Graig Breedlove dead at 86


Craig Breedlove, legendary land-speed racer and the first person to break the 600-mile-per-hour mark in a car, has died at the age of 86, according to the Southern California Timing Association.

Breedlove was born in Los Angeles, California in 1937 and purchased his first automobile at 16, when he piloted his supercharged 1934 Ford to a top speed of 154 mph on a dry lake in the Mojave desert. At the age of 20, he drove an Oldsmobile-powered streamliner to a top speed of 236 mph at the Bonneville salt flats.

His fascination with aircraft and hot rods intensified with age. By the late 1950s, Craig had stepped into bellytank streamliners and dragsters, continuing to set records at local dry lakes and drag strips. In 1960, Breedlove began planning an American assault on Englishman John Cobb’s long-standing (1947) Land Speed Record of 394 mph.

Craig originally designed a four-wheeled vehicle, only to learn that FIA offered no class for jet cars. Since FIM sanctioned a motorcycle class for thrust-powered three-wheelers, Breedlove modified his plans for “Spirit of America” — a controversial creation more like a fighter plane than any land-based vehicle ever seen. (Among other innovations, Spirit carried what is believed to be the first data recorder ever used in motorsports.)

In 1962, Spirit returned the unlimited Land Speed Record to America with a two-way average of 407.45 mph on August 5,1963. Breedlove’s Goodyear-backed effort ignited an intense “tire war” with the Firestone-sponsored Arfons brothers that would see the LSR change hands six times in three years.

Returning in 1964, Breedlove became the first person to reach 500 mph on wheels, yet briefly lost the record to Art Arfons. Craig recaptured the LSR at 526.277 mph, but nearly drowned on the record setting return lap. After shredding both parachutes and burning up the brakes at 500-plus, Spirit roared past Bonneville’s braking area, shattered a telephone pole, and splashed nose first into a canal. History’s fastest vehicle was damaged beyond repair. Days later, Breedlove lost the record to Arfons.

A six-month crash program produced an all-new, four-wheeled “Spirit of America — Sonic I” in time for Bonneville’s 1965 season. Two wild weeks in November saw Craig regain the LSR at 555.127 mph; lose it to Arfons (576.553); then win it back with history’s first 600 mph Land Speed Record (600.601). Breedlove’s final LSR would endure for five years before Gary Gabelich averaged 622.407 with rocket power.

Craig returned in the late 1960’s to break various production car records for American Motors. During 1974, he campaigned a rocket-propelled three-wheeler at drag strips. After setting FIM quarter mile records of 377 mph and 4.65 seconds e.t. with the rocket at Bonneville, he retired.

Craig Breedlove never really gave up on regaining his crown as the fastest man on Earth, spending many of his later years building a car to attempt to beat the 763-mph set in 1997 by racer Andy Green.