Bonneville Salt Flats, often called The Birthplace of Speed, holds a magnetic-like attraction for a Payson man, his son and a host of close friends.
The father, Bill Goldman, is a member of the Salt Flats exclusive 200 Club having set a record of 213.093 mph there in 2007. His son, Garrett, barged in on the club by edging his father out of the record books Aug. 8 to 15, setting a new mark of 215.748 mph.
In establishing both records, the father and son drove the same racecar — a vintage roadster powered by a fuel-injected 302 cubic inch GMC straight-six mill. The roadster is the project of the father and son along with a team of eight friends who spend their free time building and fine-tuning the car in a high-tech machine shop located in the Payson Air Park.
Except for Garrett, 40, most of the Goldman family friends working on the car are senior citizens who also volunteered to go along on the trip to Bonneville.
Paul Paul, one of those pit crew members at the Salt Flats for both records, says the car “was a lot of hard work by a lot of people.”
Bill Goldman calls building the racecar “a type of grass-roots effort that represents racing at its purist best.”
For Garrett setting the record, was “the ride of a lifetime” and his father remembers the ride two years ago as, “a real thrill, especially with my head sticking up (out of the roadster cab).”
Although Garrett says his father’s decision in 1998 to begin building a car that would set a speed record was “a hair-brained idea,” he now calls his record ride “a great experience” and hopes his younger brother, Clay, will in the future set a speed mark driving the same roadster.
“But we’re going to put a supercharger on it, so he’ll race in another class,” Garrett said.
The record Bill and Garrett set was in the XXO/FR or fuel roadster class. If the team does add a supercharger in the future, the car must run in the XXO/BFR or blown fuel roadster class.
To set a record, drivers must complete two runs then the mph speeds averaged.
On Garrett’s first run, he was clocked in 216.121 mph. On the second run, he was timed in 215.376.
The record, however, was not set without a good deal of adversity.
The misfortune began on a Saturday just after the Payson racing team arrived at Bonneville.
On one of the roadster’s first timed runs, the powerful engine blew out the No. 4 piston, which meant the team had to rebuild the engine by a deadline on Monday.
By working 12 hours on Sunday and a few more the following morning, the team was able to repair the motor and have it ready for the run, which established the first mph mark of the two needed to set a new class record.
On Monday, the racing team returned to the Salt Flats for the second run, which was about one mph slower than the first, but still fast enough to set the record.
“It was a hectic few days, but worth it,” Garrett said.
Paul agreed, “It was a lot of work in a short time.”
The building of the classic roadster and the subsequent record-setting runs has its roots in the 1960s when Bill drove sprint cars on dirt tracks at Phoenix Manzanita Speedway.
Eventually, however, he married, had children and went to work in a Tempe machine shop.
“I gave it up, there wasn’t time or money to race,” he said.
In 1998, Bill’s thirst for speed was rekindled during a visit to Bonneville to watch Speed Week races.
“I looked at the cars and decided I could build one of those in about a year,” he said. “That was foolish.”
It took years of arduous labor, but the roadster was finally completed and ready for Bonneville.
There were, however, plenty of bumps, detours and disappointments before Bill set the first record.
“We took the car to Bonneville four times and never broke a record,” Bill said. “Each time we returned to Payson with a bucketful of parts, but we didn’t give up.”
In handcrafting the roadster, rules required the Payson team use a body from a 1928 to 1938 car and the engine be one built prior to 1954.
So, Bill — a master machinist with a keen eye for detail and craftsmanship — selected a 1938 Banter Roadster body and an inline six engine, pulled from a 1953 GMC truck.
“I chose that motor because it has lots of torque,” Bill said.
The classic six-shooter was punched out to 322 cubic inches, outfitted with custom parts — including a worked Skinner cylinder head — and fitted with mechanical fuel injection.
“The only thing stock is the block and the crankshaft,” Bill said.
Meticulous attention to detail in the engine compartment is obvious to anyone who has ever lifted the hood of a car.
“The parts couldn’t be bought, we had to make every piece,” said Bill.
Paul describes the engine as simply “sweet.”
For fuel, the high output six runs on a 55 percent mixture of nitro and alcohol.
Bill estimates the engine, at about 6,000 rpms, will churn out a hefty 600-plus horsepower.
The bright orange roadster body was modified to lessen the aerodynamic drag, which, builders agree, is extremely important on a racecar that has five to seven miles to run.
Even the front tires were designed with a skinny profile to lessen drag.
All four wheels are covered with circular “moon” caps that were a hot rodding rage in the 1950s and 60s.
But their purpose is not for appearance, but again, to lessen drag.
The modifications also included a stunning long-nose body that attracts the attention of every passerby.
Although Bill, Garrett and the team are elated with the speed records, all are certain the roadster can go even faster when the supercharger is added.
When the engine is modified, it’s a given each turn of the wrench will be done with precise detail as the volunteers fine-tune the car for its next attempt at setting a record.
That opportunity could be in August 2010 at Bonneville with Clay at the wheel.
For the elder Goldman, the real satisfaction of setting the two records is knowing he, his family and his friends were able to craft a vintage roadster that eventually became a record-setter and the raging centerpiece of the Bonneville speed party.
During every event, which is a 24/7 car show as well as a race, the fuel roadster from small-town Arizona attracts attention from those who come to watch, wrench or are along because the journeys are Mecca-like trips for gear heads.
Bill Goldman believes the popularity of the roadster is probably because it’s home-brewed by a father, a son and a bunch of 60-years-plus shade tree mechanics fueled by adrenaline and dreaming of speed.