Rockville man builds world’s fastest wheel-driven car

The 36-foot long Turbinator II sits on the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy Team Vesco, St. George News

ROCKVILLE — Most of Utah’s rural interstate system has a posted speed limit of 80 miles per hour. However, there’s one stretch of road in Utah that has no speed limit whatsoever. That would be a 5-mile stretch on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Nearly every current world land speed record has been established on the Bonneville Salt Flats, including a new one set in mid-August by a bullet-shaped car built by Rick Vesco of Rockville.

The Turbinator II recorded the fastest run for a wheel-driven car in the history of Speed Week, dating back to 1949. The car set records for the fastest timed mile (460.038 mph), the fastest record (455.106) and the fastest exit speed of 470.605 mph.

Rick Vesco displays a “Wally” trophy awarded by the National Hot Rod Association for lifetime achievement. Rockville, Utah, Aug. 28, 2018 | Photo by Ryan Rees, St. George News.

Vesco originally designed and built the car in 1988 in his garage in Brigham City before moving to Rockville in 2002. He upgraded many parts of the car once he relocated to Southern Utah. Vesco does all of the mechanical work with help from sponsors for various components.

The car now sits in pieces in Vesco’s shop in Rockville where it is being prepared for another assault on the speed record during the World of Speed Sept. 14-17.

“We want to hit 500,” Vesco said. “I don’t know if we can make it unless they make the track a little longer, but we’re gonna try.”

National record runs are made on a 5-mile track with 1 mile timed for the official speed records. The other four miles are used for acceleration and braking.

Other factors the team must face are the track condition and weather. The race track is composed of a thin layer of salt on top of the muddy base. If the weather is cooperative, and the track is dry as it was in August, record run attempts are possible. However, if the salt track gets wet or the wind is blowing more than 5 miles an hour, runs are canceled.

Vesco said many trips to the salt flats for speed runs through the years have been washed out by track or weather conditions.

“You never really know what it’s going to be like until you get there,” he said.

The Vesco family has been involved in racing of one kind or another since 1933 and three generations of the family have set land speed records.

Vesco set his first speed record at age 16 on a motorcycle at 131 miles per hour. He joined exclusive company by topping 300 mph with a run of 335 mph in 2009. Now, he prepares the 36-foot long missile in his workshop, and 76-year-old Dave Spangler drives the car. Spangler is the former co-owner of Hooker Headers, an aftermarket product renowned in the motorsports world.

“Dave pays the bills and I do the work,” Vesco said.

They began their relationship when Vesco worked for Spangler’s company in Southern California before moving to Brigham City where he owned a motorcycle/ATV dealership for 30 years.

Vesco said he has no guess as to what it has cost to build and upgrade the Turbinator II through the years.

“All I know, is there have been a lot of receipts,” he said.

Don, Rick’s brother who died in 2002, also drove the Turbinator II to a 400-plus mph speed record in 2001. He was recognized by Hot Rod Magazine and the Motorsports Hall of Fame for setting a land speed record on a motorcycle (332 mph) and in a race car (458 mph).

Vesco’s daughter, Rhonnie, also holds a record at 310.982, set in 2011. However, she drove to her record in another Vesco-built car named the “Little Giant,” affectionately referred to as the “family car.”

That car was originally built and raced by her grandfather John, who raced it at Bonneville for the first time in 1957 and hit 163 mph.

Jinx and Rick Vesco show off a collage of their land speed records. Rockville, Utah, Aug. 28, 2018 | Photo by Ryan Rees, St. George News

The current car is powered by a turbocharged Chinook military helicopter engine that is capable of putting out around 5,000 horsepower, according to Vesco.

“We’ve never really run it full power, mainly because of the track,” Vesco said. “If we had more room, I’m sure we could top 500.”

Extending the track would be an expensive proposition, he admitted.

“The salt is thin already and the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) isn’t going to spend any money to make the track longer. It’s hard enough just to keep what we’ve got in good enough shape to run on,” he said.

Vesco helped form the Save the Salt Foundation, a volunteer group working with government officials, mining operators and others to supplement the current methods of replenishing the salt for the track.

Unlike most motorsports, there is no prize money involved with land speed records, just bragging rights.

And for now, Vesco can brag about having the fastest car in the world. But he’d really like to brag about being the first to reach 500 mph.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • Brian September 4, 2018 at 9:53 am

    Congrats! That is really cool. Amazing accomplishments.

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