. 16, teams will have been racing since early February at a variety of tracks across the United States under a broad range of weather conditions. To adapt and remain competitive, the drivers must be capable of processing events that unfold in microseconds, then explain them in exacting detail moments later.
This human data download, which can generate hours of work for the pit crews, is no longer the domain of an exclusive men’s club in drag racing. There is a strong, confident and skilled female contingent that commands respect as they pull up to the starting line. Women with spots in the playoff round for the season points championship include Erica Enders-Stevens competing in Pro Stock Car; Alexis DeJoria and Courtney Force driving Funny Cars; Brittany Force in Top Fuel; and Angie Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle. A former multi-time bike champion, Angelle Sampey, has returned to the sport after a six-year hiatus.
No mechanized conveyance has a sentient idea who is at its controls; it merely responds to input, and good input gets good response. Drivers are in control of engines characterized as a volcanic eruption contained in something the size of a kitchen stove.
Getting the car down the track is just part of the job, though. Lightning reactions to the starting lights, where races are frequently won by margins measured in thousandths of a second, are required.
Fans have noted the drivers’ poise, taking delight when Courtney Force beat her father, the 16-time champion John Force, and as Erica Enders-Stevens outraced her husband, Richie Stevens; consistently led the qualifying; won races; and topped the points standings during the 2014 season.
For too long wrongly stigmatized as a masculine activity that embodied power and aggression, winning drag racers are a persuasive demonstration of brains being more valuable than brawn. While a significant number of women have won championships at the top levels of drag racing before, this year’s group is a sizable emerging class of refined athletes. Physical fitness is a given; their mental focus has helped them carve a spot among the top ranks of the sport.
“Drivers slow down time,” the N.H.R.A.’s vice president for technical operations, Glen Gray, said at the Midwest Nationals here in September. “They explain runs down the track in such incredible detail and have extremely heightened intuitive senses. The men know they have to be on their game because the women are sharp.”
Drivers are the machine’s vital data sensors, a technical feedback loop that is not gender-specific, demanding tough-minded concentration in a high-pressure environment. The more detail drivers give the pit crew about the machine’s operation during the few short seconds of a run, the better the team can make the machine for its next the run down the track.
So what can women deliver that the pervasive data acquisition systems cannot?
“Seat-of-the-pants feedback is more important than what the computer tells you,” explained Tommy DeLago, crew chief for Alexis DeJoria. “She clicks into a race mode and is uncanny with her sensing precision — within 10 feet on the track.
“Alexis is able to tell us how the car expressed itself during the run,” he added. “She may not know what caused it, but she locks onto the weird factor, and that gives us a clear path to improving the tuneup.”
DeJoria uses meditative breathing exercises on the starting line to slow her heart rate and focus her attention.
“Disciplining my mind is harder to do than driving the car,” she said, “but it helps when the car wants to slap you in the face. I don’t fear the car — I have a big respect for what it is capable of.”
Courtney Force, 26, a four-time winner in 2014, her third year as a pro Funny Car driver, provides feedback incrementally.
“This is the craziest thing about our sport, we can think about so much in such a short period of time,” she said. “I can’t explain it. I just do it.
“It starts when I get out of the car, continues during the ride back to the pit, and then I sit down with my crew chiefs to review the car’s data download,” she said. “Sometimes a delayed memory hits me later that can make all the difference to the next run.”
The smartest, most successful crew chiefs recognize that the mental or emotional tune-up of the driver is as critical as the mechanical one.
Courtney Force’s crew chief, Ron Douglas, strives to instill confidence and encourages her to have fun driving.
“The most valuable skill Courtney can bring to the team is consistency in her actions,” Douglas said. “The more she tells us what she felt, the better we can optimize the car for the available traction.”
Erica Enders-Stevens, 31, who has won four races this season and is No. 2 in the Pro Stock points standing driving a 215-m.p.h. Chevy Camaro, sees racing as 70 percent mental and 30 percent driving.
“Winning,” she said, pointing to her head with a locked-on-target expression, “it’s all up here. Losses build champions.”
“I focus on things I want to happen,” Enders-Stevens said. “There is no room for an ounce of negative thought if I am going win a championship.”
Her co-crew chiefs, Rick and Rickie Smith, noted that Enders-Stevens was good at identifying small problems before they became big because she had a driver instinct to be “one” with the car.
“She is very consistent,” both crew chiefs say, adding that they trust her as much as they trust the computer data.
Enders-Stevens said that her mind-set was greatly changed this year with her move to a new team.
“They are my catch net. I can focus on the car, not the competitors, on my lane, my lights,” she said with beaming gratitude. “Team work makes the dream work.”
Motorcycle riders like Angelle Sampey, 44, and Angie Smith, 35, must momentarily let go of the left handlebar to release the clutch lever, simultaneously tucking in tightly and bracing for the 3G launch off the starting line.
“I must anticipate, but be careful not to prematurely react,” Smith said. “I also need to be mentally tough. Drag racing is as much a psychological war as it is a technological battle.
“I am an adrenaline junkie who loves the team dynamic, trophy or no trophy, because I am part of a group with a common goal,” she said.
Sampey, with 41 career wins and three championships, has a tactical approach. “I am the human traction control that makes microcorrections that most people will never see from the grandstands,” she said. “I don’t need the competition to do anything but stage and stay in their lane for me to do my job.”
Each Friday before qualifying runs start, Brittany Force, 26, will sit in her Top Fuel dragster and make a dry run in her head. “I talk to it,” she said about her style of nurturing bravery and driving poise. “I say, we can do this, we can do it together.”
Of all the woman on the current pro drivers list, Brittany, also a daughter of John Force, was never going to drive a racecar. She was headed to the classroom, having secured her teaching credential.
But how do you resist a father whose influence rivals the moon’s gravitational pull?
“We need women in the sport,” her 64-year-old father, a popular champion, said.
Brittany and her sisters grew up in and around racing, so immersed in the culture that driving when she was 16 was just her summer hobby. “Drag racing is my normal,” she said.
These women are not an anomaly. The pipeline is full of young women who have an eye on professional rides in their future. The farm system is N.H.R.A.’s Junior Dragster program, which has more than 3,000 active racers, who can start as early as age 6 in scaled-down dragsters powered by modified lawn mower engines. Upward of 45 percent are female, and that number never falls below 35 percent, the N.H.R.A. says. Enders-Stevens started there.
“Experience is critical to be able to move up into the pro ranks,” said a pragmatic Gray, the racing group’s technical chief.
Then again, Enders-Stevens says she thinks there might a gender advantage after all: “I know my car is a girl, because it listens better.”
Many peaks of the Silver Mountain range surrounding the Bonneville Salt Flats are named after land speed racers including Ab Jenkins, “Terrible” Teddy Tetzlaff, John Cobb, Athol Graham and Malcolm Campbell.
Click photo for full panoramic view
Los Angeles, CA – The Southern California Chapter of the Society of Automotive Historians named “LandSpeed” Louise Ann Noeth the winner of the 2014 James Valentine Memorial Awardin the periodicals category.
Presented for “Excellence in Automotive Historical Research,” the entry entitled “Counting Down to a Century of Speed” appeared in the October 2013 issue of the GoodGuys Gazette. The 18-page feature encapsulates 100 years of land speed racing on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
“One judge commented about the possibility of expanding the article into a full length book,” explained Bob Ewing, Chairman, Valentine Award committee, “ ‘I would look forward to seeing something along those lines on the shelves.’ Another judge commented the entry had ‘considerable value in a number of ways,’ but also felt it could have been edited better, and that the lack of captions on some photos left him wondering which vehicle was which.”
Noeth, an acknowledged expert on the subject matter, was equally grateful for the award as well as the critical remarks.
“A new book is underway!” said author Noeth. “One judge, a retired college professor, said that there should have been more detail into how the research into the article was done. As a street urchin who learned her craft through the tender mercies of thoughtful, yet tough university-trained editors through the years, I don’t automatically think about creating a bibliography when hunting down historical facts – but I will now.”
The Valentine Memorial Award is named for the late J.H. Valentine, at one time the recognized authority of automobiles built in Los Angeles. Valentine devoted his life to accurately compiling nearly insignificant data on early automobiles one by one. With no chance of personal wealth, he ensured that future historians would have a large quantity of priceless material. The Valentine Award honors authors whose automotive historical research is linked to people and events in California, but does not preclude significant historical milestones anywhere in the world.
Noeth was first honored in 2002 by the SAH SoCal Chapter, winning the Valentine for her book “Bonneville Salt Flats.” She has repeatedly earned additional honors through the years for her historical work.
Here is a link to the 2014 Valentine Award winning article:
Louise Ann Noeth founded LandSpeed Productions in 1984 because she got tired of people thinking she only did one thing. After years of freelancing she had developed a variety of storytelling skill sets that includes:
• Creative Writing
• Stock Library
• Fine Art
• Graphic Design
• Public Relations
A fancy moniker for what she does is “photojournalist”, but she prefers “storyteller” believing people relate better to a tantalizing tale than an “English Major” perfect new report.