El Mirage, CA

El Mirage Lake is a dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert of California in the United States. The lake is located about nine miles (14 km) west-northwest of the town of Adelanto and 10 miles (16 km) north of Highway 18 in San Bernardino County.
For 50 years the lakebed has been used by the Southern California Timing Association for timed speed runs. The club also runs the Bonneville Salt Flats speed runs. The dry lake is approximately six miles (10 km) long. El Mirage Lake is part of the El Mirage OHV Recreation Area. It is also known to be an extremely popular filming location for automobile commercials.

SCTA El Mirage records are one way speed records. These are set on a dirt surface at El Mirage Dry Lake in California. The track is 1.3 miles long. Unlike Bonneville, the six-mile-long El Mirage dry-lake bed is composed of compacted clay and silt. During heavy rain seasons, silt is deposited onto the lake-bed, forming a uniformly flat 'hard pan' in the undrained basin.

  1. SCTA - BNI - sanctioning organisation home page
  2. El Mirage - Google Maps
  3. 34º38’52.10”N 117º36’34.47”W - Maps aerial photos and other data for this location
Land Speed Racing America

Aerial View: El Mirage Dry Lake
By David Freiburger, Photography by David Freiburger
Hot Rod Magazine, October, 2012

These days, the Bonneville Salt Flats get all the glory; we've often seen them called the birthplace of hot rodding. Wrong. While Bonneville is immensely spectacular and significant, and has been raced upon for a 100 years, hot rodders as we know them didn't set tread on the salt until the first Bonneville Nationals in 1949. Before then--back to at least the early '30s--hot rodding and top-speed racing happened on Southern California's dry lakebeds such as Harper, Rosamond and Muroc (now within Edwards Air Force Base), and El Mirage.

While the first race organized by the Southern California Timing Association was held in 1938 at Muroc, the SCTA has most often used El Mirage, and has done so continuously from 1938 until now, excluding during WWII. The SCTA currently hosts six events a year there, in May, June, July, September, October, and November. The scene shown in the photo is of the May '12 opening event with about 100 entries. The season-opening and closing events are full weekends, the others are just Sundays.

The race format at El Mirage is much like that of Bonneville: From a standing start, accelerate to your car's highest possible speed before the timing lights. At El Mirage, the track is 1.3 miles long with a 132-foot timing trap at the end. Unlike at Bonneville, where records are set based on an average of one record-qualifying run and one backup run, a single pass at El Mirage can net you a land-speed record if your run is at least 0.001 mph faster than the existing record. Also unlike at Bonneville, there are record minimums at El Mirage; for example, if there's an "open class" (one with no record because no one has ever run in the class), there will be a mph established as the minimum speed required to achieve a record in the class. At Bonneville, you can set a record in an open class at any speed at all. The reason for the difference is that El Mirage offers a season-long championship that's partially based on points earned by breaking records, and by how drastically you exceed the existing record. Without minimums, there could be too much sandbagging. Not that it doesn't happen, anyway.

The most significant chasm between Bonneville and El Mirage is the surface itself: Bonneville is salt, El Mirage is silt--hopefully hard-packed silt, but often not. Those who've run the Salt Flats and had traction problems haven't even begun to suffer. El Mirage racing can be like running across a plowed field. Worse, the shorter distance makes it more critical to put the power down earlier; it's more of a drag race. Between the challenges and the history of the place, we consider getting into the El Mirage 200 MPH Club a much more significant accomplishment than entering the Bonneville 200 MPH Club. Really.

The fastest record on the dirt is 312.100 mph in the Leggitt-Mirage C/Blown Fuel Lakester. In all, there are six records exceeding 300 mph, five of which involved Les Leggitt engines. Twelve men have walked on the moon. Draw your own conclusions.

What You Need To Know

  • Located in California's Mojave Desert, about 21?2 hours from downtown Los Angeles.
    Elevation is 2,840 feet.
  • Temperatures on race days in June through September almost always exceed 90 degrees F.
  • The condition of the racing surface depends upon the way the lakebed floods and dries during the transition from winter to spring.
  • The El Mirage area is a BLM-controlled off-highway vehicle area that you can access for $15 a day.
  • Racers participate in an annual cleanup day and are a significant force in maintaining and respecting the area.
  • Anytime you see a car commercial with aerial shots of cars racing ahead of dusty rooster tails, that's El Mirage.

1 Spectators: People can watch for free, other than the $15 fee to the BLM. No glass bottles are allowed, but that does not slow down the overnight parties. Folks tend to gather on the north side.
2 The Back Door: The area well past the finish line is called the back door. There's a line of cones there, and if you bust through them with a race vehicle, there's big hell to pay.
3 Pits: Racers may choose a pit space anywhere they like, typically along the track line with spectators, or here.
4 Registration and Tech Inspection: SCTA trailers for race operations are always located here. The T-shirt trailer is over by the starting line, but you need to check in, sign a waiver, and get a wristband to go over there.
5 Staging: Racers are called to lanes in an order determined by points standings. This allows the most serious racers to run early in the day when the weather is best and before the track gets torn up.
6 The Track: It runs roughly Southeast for 1.3 miles. It's about three car widths wide and is marked by orange cones and balloons.