While the swells are swigging champagne on the Monterey Peninsula among the most exquisite vintage cars on the planet and a million cruisers are smoking tires on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue, an entirely different crop of car nuts are in Utah paying homage to a venerable automotive tradition dating to 1914 – ripping across the ancient salt flats of Bonneville in search of ultimate speed.
I keep meaning to get to Bonneville SpeedWeek for more than that one kiss that I delivered to the sacred salt during a brief stopover in late August 1986 on a cross-country pilgrimage to the Monterey Historic races [“Monterey or Bust,” Automobile Magazine, December 1986]. The subject came up again when Reeves Callaway’s old math teacher, Rob Gibby, turned up – twelve years after he and I went on a date – to offer our local Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation chapter a place on his Bonneville team as an auction item.
His Bonneville team? I remember that the totally Jersey Gibby was locked into the vibrant East Coast hot-rodder scene, but Bonneville? It transpires that Gibby and his speed-crazed childhood friend, Robin Dripps, who’ve known each other since the age of ten, have been coming to Bonneville in search of record speed for years. Three years in a row, to be precise. And they’re sixty-five years old.
“Dripps has always been over the top,” says Gibby, speaking of the distinguished author and architecture professor at the University of Virginia who is the principal driver of their 1932 Ford roadster (E/STR class). “She lived outside of Philly and hung out with an older group of buddies who were hot-rodders. She had a Healey 100/4 with a fuel-injected Vette engine. I had a Model A Ford with a Chevy engine and would come down from northern New Jersey during spring break and hang out. Dripps gave me rides that would terrify me.”
Gibby went off to Lehigh and on to teaching math at the private high school where young Callaway did burnouts every day in his ’55 Ford T-Bird (with a 389-cubic-inch Pontiac engine). Gibby worked for a steel company, put together the deal for the stamped aluminum cover of Madonna’s Sex book, and recently, at the age of sixty, started a new contract manufacturing business in China. Dripps headed to Princeton and embarked on a highly Google-able career in architecture.
Fast-forward to 2002. They reconnect. The spark is still there. It is not love; it’s hot rods. Gibby brings up an old subject – Bonneville. “Dripps says if we’re going to go to Bonneville, she wants to go the classic way, in a ’32 Ford roadster. We decide to collaborate. I take care of all the logistics, construction, the helmets and suits, lodging, all that. It’s Dripps’s money. Oh, and complete Dripps designs – she’s an engineering genius – including the motor, which she bases on a GM motorsports competition block. It’s a 258-cubic- inch V-6 that makes 550 hp under the hood and redlines at 9000 rpm.”
With less than a year to get a car built, they make it to Bonneville in August 2005. The salt gets rained out, but the fever is upon them, so they return in 2006. The E/STR class record is 163 mph. Dripps rips off 168.370 mph.
I missed the 2007 Dripps & Gibby Racing effort that saw Dripps spin at 150 mph, during which the deck lid wrapped itself around the roll cage. Two days later, she blew her old record into the weeds with an average of 173.609 mph.
It’s clear that, with their friendship intact and unchanged in focus fifty years on, Dripps & Gibby will be figures on the salt for years to come. But that first year was the charm.
“When Dripps buckled in and made that first run in 2005, I had tears in my eyes,” remembers Gibby. “We built that car in nine months, and we ran it! This was my lifetime friend. We’re old fogies in our sixties, and we actually got to do what we’d dreamed about for fifty years.”