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Race car in desert

Flamin’ Betty {format} {format} 4:48 Barrett Golding

A 63-year-old grandmother sets a land-speed record.

Broadcast: Oct 15 2004 on NPR Day to Day Subjects: Technology, Sports

Profile: Betty Burkland races fast cars at age 63

October 15, 2004 from Day to Day

ALEX CHADWICK, host: If you like fast cars, this is a great week to be in Wendover, Utah. That's the town by the Bonneville Salt Flats where some of the world's fastest cars are racing against each other to set new speed records. Among the racers: Betty Burkland, a 63-year-old grandmother from Great Falls, Montana. She currently holds a world land speed record. She drove a specially built Class E supercharged coupe at 263 miles an hour. She just likes to go fast. But she was willing to slow down long enough to talk about it.

(Soundbite of car engine; music)

Ms. BETTY BURKLAND (Racer): If you're not nervous about driving a car at Bonneville, then you're not looking at reality. You should be nervous. It should not be something you do lightly.

(Soundbite of racing car)

Ms. BURKLAND: They almost gotta be Hemis. The Chevys and the Fords don't impress me that much, but the Hemi engines, that'll get me charged.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BURKLAND: If you have to crash your car, you want to do it in a race car that's built to crash and at the salt flats where's nothing to hook or tear. I mean, you can roll and slide and whatever.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BURKLAND: I knew as soon as I took off that something was wrong with the car. It didn't sound right, I didn't have any throttle. But I thought, it's a record, I've got to just try to recover. And there was this huge pop and I could see orange, and I thought, uh-oh, I got a fire.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BURKLAND: I got out. They started taking the hood off, and there was fire under the hood.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BURKLAND: They call me Flamin' Betty.

(Soundbite of racing engine and music)

Unidentified Man #1: Now the first car, 125, (unintelligible)... driven by Betty Burkland.

Ms. BURKLAND: It's a big deal to build a car and put all your heart and soul into it, and then let somebody else drive it. That's a big deal. The record's 250. He says, `All you gotta do is go 251.'

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BURKLAND: I just know how to make them go fast.

(Soundbite of racing engine and music)

Ms. BURKLAND: As a kid, when you got on a slide, a big one, with the loop in the middle and all that, and you look at it and you think, do I really want to do this? And yet when you do it, you get to the bottom and, wow, that was fun, let's go do it again. That's the thing. It's partly the thrill of doing it, partly the thrill of knowing that you did it. And then there's the little thing of knowing that you stepped a little past your comfort zone and survived, and it was fun.

(Soundbite of racing engine and music)

Unidentified Man #1: ...five one fifty-nine.

Ms. BURKLAND: There's another reason I do this, too.

Unidentified Man #1: The first mile is 257.004.

Ms. BURKLAND: I want my grandkids to know they can do anything they want to. The sky's the limit. If you want to do it, and you seriously want to do it, you can do it.

(Soundbite of racing engine and music)

Unidentified Man #1: Middle mile, 265.997.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man #2: All right!

Unidentified Man #1: That qualifies on a 250 record.

(Soundbite of cheering)

CHADWICK: Betty Burkland, recorded by Jim Keough(ph) for his film "Return to Bonneville." It comes to us through Hearing Voices, a forum for independent radio producers.

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.