Jon and Nancy Wennerberg are not just spectators of land racing, they also participate. Jon has earned entry into the 200 mph club while Nancy is just a few runs shy.
In the northern reaches of the Mojave Desert a small ghost town nestled in Panamint Valley was home to an old hermit who mined gold in the surrounding hills. His name was Charles Fergie, a skinny, dried up, grizzled old coot who on occasion wandered into town to cash in his gold dust, then go drinking and whoring. Folks would ask, “Have you seen SLIM?” The answer was always the same: “No, he’s SELDOM SEEN.”
The old prospector died in 1968, but there’s a new old coot chasing rainbows and raising Cain. He rides fast motorcycles, loves his tattooed woman and lives off the beaten path same as his namesake. Jon Wennerberg shares his nickname, and if seen in the right light, bares a slight resemblance to the folk legend of days gone past. The end of his rainbow is made of salt. Payday comes every summer when the surface dries and the speed trials begin. It is then that Jon is seldom seen in his hometown of Skandia, Michigan. He and wife Nancy are gone racing.
The two are mainstays at Bonneville, racking up more days on the salt than most. This year alone they attended Speed Week, World of Speed, Mike Cook’s Top Speed Shootout, and World Finals. Ditto for the Maxton Mile which they attended three of their five annual events.
In addition to competing, Jon admits to being the self proclaimed P.O.P.P., or “Potentate of Porta-Potties,” a title he came up with when asked if he and Nancy would take the job. Their mission is to help spread 65 toilets around 30 square miles of pretty much featureless salt. This thankless deed is performed annually at Speed Week and World Finals, confirming the obvious that when it comes to Bonneville, these two know their sh_ _.”
Nancy pulls double duty selling t-shirts, programs and souvenirs in the sales trailer while husband Jon helps with tech inspection at Maxton, on occasion at World of Speed, and other events as time and needs allow.
Their biggest duty in recent years is giving real time play by play reporting of speed trial events to followers of their site, landracing.com.
The site originator, Jon Amo, sold landracing.com to Jon and Nancy so he could pursue other interests. In addition to the site, Salt Talks, the largest social event which happens during Speed Week, was also taken over by Jon and Nancy. Some 350 racers and fans join the lanky prospector and his companion for pasties, barbecue and conversation about what was or might have been, or may happen in the future. Bench racing at its finest, with proceeds going to support the site and the Salt Talks annual get together.
In addition to being able to follow the racing action as it happens by checking in on their website and following the forums, streaming audio was recently added, bringing a new dimension to their already stellar reporting skills. It truly is the next best thing to being there – a duty Jon and Nancy
Tech inspector, porta potty hauler, racer, reporter, and yes, on occasion Slim even works the mic when needed.
don’t take lightly.
There’s no substitute for firsthand knowledge, and both are experienced racers with records of their own. A red hat for Jon signifies membership in Bonneville’s coveted 200 MPH Club, while Nancy has been over 200 a couple of times and is maybe a run or two away from having matching headwear.
Jon has firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to run through a course marker at 200 mph. Here’s his take:
“It was at Speedweek ’08. I was running about two bills, concentrating on my tuck, trying to squeeze another mph or two out of it by finding better aero and traction. I was focused on the tach and not the course. I was on the right side, near the black line hoping the traction would be good over there. The breeze pushed me right, I looked up from the tach and saw the 4 ½ mile marker staring at me dead ahead. Bap/Pow! I went right through it! Ow, that stung… As I rolled out of the throttle I found that I couldn’t pull in the clutch nor use the front brake. The uprights of the marker – ¾” PVC pipe, slapped the clutch and brake levers hard enough to straighten out the curve in each of them. When the jacket came off I noticed blood stains spreading on the arms of my long-sleeved shirt. The PVC slapped the leathers hard enough that they shoved against the armor in the leathers—hard enough to scrape the flesh under the Kevlar. The force
Nancy (above) during final preparations for a run down the famous Bonneville Salt Flats. Todd Dross (below) comforts a visibly shaken Seldom Seen Slim after he crashed through a mile marker at 200 mph.
cracked the carbon fiber armor on the glove of my left pinky finger, crushing said knuckle. I noticed later that the joint was no longer parallel to the rest of the fingers! I’m in a small club now – Sam Wheeler, Joe Amo and a few others have also had the experience.”
Nancy worked as a cake decorator while Jon picked up and disposed of medical waste for his business, Star Industries. He would stop by for a raspberry filled Bismarck which she specially prepared for him with extra cream and frosting. Years later after they married and retired, they took on landracing.com and recently started a new business, Kudos Laser Engraving. In addition to the usual trophies and plaques, they specialize in land speed racing memorabilia, and remain faithful to the sport they love.
In closing, I asked about some of their more memorable experiences covering events on the salt flats. “We were there to see YOU take back the record, and saw your crew do some absolutely heroic “Hail Mary” work to get the bike ready. That was absolutely one of the best-ever events for us and for the site. It was THE fastest race event in history, with four cars over 400 mph—and one bike darn near there. We got to see a bunch of runs by the Phoenix, including the last one that Carl made. We’ve seen the poignant runs of racers that packed the ashes of fellow racers in their chute, giving the deceased one last run down the salt. When the racer tosses out the laundry, the deceased is left forever on the salt. How wonderful a way to go…”