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Cancelled Utah salt flats race hurting business

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 12, 2014 at 5:31 pm •  Published: August 12, 2014
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Late summer monsoon storms have turned western Utah's famous salt flats into a shallow lake, forcing the cancellation of the area's largest annual speed event.

The annual Speed Week trials draw competitors from around the globe who tear across the gleaming white salt sheets in cars and motorcycles, with hopes of breaking records.

But runoff from rainstorms on the surrounding mountains last week flooded the salt flats on the eve of the race.

The Southern California Timing Association, which sponsors the race, canceled the weeklong event Saturday after realizing the ankle-deep standing water wouldn't dry out in time.

Hundreds of participants had already arrived for this week's race, but local officials say hotels and businesses in the nearby border towns of Wendover, Utah, and West Wendover, Nevada, will still lose revenue.

"I wasn't surprised they called it because there was no way they could run it there safely." Wendover Mayor Mike Crawford said Tuesday. "But it's just a shock to the town."

Several racing events are held at the Bonneville Salt Flats each year, but Speed Week is the big event.

"When the racers come in, the whole town fills up," Crawford said.

Hotel rooms in both border towns often raise rates and fill every room, he said, while racers and spectators spend money on items such as gas, food and other goods, which generates local tax revenue for the city.

Crawford estimates Wendover will lose about $25,000 in revenue.

Personally, Crawford said he's taking a hit as the owner of an auto parts store.

During the week of the speed trials, he orders in special parts, hires two extra workers and sees business increase.

Now Crawford expects he'll earn $6,000 to $10,000 less than expected.

Kerrie Supanich, a spokeswoman for the West Wendover Tourism and Convention Bureau, said the tax revenues for the city are expected to be cut in half.

"The fact that it was canceled after a large percentage of them were already here actually kind of helped blunt the cancellation," Supanich said.

Many visitors had already paid for hotel rooms and stayed anyway, with some visiting West Wendover's hotel casinos or taking day trips to nearby attractions.

She said Speed Week is the second biggest draw for West Wendover after New Year's Eve, which attracts about 50,000 to 60,000 people.

Speed Week draws about 10,000 to 15,000 spectators from as far away as Australia, in addition to the hundreds of racing teams, Supanich said.

The cancellation comes 100 years after the first daredevil driver set an unofficial land speed record there, topping 141 miles per hour.

The salt flats, a remnant of the ancient Lake Bonneville, are located about 100 miles west of Salt Lake City.

Wind and water have made the area extremely flat and ideal for racing.

Bill Lattin, the SCTA vice president and Speed Week race director, said he didn't know how much it cost the organization to cancel, but 300 to 400 competitors from around the world had already arrived.

Water started evaporating by the time he left Monday morning, but Lattin said several inches of standing water remained on the course. It was even deeper in the race pit areas, with about 5 or 6 inches of standing water, he said.

The SCTA has been holding Speed Week at Bonneville Salt Flats for more than 60 years and has canceled periodically due to weather. Lattin said the last cancellation was in the 1990s.

The association hopes to make up for the cancellation by extending an event at the Bonneville Salt Flats in October.

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Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice