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Bonneville can be a tough place.
As you may have heard, at SpeedWeek 2007, Boyd Coddington star of TV’s American Hotrod show had a very tough couple of days. Boyd and his wife Jo were running a beautiful roadster, hoping for a class record, with a full TVcrew recording their racing efforts. As you will read, things went from bad to much much worse for the Coddington crew.
Ron Christenson (long time USFRA volunteer) was working the Speedweek 2007 Event in his usual position as Radio Announcer on 1610 AM radio announcing the event. He captured these photos and this inside story from his ringside seat.
Photos and Narrative by Ron Christensen
Thursday afternoon the Boyd Coddington race team, complete with
a film crew for Speed TV's "American Hotrodder" was heading from the
starting line to the 3- Mile after Jo Coddington (Boyd's wife) had just spun
their roadster at about 180- MPH (and come really close to backing into the
Timing Slips stand at great speed.) The motorhome headed for the return road
just as it was supposed to do. Unfortunately it broke through the thin salt
(the SpeedWeek tracks had to be relocated to a risky area after the rains a
couple of weeks before the event). We normally wouldn't have been driving in
this area as it is quite a distance east of the usual location of the track.
With the "American Hotrodder" film crew shooting away, the Coddington group tried to get the motorhome free but it had sunk in up to the axle and even with lots of digging it would not budge. So they called a tow truck to come and pull them out. The mood of the Coddington crew was sort of giddy . . . the seriousness of the predicament hadn't seem to have sunk in nearly as well as the motorhome had. They were all standing around laughing and drinking beers, having a great time.
Two vehicles (a very large wrecker and a flatbed) arrived about two hours later like the Lone Ranger and Tonto to the rescue . . . . The Coddington crew was certain it would be out of there in minutes and heading back to the casino in Wendover for dinner, gambling and more beers! Plans didn't quite work out as hoped as both rescue vehicles promptly got stuck not far from the motorhome. It should have been obvious that if the motorhome broke through, a big heavy wrecker didn't stand a chance. So there were now three stuck vehicles. The wrecker crews were heard to say something like "We'll just get 'Big Blue' in here . . . no problem!" More beers came out and the party continued.
At about 6:00 PM, I had to leave the salt about that time to go to the workers dinner at the Nugget and a party at an old friend's home in Wendover.
When I returned at about 10:30 p.m. to my radio trailer to spend the night I noticed there were lights in the area of the motorhome so I drove over there. Things had gone from bad to critical at the scene. The Coddington crew's mood had made a 180 degree change from when I left. They looked very sullen and an air of gloom hung over the group. I then surveyed the scene. "Big Blue" (the wrecker that would save the day) had arrived after I left and had been trying to pull the big yellow wrecker from the nice soft mud into which it had become so comfortable. The yellow wrecker which had been sitting so peacefully with the salt surface firmly against the undercarriage when I left was now at about a 40 degree angle with mud coming up about 6 feet to the door of the cab on the left side. It was wedged firmly into the landscape with its right side tires about a foot off the ground and about 100 feet of 4-foot deep trench indicating where Big Blue had dragged it in an attempt to free it from the clutches of the desert.
The dragging had only gotten it deeper into the mud. And to make matters even worse, Big Blue had gotten itself in about the same situation, sinking into the mud about 4 feet as it attempted to pull the yellow wrecker free. And in a last ditch effort to get the motorhome out it had managed to damage its boom winch and a tow cable was now stretched tight like a huge steel guitar string between it and the motorhome. The damaged winch would not release and they could not remove the cable. It was about 3 feet above the salt and about 1050 feet long which created quite a hazard. One of the Coddington crewmen had borrowed some orange cones from the race course return road to mark off the cable so no one would drive into it. Unfortunately one of their own crew drove their mini van right into it as he attempted to drive between the cones!
I struggled not to laugh at this comedy as it unfolded. Another
pair of cables stretched between Big Blue and the yellow wrecker. Big Blue was
sitting at an odd angle with its right rear wheels buried firmly in the mud.
It looked a dog cleaning its backside on the carpet. Somehow they had managed
to free the flatbed which they had backed in to try to free Big Blue and it
too had become stuck again, this time much worse than before. The three rescue
vehicles were in a nice tidy row, half buried and held in the firm grip of the
clay-like mud that lies just below the surface of the salt. The scene resembled
some sort of elephant hunt with three slain carcasses lying dead on the playa.
The motorhome sat unmoved in the same spot it had found itself in when it started
this fiasco, no doubt chuckling to itself at the mess it had created!
The muddied and sullen Coddington crew divided up and some of
them stayed in the motorhome while another group left in the mini van with a
fresh cable burn on its nose. It was pitch black out with no moon and they had
no idea how to find their way back to the access road. I explained that they
just needed to drive to the dike behind the starting line then follow it around
until they encountered the row of cones that marked the route to the access
road. I returned to my radio position at the starting line where I started to
prepare the Cherokee Hotel for the night. I watched as the Coddington crew left
in the mini van and drove past the starting lines then proceeded to head off
in a northerly direction instead of following the dike to the west as I suggested.
I could imagine them driving off into the darkness and getting stuck in the
muddy area towards the mountains. A perfect end to their evening!
I decided to rescue them from another disaster and I chased them down in the Jeep then guided them to the coned route to the access road. They still had the water hazard at the end of the access road to negotiate. I explained that they MUST keep the relocated row of cones to the immediate right of their vehicle at all times as there were now 3 to 4 foot deep holes hidden under the surface of the water if they ventured off the marked path. I returned to my trailer and wished them luck.
The next morning the scene at the motorhome was revealed in all its glory! You can see the carnage in the photos. I wonder how or if they will "replace their divots." About 10:00 a.m. ANOTHER huge wrecker arrived. This one was even bigger than the big yellow one and it was equipped with a third axel on the back. They carefully backed it up and removed the motorhome, the flatbed, then "Big Blue." When I finally left they were still working on pulling the big yellow wrecker.
Your friends at the USFRA encourage you to be careful out there. Bonneville can be a very tough place!
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