By Sharon Mager
Chip Brosseau has a unique getaway every August — he heads to Utah for Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats, working with the record-breaking Team Vesco. Chip has flown to Utah each summer since 2010 except for two years that Speed Week was rained out.
“We do land-speed racing to see how fast you can go under any power,” Chip explained. “Cars, motorcycles, Harley Davidson-powered skateboards, gasoline bar stools, and lawnmowers — just about anything has been run at Bonneville racing since the last turn of the century. That’s because it’s one of few places on earth where you have a flat surface with nothing to run into – it’s just flat salt.”
Four years ago, he invited his then 12-year-old son, Jeremy Brosseau, who lives in Arnold but is a junior at Northeast High School in Pasadena.
Jeremy called it “exciting” to see the different cars. “It’s crazy out there,” Jeremy said with a laugh. “The first time I went out, this guy rolled up on a motor-powered bar stool and asked if I wanted to try it out. It was one of the coolest things!”
Jeremy assists the crew, getting tools and helping remove the body of the car.
“At first, I didn’t know if I wanted to go to the desert,” he said. “It was going to be hot. And it was the longest flight I’d ever been on, but everything changed when I got there.”
Jeremy was quickly entranced. The sand looked like snow, and he loved the rock formations. “We camp there for the first few days,” he said. “At around 2:00 or 3:00, it cools down, and you can hear coyotes howling. There are also a lot of jackrabbits hopping around.”
The trip is also a bonding opportunity for father and son. “I get to spend 10 or 11 days with my dad. I love it,” Jeremy said.
Chip, the president of Kero-Del Fuel and HVAC in Pasadena, and the official fuel sponsor for Team Vesco, first visited Bonneville when his cousin, California resident Rick Kunze, invited him to Speed Week in 2008.
Kunze had always been a “gear head,” said Chip. “He had an alcohol-driven drag-racing boat doing a seven-second quarter-mile race. It got to the point where they wouldn’t let him go faster unless he built a capsule to protect the driver.”
Instead, Kunze sold the boat and headed to Utah. There, he met with some of the Vesco racing team, and while hanging around with the crew, Kunze was able to help deal with a fuel injection problem, suggesting a specific part that had the car up and running.
“They invited Rick to ride in the push truck,” Chip recalled. “So he hops in the truck, and it takes off … and boom, they have a record. They were ecstatic. They said, ‘Want to hang out?’ So, he called me all excited and said, ‘Chip, you’ve got to come out.’”
The next year, Chip arrived and grilled lunch for the team. “I like to cook, so for the whole week, I cooked lunches for them, and they invited me back.”
He returned in 2010, two years later. “On the first run of the meet, the car went down the course and blew an engine — parts all over,” Chip said. “They came back to the pits and started taking the car apart. The crew chief asked me to hand him a wrench.”Chip offered his assistance.
“The next thing I know, the guy in charge says, ‘You turn a good wrench. How long have you been working on race cars?’ I said, ‘About a week. I’ve never touched one before.’
Chip was asked to come back the following month. After much deliberation, he agreed to help the rest of the season.
When Jeremy joined him, the father-son team got to work together. “Darn if he didn’t turn a good wrench, too,” Chip said with a laugh. “He’s catching on. We look forward to it each year.”
Chip said Vesco has many records broken only by their own team. They push each year to go faster. “Last year, we met the goal to be the first wheel-driven car to achieve 500 miles an hour,” he said.
There are faster vehicles, such as jet engines, explained Chip. The difference is that at Bonneville, the vehicles have to stay in contact with the ground – in this case, salt.
“The heels have to make contact with the salt, produce friction and push the car in a forward direction,” he said. “Thrust cars used to run at Bonneville but haven’t since the ‘70s.”
Chip said people come from around the world and there’s warm camaraderie.
“Everyone works together to make it fast, safe and fun,” he said.
Father and son are thankful for the experience. “Not a lot of people get to do this,” Jeremy said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’ve gotten to do it for four years, and I plan to keep going back as long as I can.”