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The 8th running of the World of Speed on the flats of Bonneville was the best race yet, and were it not for one thing, the salt, it would have been better yet.

About 40 land speed records were posted in four days of racing, which, says Mary West, an official with the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association, is an unusually large number . . . "The most we've ever had." The records ran from a low of 145 miles per hour to a high of 311 mph.This race, too, brought in the highest number of entries ever - 117. And, probably the most ideal weather conditions - cool in the mornings and evenings, and comfortable in the afternoon. Never was it unbearably hot.

The one thing lacking was enough firm salt to have a complete track.

"The track is about seven miles long," says Larry Volk, president of the USFRA. "Only the middle five miles, however, are what you'd call good track. The start and finish are breaking up."

To get any kind of a stable track, officials had to move about 31/2 miles east of where previous tracks were placed. These tracks usually ran from 9 to 11 miles.

Because of poor salt conditions this year, two earlier races had to be canceled. Instead of salt crystals bonding, this year the salt was breaking up, which resulted in a mushy surface.

The track for this event was threaded between mud flats to the east and west and a large mud dike to the south.

Racers, however, were simply happy to be racing.

Back this year in search of a record were two old veterans of high speed racing - Terry Nish and the Vesco/Nish car. Nish, who started oval track racing at the old Fairgrounds in 1959, moved to the salt a few years ago. Last year he slipped into the seat of the streamliner built in 1957 by John Vesco.

On Wednesday, Nish pushed the car to the brink of a new record with a run of 303.9 mph. The record he was challenging was 290. On the return run, however, the transmission let go midway through the run.

"Had it held together for just 30 seconds more we would have had the record. We were going to change fuels and then run at the 330 (mph) record," said Nish.

Saturday, Nish was sitting in the impound area with a single run of 292.4 and hoping time would not run out before he could make his return run for the record. It didn't.

Saturday he made his record run of 291.6 against the previous mark of 290 and advanced into the prestigious 200 mph club.

He called his 300 mph runs "the biggest natural high you can ever imagine."

Under land-speed rules, to set a record, drivers must get a two-way average over the old mark.

His was not the only record attempt. Nolan White, who has been trying for years to break the all-time land speed record for a engine-driven car of 409 mph, set nearly 30 years ago, missed again. His best was a 306 mph run on Saturday.

George Fields lost a tire towards the end of his runs through the timing lights, but still managed to set a record in A fuel of 311 mph. The old record was 294 mph.

Joe Law of West Virginia, had a down run of 309.562 mph and was able to put in a good return run to set a record in C gas of 296.193, which smashed the old mark of 265.23.

Glen Deeds of Burbank, Calif., did as well. He set a record of 265.799 in AA gas, which broke the old mark of 225.012.

There were also a couple of double record setters. Jack Costella of San Jose, upped the record from 179.22 to 215.246 then pushed it up again to 220.109. And, Ron Pruett of Redland, Calif., pushed up the record from 220.214 to 241.343 and again to 258.221.

The event started on Wednesday and ended Saturday. Racers called this race especially important because the deteriorating conditions of the salt may result in an end to high-speed racing on Bonneville.

What they're hoping for is a cleansing and restructuring of the salt this winter . . . and there's racing in 1995.