SEMA News -- April 2009
By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy the Source Interlink Archives
Craig Breedlove’s Spirit of America was arguably one of the prettiest land-speed racers to tackle Bonneville, but it certainly met an ugly end. While chasing Art Arfons’ 434-mph speed record in 1964, Breedlove found himself unable to bring the rocket-powered Spirit to a stop while traveling in excess of 500 mph. Two parachutes and the car’s brakes failed, leaving Breedlove a helpless passenger as the car went off the race course, flew through two telephone poles and augured into a brine pond. Miraculously unhurt, Breedlove swam to safety.
Breedlove’s 526-mph pass was eclipsed just a week later by Arfons, who set a jet-powered land-speed record of 544 mph. Undaunted, Breedlove returned to the salt in 1965 in a new Spirit of America and traded records with Arfons again, finally exceeding 600 mph and setting a high-speed mark that stood for five years.
Photos of Spirit of America’s tailfin sticking out of the water became famous at the time, but this Shell Oil public relations shot of a pensive Breedlove as the Spirit was hauled out of the pond is more evocative. Who knew that this man—seemingly beaten four-plus decades ago—would still be chasing his speed-record dreams in the 21st century?