Story and photos by Jon Paulette
Bonnie, the 222 mph Alfa.
(This article has also appeared on the IAP Website-ed.)
Over 450 vehicles turned out for the 60th running of Bonneville Speed Week August 18-24. Among them were streamliners, lakesters, roadsters, muscle cars, econoboxes, trucks, motorcycles, sprint cars–even an MG station wagon. And exactly one Alfa Romeo, the Chicago-based ’91 Alfa Spider known to friends and competitors as Bonnie.
Keeping the driver cool is a Bonneville essential.
In 2006, the screaming yellow Spider managed a 217.152 mph average over two runs to claim the G/BGMS (Blown Gas Modified Sports) record the team had been chasing since 1999. That also made Bonnie the fastest full-bodied Alfa Romeo ever, beating the record previously held by the Alfa factory’s one-off ProCar 164. For 2008, the focus was squarely on regaining the G/BFMS (Blown Fuel Modified Sports) record taken away by a 221-mph Nissan in 2006. After a year’s worth of aero and cooling improvements, car owner Richard Kreines, tuner Jim Steck and builder Mike Besic were looking forward to seeing what the car could do. The results weren’t quite what everyone had hoped for, but it was still an impressive performance.
Driver Bob Bowers.
With veteran racer (but Bonneville rookie) Bob Bowers at the wheel, the International Auto Parts/Besic Motorsports/Autocomponenti-sponsored car certainly looked good early on. Bowers, a vastly experienced road racer, completed his licensing runs easily and was soon ready for record attempts. With a talented driver, a powerful car and a perfectly prepared course (three of them, actuallyâ€”two short courses and a long), everything looked promising.
In line for a run.
The weather at Bonneville, always an iffy proposition, was generally fantastic this year. Still, high winds on Thursday afternoon forced Southern California Timing Association officials to call an early halt to the day’s racing. That stoppage cost the team at least one run, but the “Chamber of Commerce” weather returned on Friday and Bowers went back to work on the five-mile “Long Course.” He ripped off a sizzling 222.620 on his first pass of the day, which qualified the car for a record run. After a very successful half-day’s work, the car went into impound for its mandatory overnight stay and the team went back to town for a well-deserved night of relaxation.
Bonnie’s crew–from left to right, Beth Black, Jon Paulette, Mike Besic, Bob Bowers, Jim Steck.
As the sun rose Saturday morning, hopes were high. Unfortunately, the turbocharged four-cylinder was feeling a bit low. Bowers gave it his all, but “Bonnie” could only manage a 217–pretty good, but not nearly good enough for a new record. The team briefly considered another attempt, but the engine was clearly on the verge of doing something ugly and expensive. Nobody wanted to leave without the record, but nobody wanted to grenade the engine in pursuit of a lost cause, either. Chicago’s a long way from Wendover and it was time to go home.
Disappointing? Sure it was; but after setting three records during previous trips to Bonneville, Kreines, Steck and Besic set the bar pretty high. Record or no record, a 222-mph Alfa Spider is still utterly amazing and the team deserves enormous credit for the work they did. And for the work they’re probably doing right now–Speed Week 2009 can’t get here soon enough!