Out on the Black Rock Desert,
Speed Record Awaits Assault

  by Randy Gray
  copyright 1996, Electric Nevada

Gerlach, Nev. -- After several days of delays, hitches and weather watching, Craig Breedlove was poised Tueday to take his jet-powered "Spirit of America" across an 11-mile stretch of the Black Rock Desert in pursuit of the land speed record.
Breedlove arrived here Sunday night and the transporter carrying his vehicle followed early Monday. Assembling and testing followed, along with the clearing of the track.
"As the rules state, we have to qualify with two successive runs of more than 400 miles an hour," said Bill Breedlove, Craig's cousin and the operations manager at Black Rock.
An attempt at the record of 633.468 miles an hour could come as soon as this afternoon. Breedlove would have Wednesday and Thursday morning, if necessary, to shoot for the mark, held by Richard Noble of Great Britain. He is due in Las Vegas Thursday afternoon for a marketing meeting with his chief sponsor, Shell Oil.
He could return to try again Nov. 1 if this attempt fails. The recreational permit is valid through Nov. 15.
Breedlove, 59, of Rio Vista, Calif. was the first to exceed 400, 500 and 600 miles an hour. He says his goals over the next two years are to break 700 and then to eclipse the sound barrier, which would be more than 750 mph.
An attempt by environmental groups to block the land speed chase was denied by a deputy chief administrative judge pending an appeal. That appeal would not be heard for at least six months, according to Lynn Clemons of the Bureau of Land Management district office in Winnemucca.
To officially capture the record, Breedlove
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would have to clock 640 mph, or 1 percent better than the current mark.
"The record would be a significant achievement to get the first year, " he said. "Unfortunately, it's an easy thing to talk about and a hard thing to do.
"Then we could go for 700 next year. From there we'd have enough of a base line to make some decisions about going super sonic. We might decide to go through the sound barrier unmanned. That makes good sense."
He tested his new Spirit of America Oct. 12 at 375 mph at the site of many previous record runs by himself and Art Arfons in the 1960s. Those runs were held at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
But bearing damage caused by wet conditions after three practice runs needed repairing, and Breedlove was ecstatic over the court decision to allow him to run at the Black Rock.
Also granted permits this fall were Noble and Gary Swenson of Puyallup, Wash. Neither was able to meet the time frame.
Noble is the project manager for Thrust SSC. He would turn the driving of the rear-steering 14,500-pound vehicle powered by two Rolls Royce Spey jet engines, over to Air Force Pilot Andy Green.
Swenson's American Eagle One, is similar to Breedlove's Spirit of America, a General Electric J-79 turbojet-powered vehicle weighing 8,500 pounds. He has had trouble getting financing.

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