The need for speed |

The need for speed

Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra Sun Roger Lessman in his custom race car.

Kids, and especially boys, often have a fascination with speed and cars when they’re young. You can see it in the hot rod magazine sticking out of a 13-year-old’s backpack or the gleam in the eye of a 16-year-old who somehow convinced his parents to buy him a Mustang for his first car.Eventually, that obsession with fast cars fades. But not for Truckee’s Roger Lessman. Rather than fading, his obsession has turned into a blur. Lessman, managing partner for East West Partners’ Tahoe operations, is set to spend four days on the vast Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah testing out his newest obsession – a 29-foot-long, custom-built red space-ship-like race car that he hopes will eventually break the land speed record for wheel-driven vehicles.The current land speed record for a wheel-driven car was set in 2001 by Don Vesco. He drove his “Turbinator” car 458.44 mph over the course at Bonneville.

Lessman won’t be gunning for Vesco’s record this week, though. Instead he hopes to perform a number of shake-down runs to get everything working properly and set him up for a run at the record in 2005.A racer since he and a couple of friends built their first race car in his garage, took it out to Bonneville and got it up to 300 mph, Lessman explained why he still pursues his need for speed.”It’s the way I relax. I enjoy the mechanical side of cars. I’m an aeronautical engineer by background and I enjoy that kind of stuff. It gets me away from the day to day stuff in the office,” he said. “You always want to set a goal. My original goal was to go 300 miles per hour, which I’ve done several times now. So now I want to go faster. You never build a race car to go slower.”

Breaking new groundLessman’s newest car is in many ways a departure from the norm out on the salt flats. Like most of the land speed record hopefuls, Lessman’s car is a streamliner – a long, skinny creation designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. But with an engine that burns Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system providing the propulsion, Lessman expects his car to break new ground at Bonneville.On the salt flats this week, Lessman will run with a 600 horsepower CNG engine that he predicts will get him up to 300-plus mph. Eventually, for the record attempt, turbo chargers and a nitrous oxide system will bump that horsepower up to around 2,000, which he believes should allow him to better Vesco’s mark of 458 mph.But even hitting 300 mph this week should be good enough to garner Lessman the speed record for a CNG vehicle.

And while speed is always a priority at Bonneville, Lessman said that it’s the community of fellow racers that makes the events out there so enjoyable.”One of the things that’s cool about it is you go out there and you do all this stuff and it’s simply because you like to do it,” he said. “There’s no money in it. It’s really the last true amateur auto race of significance in the world right now. All the other auto races – NASCAR, Indy cars, drag races – have become so commercialized that it’s tough to be involved anymore because it costs millions of dollars. And this stuff you can still go out and it’s strictly amateur: If you set a world record everybody comes around, buys you a beer, pats you on the back and gives you a $25 trophy.”On the NetMore on Roger Lessman’s attempts at the land speed record :

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