El Mirage Dry Lake Bed Land Speed Event!

Land Speed Racing El Mirage Dry Lake Bed Nov. 11, 2023

It’s 5am and the noise and the slow rumble of diesel generators begin to sound off throughout the quiet sleepy desert lakebed. As crews begin to rise prepping for a weekend of racing that will close out the race season, the smells of propane begin to mix with the diesel generators, which in time, bring the smell of coffee and fried bacon. At some point you’re bound to hear, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning!” because let’s face it, this crowd loves dad jokes. 

As the sun rises you see light beginning to hit these machines that surround you. Some covered in blankets, like horses, keeping their batteries warm and others covered in chrome that catches the sunrise with a warmth that is deceiving in the cold morning air. There’s no morning dew on the ground because the cracked earth beneath you sucks any moisture directly out of the air and your chapped lips remind you to stay hydrated.

The crowd that has formed over the years has such an awesome feeling of comradery and healthy competition. The machines present are an eclectic bunch, and while the electric-powered vehicles are few, they somehow fit in among this incredibly diverse group. The crowd is accepting, but there is a sense that some are still wanting you to fail. “Up next we have a sewing machine… no need to adjust your hearing aids, that’s an electric bike,” are a few remarks you can hear from the announcer over the loudspeaker. A little jab, but again this community is a family, and the crowd eagerly anticipates hearing the results of what these electric-powered steeds can do.

Two Lone EV Steeds

Among this wild-west feeling group of gas-powered cowboys and machines are just a couple lone rangers racing two very different EVs. Behind the controls of the two vehicles present this cool November weekend are a racing veteran of over 30 years, Jim Hoogerhyde, and a racer that’s a bit more of a greenhorn, Matthew “The Wheeling Welshman Deeley.

The Wheeling Welshman’s steed is a custom one-off chassis pushed along by a UQM Powerphase motor, originally designed for light commercial vehicles and capable of 215 kW (288 hp) and 600 ft-lb. The battery pack is also custom, full of 456 G3 Honda Insight Cells arranged in a 144s4p configuration. While being newer to the sport of land speed racing, The Welshman has already acquired two records out at Bonneville back in 2021 on an Alta MXR (an electric dirt bike) in the M-Omega class at 109.406mph, and the MPS-Omega class at 112.719mph.

Jim Hoogerhyde is chasing records in the EVS/E2 class in an electric vehicle streamliner called Nebulous Theorem II. A modified Tesla drive unit puts the power down, and gets its juice from a custom battery pack composed of lithium LG Chem cells. Hoogerhyde has been racing motorcycles for 30 years, landspeed racing since 2007, and holds several 200mph-plus records at El Mirage and Bonneville.

Just a couple lone rangers racing two very different electric vehicles.

There is an interesting relationship between the two racers, seeing that The Welshman is currently licensing up and chasing the record set by Hoogerhyde at El Mirage in the Omega Racer Category at 211.730mph. This weekend out at the dry lakebed, the Welshman was able to make two passes in total at the speeds of 165.011mph and 169.276mph, allowing him to license up to 200mph. To keep newer racers safe, there are licensing rules in place to gradually get the drivers up to speed in their prospective categories. What Deeley accomplished in these two passes this weekend will allow him to get his bike to the 200mph range when the next race season picks up in May of 2024.

Landspeed racing — a whole different ballgame

With that, you can see some of the differences from the drag race scene, and the land speed record chasing scene. While out on a track or drag strip, the drivers are chasing the best time and a competitor. In land speed racing, they are chasing the best overall speed and doing individual runs. Another factor that was very present the past two land speed seasons is weather—how it impacts the course leading up to the races and also the conditions of the day. This past November, both The Welshman andHoogerhydes’ visibility was unfortunately drastically impacted by the amount of dust filling their cabin and helmets, making it nearly impossible to chase after the records in their perspective classes, and only allowing Hoogerhyde to go through the traps at 157.668mph in his EV named, The Nebulous Theorem II. So many things can impact a race in this sport, for example, the conditions of the ground; is it too moist, too dry, too bumpy? All these factors come into play on a track or dragstrip as well, but things such as rain can dramatically impact the overall course terrain, making it undriveable and even canceling events completely.

Yet another unique factor for these land speed racers is the fact that many can’t truly run their vehicles until they’re racing them. It’s not like auto or motorcycle racing where you can get out for a track day and practice, or where you’re able to even get the feel of your machine on the open road. Most of these machines are built with specific purpose, and not street legal, so when they’re runnin’, they’re “Grabbin for gears, and lookin’ for speed!” and in many cases it may be for the very first time. Imagine running a race you’ve only ever run in theory, and when it’s race day, it may possibly be your FIRST DAY trying this distance or speed. That’s the challenge these land speed racers face, and it’s a challenge they’re excited to take on each season.

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