September 14, 2007
Bonneville Salt Flats
After spending more than a month working for Burning Man, this writer is now officially unused to seeing cars without windows busted out, dents upon dents, lewd things spray-painted all over the dusty doorless body, crap covering the floors, and at least one dildo planted somewhere.
It seems forever we’ve been living among the Gate and DPW’s ultra-hoopdis and stripped-down Road Warrior apocalyptomobiles. Make no mistake — to cultivate such a look is an art form. The group must continually destroy the vehicle, while adding more crap to it, to keep a rotating pattern of stylistic chaos going at all times.
As Zoo Lander would say, “it’s derelicte.”
The World of Speed event at the Bonneville Salt Flats is the opposite of that. Vehicles out on the salt are the fantasy cars young future mechanics hang as posters on their walls.
Styles range from roadster to Rat Rod to might-as-well-be-a-missile … with a few exceptions. There are barstool races, there is an Indian motorcycle seemingly held together with plywood … and now, there is a bombed-out, re-upped, Mad-Maxed, scary-looking spectre of a reminder of the biggest loss-of-life-and-property tragedy America has experienced.
And it goes f**king fast for a mostly-street-legal car.
That’s the thing about the Stinkin’ Linkin. Not only is the car a subtle political statement about Katrina and the nation’s neglect, it’s also a lesson in utility.
To quote Chicken John (who stole the quote from someone else but we can’t remember): Those who have done so much with so little for so long are now qualified to do anything with nothing.
The ‘98 Lincoln smelled like death when they first transported it to the shop. The death of friends and friends of friends, to be precise, and the pummeling of America’s soul-city by both nature and failed government.
The only “pinstriping” on this menacing flat-black ride is a red and brown stripe to where the water line had risen. Everything below that level was covered in yuck.
They may look like punks, but J.T. — before he co-conceptualized the Stinkin’ Linkin with his pal Andy — designed the Hellcat and the Wraith. (Say that to anyone super into motorcycles and watch their jaws drop.)
For years, J.T. was head designer for Confederate Motorcycles, and it’s an understatement to say he arrived on this Earth with a preternatural understanding of engineering and mechanics.
(That goes true for most everyone out here at World of Speed. For those who think almost exclusively in the right brain, this is flummoxing, and feels like an honor to watch the machine-nerds work.)
Andy owns Flanagan’s Pub, a popular watering hole in the French Quarter of New Orleans. He’s got facial tattoos and even though he tries to downplay it, we love walking behind him in the pits and seeing people’s reactions to his appearance … and then how most of them are friendly anyway. Largely because Andy’s so friendly.
Mutt has only been beknighted with the position of Mechanic #3 because Trevor couldn’t afford it and Neal got called off to go to Iraq with the National Guard, so J.T. asked him to be the third pair of eyes on the machine out at the Salt Flats. And Mutt’s been smiling the whole time, all day long. He never does that. He’s living the dream.
He says out of all the countercultural festivals he’s ever encountered — Rainbow, Burning Man, traveling stuff etc — he’s never felt more comfortable as here in the desert with a bunch of conservative old men.
“They’re not trying to be cooler-than-thou,” he said, “or acting like what they think ‘happy’ is supposed to be. Nobody’s all, ‘Oh, you rode out here in that? That’s cute’ … or, ‘I remember when 160 was a big deal.’”
There are at least a dozen other people who comprised the Stinkin’ Linkin crew in New Orleans, and many of them have traveled here. Some of them double as a documentary team. The Flanagan’s crew are affable and polite and easygoing — i.e., Southern — and slowly but surely, they’re becoming the darlings of the race.
And they seem to be the only ones who have driven their competition vehicle 2000 miles to race at Bonneville for the first time. With a basically street-legal car. For them, this was a budgetary necessity — and largely a badge of honor.
Most other cars out here are babied, even if they are “vintage.” This utilitarian maneuver was part of the goal: to make something new and better out of junk. Victory out of sorrow.
They don’t know how fast the Stinkin’ Linkin can go, because it has to jump through all these hoops before Andy can put the pedal to the metal. You’ve got to crawl before you can walk.
In the trial run, Andy clocked 99, and simultaneously figured out not to switch to fifth gear at the finish line. He needed more space, and then on the longer course he clocked something in the 120 range.
Yesterday he got all the way up to 163 but then he spun a little (salt is hard to drive on) so he has to go back and prove himself in the lower categories once more before they can see what the Stinkin’ Linkin can really do.
Which they’re doing right now, so we gotta go. It’s never been more exciting to hear a bunch of cars idling.
They’re all thoroughbred-level machines at the World of Speed — even the rescued stray.
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