---- — By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
BONNEVILLE, Utah -- Damion Gardner thrilled the race fans in Central Pennsylvania with his no-fear, rim-ridding style over the past several United States Auto Club Eastern Storm visits.
This week, he took his no-fear attitude to the famed Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah to try and become the fastest sprint car driver of all time.
In an standard asphalt sprint car chassis with alterations designed for the Salt Flats, Gardner, the 2008 Chili Bowl winner, hit a top speed of 195 mph Friday to establish himself as the fastest sprint car driver.
He reached 194 mph as an exit speed on Thursday in an early-morning run and, in his fourth run later in the day, he spun out while doing 180 mph.
"Being out there, it's really quiet and there's nothing for miles," he said. "It was like a long spin. You can hear the motor, but that's it. It's not like getting sideways; it was like a long drift."
The former USAC/CRA champion went more than 190 mph on Wednesday.
The team was dealing with 100 degree heat which made the salt flats draw water from the aquifer and made the surface slippery.
"It starts off cool in the morning and by 3 or 4 in the afternoon, it gets up to 100 degrees," he said. "It just like racing dirt, you have to figure out the characteristics of the track."
Gardner arrived for his rookie orientation Monday after driving all night from Santa Maria, Calif., where he competed in a USAC/CRA non-wing sprint car race and finished third.
On Tuesday, Gardner hit the targeted speed of 185 mph which earned him his Class "B" license and allowed him to move from the three-mile course to the five-mile course where speeds can reach 250 mph.
His goal was to hit 200 mph during the 65th anniversary of Speed Week at the Salt Flats.
The team was so determined to hit the mark Friday, that they worked on the car late into the night, leaving only after officials told them they had to go.
"We were really close to getting to 200," he said. "We went through the first three traps faster than we had gone before, but they start timing in the fourth trap and that's where I spun out on Friday."
Gardner, who won the Eastern Storm finale at Port Royal in 2012, is the current USAC/CRA points leader.
"The big focus was 200," he said. "It was a realistic goal and even though we didn't get there, we are still excited about how fast we put the car together and what we did accomplish."
Gardner noted the team had a two-year commitment and their chase for 200 will continue next year.