Most Bonneville contenders are so fast they need a parachute to slow them down, as Jerry Strode demonstrates in his Thunderbird race car.

This week, hundreds of record-seeking petrolheads from around the world converged on the Bonneville Salt Flats in northwestern Utah with one common mission: to go as fast as possible.

The Southern California Timing Association’s annual Speed Week, now in its 63rd year, sees over 500 car drivers and motorcyclists taking to the white salt pan aiming to set new speed records in various classes.

The event, held outside near Wendover, about 160km west of Salt Lake City, began on Saturday.

The Bonneville Salt Flats, a massive former salt lake stretching over some 30 000 acres near the Utah-Nevada border, is opened each August for the races. Bonneville’s salt surface is as hard as concrete by summer’s end, and the many kilometres of unobstructed space create conditions ideal for land-speed racing.

Numerous land-speed records in various classes have been set at the legendary venue. Records up to 1935 were predominately set on beaches before Bonneville became the preferred venue and was home of nearly all world land-speed records set between 1935 and 1970.

The fastest speed ever recorded there was 1001.67km/h set back in 1970 by America’s Gary Gabelich in his rocket-powered Blue Flame. This record remained unbeaten until 1983, when Richard Noble broke it driving Thrust 2.

The outright land-speed record belongs to Richard Noble’s Thrust SSC, a twin jet-powered car driven by fighter pilot Andy Green which achieved 1228km/h and broke the sound barrier in October 1997 at the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada.

Noble and Green will bid for the 1 600km/h (the mythical 1 000mph) world land-speed record at South Africa’s own Hakskeen Pan in the Northern Cape in 2013. -Mercury Motoring