Drags, Dry Lakes, & Bonneville

In the mid-1950s, while still working at a chemical refinery in Santa Fe Springs CA, Tom was introduced to drag racing at the Santa Ana Drag Strip. At first the family sedan, a 1950 Olds "88", served as the race car. The car was quick, but not really competitive, however the thrill of speed and competition made its impression.

The first car that Tom built to race was a 1941 Plymouth coupe with a Chrysler flat head six cylinder engine. This project, lasted a few months, and was fun, but still not a real race car. With the acquisition of a 1934 Dodge pickup, which eventually received a 300 cubic inch Desoto V-8, true competition began. Originally this vehicle was driven daily and doubled as a Sunday racer. As time passed it was retired from the street and became a serious race car. It ran in the C Gas Coupe/Sedan class, and was a serious contender at the various drag strips in Southern California.

Tom joined the Road Runners of Whittier CA, a Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) club in 1956, thereby being introduced to the longer runs at the Dry Lakes. In 1957 Tom made his first trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats and became addicted to the atmosphere and has been a competitor every year since except 1968 & 1969.

Tom ran altered roadsters in both gas and fuel classes from 1959 through 1981. In 1965 he set the record, (which stood until 1969), in D/Gas class at 176.774 MPH. After losing the record in 1969, he chased the new records, but never again achieved success finally reaching a top speed of 199+ MPH with son Dan doing the driving.

A new era of Tom's racing career began in June of 1980. Earlier in the year Dick Schell of Redding had found a 1934 Ford Competition Coupe stored in a barn near Redding and purchased it with the intent of preparing it for Bonneville. He approached Tom to get a copy of Bonneville class rules, which Tom supplied, along with the offer to assist him in the project. After a few months, Dick grew weary of the project and approached Tom, asking him if he knew anyone who might want to purchase the car. It didn't take long for Tom to decide that he had to have the car. Although he didn't know it at the time, he had purchased the "Pierson Coupe" one of the most famous Dry Lakes and Bonneville cars.

Tom ran the coupe at the 1980 meet and continued to compete with this car through the 1991 season. The car was powered by a 304 cubic inch small block Chevrolet engine and competed in both gas and fuel classes eventually setting records in both classes. The fastest one-way run on gasoline was 208 MPH, with a 206.409 MPH two-way average (1991). On fuel (alcohol and nitrous) the best one-way mile speed was 225 MPH, with a 221.898 MPH average (1990) which still stands (as of 1997).

The car was delivered to Bruce Meyer, a collector of Classic and Competition cars and motorcycles, for restoration in January 1992. The restored coupe was unveiled in November 1992 at Bruce's home in Beverly Hills where he has a mini-automotive museum. It can be now be seen at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles when it is not on the circuit of shows across the nation.

Returning home from delivering the Pierson Coupe to Los Angeles, Tom stopped by Dick William's shop near Watsonville CA and picked up a Poli-Form '34 coupe body which would be used to construct the new car. The new car was to be even more radical than the "Pierson Coupe". A copy of the top chop profile (a 9 "chop) was used on the new car, the wheel base was extended to 156 inches, front wheels covered, and the rear wheel wells deepened to bring the rear wheels flush with the leading edge of the wheel wells. The same engine was employed, as well as the Powerglide transmission used in the previous car, and a Halibrand Championship Quick-Change with a 4:11-1 gear ratio was installed.

The car is still in the construction process and has been very successful to this point. It holds the Dry Lakes D/Fuel record at 211.085 MPH, Bonneville D/Gas record at 216.482 MPH, and the Muroc Dry Lake D/Fuel record at 219.819 MPH. At the 1997 Bonneville Speed Week this car will attempting to raise the D/Fuel record set with the Pierson Coupe in 1990.

Tom is a member of the Bonneville 200 MPH Club, The El Mirage 200 MPH Club (Dirty 2 Club), and a Charter Member of the Muroc Dry Lakes 200 MPH Club. This year at Muroc his son Jeff entered the Muroc 200 MPH Club and will be trying for the Bonneville 200 MPH Club at Bonneville Speed Week in August.

Since our mission for 1997 was to gain entry into the Bonneville 200 MPH Club for Jeff, 1997 has been a somewhat frustrating year for the Bryant Racing Team. Three trips to the salt flats have resulted in three spins at speeds in excess of 215 MPH, the last one resulting in a crash which did major damage to the car. Fortunately the safety equipment worked as designed and protected Jeff from injury. We are now in the process of tearing down and rebuilding the car with a target date for our next run in April at Muroc. Because our El Mirage gasoline record of 191.090 MPH was raised to 195.850 MPH by the San Diego racing team of Tucker, Eyres & Simonis, we will be running the gasoline class at El Mirage to try to regain the record, and at Muroc, as well.

This is an on-going story which will be updated periodically. Any questions or comments will reach us at info@bryantauto.com, saltracer@awwwsome.com, or phone (530) 222-3313 fax (530) 221-5633.


In 1997, we lost both the D/GCC and D/FCC records at Bonneville to John Beckett (226.527 MPH & 226.470 respectively.) in 1998 and he raised the gas record again at the World of Speed  to 228.667 MPH. We were able to regained the D/FCC record (234.393 MPH) at the World Finals 1999, giving Jeff entry into the Bonneville 200 MPH Club. We also got the El Mirage gas record back in November, 2000 at 198.494 MPH, just short of the needed speed to give Jeff membership in the "Dirty Two" Club.

Our goal now is to recover the D/GCC record at Bonneville and set the record at Muroc, if we are fortunate enough to run there again. The 2001 Muroc meet was canceled do to a breakdown in negotiations with the Air Force. And get Jeff in "Dirty Two" Club by tweaking the  El Mirage D/GCC record over 200 MPH.


At Speedweek 2002, we were successful! First, Barry regained the D/GCC @ 228.843 MPH, gaining entry into the 200 MPH Club. Then a couple of days later, my brother Gary ran a 230.085 MPH run that qualified the car again, the next morning he made the backup run @ 229.390 for an average of  229.737 MPH. Another record and Gary is in the 200 MPH Club also.

In November, we made our trip to El Mirage Dry Lake for another shot at a record over 200 MPH  to get Jeff into the "Dirty 2" Club. We were again successful with a 206.792 MPH Record. This gave us control of the records in both gas and fuel classes at Bonneville and El Mirage. We also hold the fuel record at Muroc and if we are able to hold meets there in the future, we will be chasing that gas class record.

The year 2002 will long be remembered by the Bryant Racing Team. Speedweek gave us two D/GCC records and two more family members in the Bonneville 200 MPH Club. In September. I was honored by being placed into the Dry Lakes Racing Hall of Fame and in November, Jeff received his entry into the El Mirage 200 MPH Club. I don't expect to 2003 to measure up to this past season , but it would be good to raise the D/GCC record yet again and get my son Dan into the Bonneville 200 MPH Club. This would give the Bryant family five members in the Bonneville 200 MPH Club. A worthy goal, I believe.


2003 is shaping up to be another banner year. We started our season with a trip to El Mirage in May to give Barry some seat time in the dirt. Our plan is to give him the opportunity to go for the "Dirty 2" Club in November. His rookie run speed was a bit disappointing, but he had a lot of unanswered questions on his mind . Traction tends to be a bit more of a problem in the dirt, because of the lower gearing and the course tends to get torn up after several cars make their passes. At the top of second gear, the car got a little loose and wagged its tail. Barry lifted and never real got back on the throttle for the rest of the run. His first, and only run down the course at the May Meet was 122+ mph. We had the opportunity to return to El Mirage in July and Barry felt some what more comfortable in the car. His first pass was 191+ mph which is respectable. His second run was a bit slower @ 188 mph because he put it in gear too soon causing the engine to blubber for a couple of hundred yards, enough to eat up precious accelerating time. I believe these two trips have given him some confidence that could translate to success in November.

At Speedweek, in August, we initiated our new engine, which ran so well at the Lakes in November '02, to
the Long Course.  Dan left the starting line and headed for the clocks. As we made our way to the return road to go pick him up, we heard the 1/4 time..197.103 mph and the 1st mile @ 205.553 mph. This isn't sounding real good! I am questioning whether those were our times, then the 2nd mile time comes over the CB..224.948 mph...3rd mile @ 234.320 mph with an exit of 236.790 mph. That's better!! We are qualified with the first run off the trailer. Believe me when I say, this has never happened to me before. We put the car in impound and did the necessary chores and called it a day.

Next morning, after warming the engine, we were removing the warm-up plugs and found lots of water in the cylinders. Not a good way to start the day. Obviously, we had to abort record runs and go to the pits for some serious evaluation and repairs. Dan had forgotten to turn the water pump on at the start of the run, resulting in a severe overheating of the engine. The computer didn't give us the data on that run either, so all we know is that the gauge was pegged at over 250 deg. Fahrenheit. Fortunately, no damage was found except the head gaskets were a bit crushed. We finished the repairs in time to get out of the pits,  but not out of the staging lanes, before the 5 PM deadline. The car spent the night in the staging lane.

About 9 AM Wednesday morning we  made our second qualifying run. This one was better...1/4 @ 211.948 mph, 1st mile @ 220.242 mph, 2nd mile @ 235.788 mph, and the 3rd mile @ 241.761 mph with an exit speed of 243.641 mph. Dan could make his return run at 220 mph and have the record and 200 MPH Club Membership. Of course, Dan is not one to play it safe. Next morning his back up run was even better than the qualifying run...1/4 @ 214.200 mph, 1st mile @ 222.446 mph, 2nd mile @ 238.241, and 3rd mile @ 244.108 mph with an exit of 245.581 mph.

What a week we had! Our luck even extended past record runs. I haven't been in the car for about a year, so it seemed right for me to experience the new Horse Power we now have in the new engine. As we were pushing to the starting line, about 2.5 miles from the pits, Dan was steering the race car while I drove the push truck. He jerked the steering to miss a hole in the road and  the steering arm broke. What a wonderful place for that to happen! Much more pleasing than at 200 mph plus on the race course. I don't think it would have created a serious situation since when the chute comes out the car will stop without steering input, but I do prefer to remain in control of the car.

At Speedweek we accomplished our mission. The Bryant Team now has five members, myself and three sons, Jeff, Dan, and Barry, and my brother Gary, in the Bonneville 200 MPH Club. Our next meet is coming up September 19th-22nd. As usual, we have a few things to do to the car before the meet, but the World of Speed promises to be a fun time as well.

At the World of Speed, I finally returned to driving in competition. We were running (on gasoline) against our D/FCC record of 234.393 mph that Jeff set in 1999. I managed to qualify on my first run at 235.607 mph. The next morning  I ran 216 plus failing to achieve the record. We later found #4 spark plug  was shorting out due to a broken porcelain making the run a seven cylinder pass. Later in the day I requalified at 238.823 mph. On Sunday morning the return run gave us an average of 237.149 mph. A good week!

In October we returned again to compete in the World Finals. My first run was made at 10 AM on Wednesday and appeared to be a bit rich. The ¼ was 211.382, 1st mile @ 219.488, 2nd mile @ 233.417, 3rd mile @ 238.111 and a terminal of 239.243. At 1:20 PM we made the second run. This was more acceptable with a ¼ @ 216.241, 1st mile @ 223.782, 2nd mile @ 236.519, 3rd mile @ 241.004 and a terminal speed of 241.991.  We accepted this as a qualifying run and went to impound.

Thursday morning we made our return run @ 9 AM. The ¼ was 219.654, 1st mile @ 226.187, 2nd mile @ 236.916, 3rd mile @ 241.041 and 242.167 terminal speed. After inspection we were granted a new D/FCC record @ 241.022 MPH.  Another great week of racing. Year 2003 has been another banner year for our team. However, we were disappointed when it was learned that the November El Mirage Meet was canceled due to water on the course. Barry's attempt at the "Dirty 2" Club will have to wait until 2004. I guess it is good to have something to look forward to. After all, in this sport, achievements are never complete satisfaction, we always want more!

Speedweek - August

Besides our sons, Jeff, Barry and Dan, Dan's wife Shirley and son Tim and my brother Gary and his wife Pat, we had lots of family attending the meet for the first time. I brought my 15 year old grandson who was visiting with us from Idaho, a sister and brother-in-law from Missouri, another sister, brother-in-law and nephew, his wife and small child all  from the L.A. area. It was important that we do well to protect our reputation.

This year we had switched to alcohol for fuel. On Saturday, as usual, I took the first ride to check out the car. After fumbling around a bit, unable to find low gear, I got under way in second gear and posted a 215.095 quarter and a 243.378 third mile which qualified against our record of 241.022 MPH. Since it was our goal to give Tim the opportunity to set a record and gain 200 MPH Club Membership, I chose not to go to impound. Tim's first run down the salt after licensing at the World Finals '03 at 207, was a 240.958 third mile. It took three more runs to get him qualified. His second pass was 241.002, then 219.778  (a seven cylinder run due to a broken spark plug) and a 245.521 MPH qualifying pass. Next morning he made his backup run at 240.824 for an average of 243.172 MPH.

Since our goal was accomplished, I wanted everyone to have an opportunity to take a ride. My brother was in the car next and posted a 243.482 run which again qualified the car, but he declined to go to impound. Barry took a ride, also qualifying at 243.801. Next morning he backed up the time with a 243.202 for an average of 243.502 MPH and new record.

World of Speed - September
As is customary, I made the first pass. We are running alcohol for fuel as we did Speedweek. We had added a High Speed By-Pass to the fuel system and changed to a higher gear ratio in the rear axle. It was a great run, posting our fastest ¼ mile, 222.022 and also the fastest top speed, 247.722 MPH. It seemed that we had a good race car and it was now time to put my nephew, Ken Smith in the car for licensing. Weather had not been our friend at this meet this year. It was Monday morning before we completed the three licensing passes. We were third back in line on Sunday evening when the meet was called because of wind so we got an early run giving Ken his "A" license at 213.289 MPH. Since there were not very many competitors left on the Salt, we were able to get in three qualifying runs, but fell short of the 243.502 record that we had set at Speedweek, posting the best speed of 239.182 on the third pass. This was not what we had hoped for, but Ken was satisfied having had the opportunity to get some reasonably fast rides. He will have to wait for another day to make the record attempt again.
World Finals - October
My son Dan arrived the evening of the 12th and my nephew, Ken, was on the salt before noon on the 13th. Jeff and Barry, my other sons, arrive in the early afternoon on the 13th. On our first run, I tried advancing the timing again falling short of the 243.502 MPH record at 236.759 MPH. This was basically the same speed we had run on our last pass Speedweek with the same timing setting. Obviously the engine didn't want that much advance. For the next run we retarded the timing to the setting where it had performed best before and tried again. This time we ran 242.756 MPH, less than 1 MPH under the record. Our  3rd pass gave us the numbers we were looking for, 245.565 MPH, we were well qualified. The next morning Ken ran  242.956 MPH for a 244.260 MPH Record and membership in the Bonneville 200 MPH Club. This gives us seven family members in the Club. I got in in the Pierson Coupe in 1990 and all the others gained their membership in our present ride.

El Mirage - November

We were already to make an attempt at putting Barry in the Dirty "2" Club, but wet ground canceled the meet for the second year in a row. Oh Well, can't complain...we had another great year at the races. 2005 will see some changes and faster speeds we hope. Keep tuned!


(go to Bryant Racing, then to the Archives and click on 2005 to get the update) 


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Last Updated: 09/09/2010