Breedlove: 'I'll be back'
'Was I Scared? You could say that.'

  By Randy Gray
  copyright (c) 1996, Electric Nevada

Gerlach, Nev.-- Craig Breedlove was not about to let a brush with death kill his rekindled hunger for the world land speed record.  
"This is what I do," he said.
The next attempt, he said, will come next year at the age of 60, whether it's in Australia in the spring or back here at the Black Rock Desert in late summer.
Breedlove seemed more concerned about the car than his own well- being Monday after "Spirit of America" caught a jolt of wind, took a sudden right-hand turn at a record speed of 675 miles per hour, tipped on its side and careened a mile-and- a-half off course toward the edge of the dry lake bed.
Breedlove waited frightening seconds until the car righted itself, then ejected the parachutes and pulled to a safe stop some two miles from the rocky, hilly desert terrain.
Breedlove, 59, was attempting to set the world land speed record for the sixth time, and for the first time in 31 years. He had just entered the timing zone when his hopes were swept away by winds estimated at between 15 and 18 mph.
Moments after inspecting his "Spirit of America" on rubbery legs, Breedlove acknowledged his fear. Asked if he was scared, he grinned and cocked his head and said, "You could say that."
"It was a scary situation. I had options when the car was on its side -- whether to use the chutes or wait, whether to brake.
"It was a good run on power. The wind caught it and it just got away from me. I'm fine, but I'm very disappointed and depressed."
Breedlove said he knows now he has enough power to go supersonic, his ultimate goal. To break through the sound barrier at the 4,000 feet elevation at the Black Rock, he would have to run about 765 mph.
As for now, he plans to start working on his car in his garage at Rio Vista, Calif. Early indications were that the major damage was to the rear axle. The scarred body was in clear evidence.
"It's going to be a busy winter for us," he said.
Breedlove was the first to eclipse 400, 500 and 600 miles. He was on target to easily break the record speed of 633.468 set by Richard Noble of Great Britain in the Black Rock in 1983.
If his official clocking had been 675 mph, he would have needed only 605 mph clocking on the second of two required runs to average the required 640 mph, or 1 percent faster than the established mark.
Meanwhile, Noble was on his way to Al Jafr Desert in Jordan to test his Thrust SSC with driver Andy Green.
Breedlove was unable to motivate Noble to break new ground but, clearly, the land speed battle is on center stage again for the first time since the mid-1960s when

Top of page

Breedlove and Art Arfons were trading the record back and forth at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
"I think we had to try to do things too quickly this time," Breedlove said. "We pushed too hard into the weather window, and tried to do too much too soon.
"We'll take more time to prepare and start earlier next year, if the environmentalists don't stop us."
An attempt by environmental groups to block the run was denied by a deputy chief administrative judge pending an appeal, which is expected to be ruled on in about six months. Breedlove had tested his car at Bonneville earlier this month, but the salt was too mushy, and caused bearing damage to the car.
Breedlove was bitter about the environmental protest.
"If the environmental groups wanted to keep an American from getting the record, they succeeded," he said.
It was not until 10 minutes before the aborted run that the wind came up.
"It was only 1.5 knots against us, but there was a hard cross wind," Breedlove said.
Bill Breedlove, a cousin and the project's operations manager, said the wind was almost nonexistent five miles away at the top of the track, and the team was taken by surprise by its velocity down the course.
"We'll learn more when we process all the data, but it was most likely the wind that caused it," he said.
"He's unbelievably OK. The car went on its side like a tipped tricycle. Craig just waited for it to settle before he pulled the chute. He did what was necessary in that kind of situation. He did exactly what he had to under that kind of stress. That was amazing.
"He got thrown around in there pretty good. Actually, though, it's pretty tight in the cockpit. There's not much room to move."
One crew member cracked, "He forgot to signal for that right-hand turn."
Some 150 onlookers stood adjacent to the one-mile timing stretch of track as Breedlove zoomed past. A loud collective gasp rang out as the car veered off course. If the car had gone out of control two seconds earlier, it would have careened into the spectators.
Many of the onlookers jumped into their cars and vans and sped over the dry lake bed to the spot where "Spirit of America" had come to a stop, and arrived as Breedlove was getting out of the cockpit.
Two hours earlier, at 9:45 a.m., Breedlove tested the car at 470 miles an hour. He had qualified for the record attempt with runs over 400 miles an hour, first on Wednesday and then on Sunday.

Want to share your opinion? Electric Nevada's comment page is open!

Back to Electric Nevada's front Page