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No matter one's aesthetic sensibilities, there can be no denying the striking visual impact of Jeff Brock's Bonneville Bombshell upon first seeing it. And regardless of whether you think it (with apologies to Walt Disney) beautiful, beastly, or just plain cool, no one can argue with its accomplishments - three world speed records for its class at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2009 and 2010! While it may appear incongruous sitting amidst the sleek cars in the Unser Racing Museum, its trophies are not the only thing it has in common with those racers, for what ultimately defines all these machines are the drivers behind the wheel. To know their stories is to recognize that the same spirit that led the Unser family to automotive fame and success is shared with Jeff Brock.

That such an unorthodox appearing vehicle has been so successful is a credit to Brock, its builder and owner, a ''Renaissance-style'' man in his own right, and a fellow New Mexican from Abiquiu, where he makes a living as an artist and sculptor along with his wife, Star York. A former nationally ranked motorcycle racer, Jeff saw the derelict 1952 Buick Riviera at an abandoned lumber mill in Arizona in 2008. Always partial to what he describes as the ''lead-sled'' style of automotive design, Jeff purchased it and dragged the behemoth home. Further inspiration struck while at a Hot Rod show in 2009, and recollecting the story of Burt Munro, the legendary Bonneville speed-bike racer portrayed in the movie The World's Fastest Indian, Jeff decided to combine his need-for-speed with his artistic talents and transform the Buick into a Bonneville racer!

Enlisting the help of two young local men as part of his and his wife's community outreach efforts, Jeff formed Rocket Heads Racing, and the newly minted team began the massive undertaking to convert the Buick into a suitable craft for sailing the famous salt flats. The list of modifications would fill pages, but Brock was undeterred as he used his artistic and mechanical skills to chop, channel, narrow, graft, weld, retrofit, modify, and create what some might call a Frankenstein. But oh, what a monster, powered by a bored-out 324 cubic inch straight eight heavily modified by Doug Anderson of Automotive Machine Service in Albuquerque. The visual crowning touch was the 750 cfm carb atop an outrageous shop-built intake manifold, but the engine was only one element in Brock's amazing transformation of his once forsaken Buick, which necessitated his and his team working long hours six and seven days a week to get the XO-GCC class (that's straight eight-cylinder inline engine - Gas Competition Coupe) car ready for the salt.

Finishing only one day before the mandatory check-in for Speed Week, the largest land speed record event in the world, Brock and one of his assistants, Sergio Juarez, then drove all night to timely arrive at Bonneville. Jeff's next hurdle was to undergo, as he put it, the longest tech inspection in Speed Week history. Race officials poured over the car, questioning Jeff's vision, his methods, and his results. Because of the car's uniqueness, coupled with the somewhat subjective nature of the various rules and requirements, Jeff and Sergio were required to continue to tinker with and modify the car to satisfy race officials of the car's worthiness on the dangerous salt flats. Eventually the car was given its official blessing, and now it was finally time for Brock to see if his creation would in fact match his vision, his expression of himself via this form of art, both sculptural and kinetic.

Brock related a frequent inquiry from people. ''Was I scared? There is fear, but when they drop that flag and you've got to go, your fear is gone. You satisfy some primal need that is very close to sex. It's euphoric. You feel like a gladiator.'' Team member Sergio's thoughts at the time were a bit more subdued and phlegmatic. ''I was just thinking, Jeez, I hope it makes it down the track.''

The Bonneville Bombshell did indeed make it down the track that hot August day in 2009, the requisite multiple runs culminating in a new class world speed record of 130.8 mph. Returning in October for the ''World Finals'', Brock built upon his previous success and beat his own record - an impressive 134.054 mph, justifying the attention the Bombshell garnered when it was first rolled out onto the miles-long stretch of dazzling white salt.

Fresh from its latest 141.29 mph record-setting run in October 2010, the Bonneville Bombshell now rests, its thunderous engine only temporarily quieted. Contrasting dramatically with the Indy, Pikes Peak, and other racing cars in the Unser Racing Museum, Jeff Brock's vision in steel has nonetheless earned its place in the limelight. Standing back, contemplating everything that went into the making of this racer, one will recognize that it harmonizes with not only the spirit of the Unser Racing Museum, but perhaps more fundamentally, ''Pop'' Jerry Unser's original garage on the old Route 66. One has only to look at the many photographs of the Unser boys building or working on their own cars in the back of dad Jerry's repair shop to recognize, that the same desire and love for the sport that the Unsers have exhibited for generations, beats and lives with Jeff Brock. While their recipe for success sounds simple - hard work, determination, perseverance, guts, talent, and a pinch of good luck - deep down we all know it's not that easy, which is why we admire all those who do in fact succeed.
Source Unser Racing Museum
Author Wayne Mara
Date 2010-01-07
Features Archive | Current Features