Who as a 13yr Old boy felt “the Need for Speed!” When making His very first pass in a Dragster…
I initially “Heard” the News via the Car and Driver Magazine section upon my Newsline for The Blind telephone service on Wednesday, April 5th. Stating that multiple sources were reporting that Craig Breedlove had Died at the Age of 86 on April 4th.
Breedlove as many may know, was synonymous wit His Spirit of America Jet engine “Rocket” Cars. For which Breedlove became the first to officially break the 400, 500 and lastly 600mph speed barrier. With Breedlove being locked in a Mano e Mano duel with the Arfon Brothers, i.e.; Walt and Art, of Akron, Ohio in their quest to be the Fastest Man on Earth!
Initially Breedlove’s record of 407.447mph over One Flying Mile was Not recognized by the FIA as an official Land Speed Record (LSR) since it failed to meet their guidelines of having four wheels and two driven wheels.
As Breedlove had set that speed in His original Spirit of America, a three wheeled vehicle propelled by a surplus -F-86 Sabre Jet Fighter J-47 Turbojet engine in the Fall of 1963. For which His accomplishment was immortalized by the Beach boys Spirit of America song that same year.
Then between October 2, 1964 to November 15, 1965, Walt, His younger Half Brother Art and Breedlove traded the land speed record a further eight times! Although Walt hired Tom Green to drive His Wingfoot Express in 1964 after suffering a serious Hand injury when unloading the vehicle at Bonneville. With Art claiming three land speed records vs. Breedlove five.
As Breedlove’s Two way average Flying Mile speed of 600.601mph mark stood for five years until Gary Gabelich aboard His Blue Flame Natural Gas powered Rocket Car broke the record at 622.407mph over One mile, which I’ve previously scribbled’ about here upon No Fenders ong ago in my two part The 700 Club tome.
Craig recorded a speed of 526.277mph in His Sonic I in 1964. Yet His parachutes failed to operate and Breedlove went onto claim another record, albeit surely unwanted. With the Guinness Book of World Records denoting His five mile Skid as the World’s longest!
Before the out of control Sonic I Hit a telegraph Pole with legend claiming Breedlove had the presence of mind to unlock the Sonic I’s canopy before submerging itself in a Brine water lake! And when rescuers finally arrived. Breedlove calmly pronounced for my next trick I’ll set Myself on fire!
As I was fortunate enough to see Breedlove’s record setting Spirit of America Sonic I, a General electric J-79 Phantom Jet Fighter engine’s four wheel Jet Car on display at then the IMS Hall of Fame Museum Wayback’ in May, 2012. For which I’d have to say it seemed totally out of place amongst the various classic Indianapolis 500 racing cars…
Yet when I think of Messer Breedlove, my mind invariably wonders back to the years 1996-97. When over the course of approximately one year, Breedlove saw the Highs ‘N Lows for the pursuit of becoming the first person to break the Speed of Sound on land, then the ultimate Land Speed record!
As I cannot say that I really remember Craig’s incident in October, 1996, when a garbled radio message left Him misunderstanding the winds velocity of 15mph Crosswinds, which He heard as 1.5mph! Therefore, during a High Speed run of some 675mph, Craig Heavily crashed His latest land speed record Challenger, the Spirit of America Formula Shell LSRV!
As this latest Spirit of America LSR vehicle also utilized an ubiquitous GE J-79 Turbojet engine for it’s motivating power, albeit being converted to produce it’s maximum 22,650lbs thrust running on unleaded Gasoline.
Yet what I still remember most, was working in what was affectionately Not! Known as the “Plywood Palace,” with a Blimey’ British Engineer John Somebody’ politely throwing Barbs back “n forth with me daily over Breedlove’s race against Richard Noble’s ThrustSSC at Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, for ultimate Bragging rights over being the first to break the Sound barrier on land. For which we All know ThrustSSC did so in October, 1997.
As I do recall how a loose bolt completely destroyed Breedlove’s primary J-79 engine during a speed attempt run. And His underfinance, tiny volunteer crew never recovered from that incident! Even after installing a backup jet engine, Craig just couldn’t compete against ThrustSSC and Andy green.
Being a Shelby American and All things Blue Oval Devotee. I’m aware of the Arse-sumedly obscure fact that Craig would set some 23 Speed records aboard one of ‘Ol Shel’s Cobra Daytona Coupes Wayback in November, 1965 at a Goodyear tyre test. And then later again at Bonneville, along with His wife Lee, would set multiple records for AMC in both it’s radical AMX and Javelin “Pony Car” automobiles.
Since I’m guessing most, like myself originally, aren’t aware that Craig’s wife Lee was also a Speed Junky. Having become the world’s Fastest Couple in 1965!
Although Breedlove was married a total of six times, and He and Lee Divorced in 1968…
Having only discovered that Lee had held the Women’s land Speed record at 308.5mph, also set aboard the Spirit of America’s Sonic I in 1965. When learning of Jessie Combs Death in 2019.
As Combs had broken Lee Breedlove’s record in 2013 and was then chasing Kitty O’Neil’s record before perishing in the Alvord Desert in Oregon, before being awarded the current Women’s land speed record posthumously…