Craig Breedlove, who set land speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats, has died aged 86
Breedlove helped make the landspeed brand a cultural phenomenon.
Craig Breedlove, who set land speed records at 400, 500 and 600 mph in jet-powered cars nicknamed the Spirit of America, has died. He was 86.
Breedlove died April 4 at his home in Rio Vista, California. His wife, Yadira Breedlove, said the cause of death was cancer.
Breedlove battled Tom Green and Art Arfons on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in the 1960s, a golden era of American motor racing, to set and then break each other’s speed records. Breedlove’s last land speed record was 600.6 mph in 1965.
The mark has since been surpassed, with the current record being 760.3mph – faster than the speed of sound – but Breedlove helped the land speed mark become a cultural phenomenon from 1963 onwards.
An American hero to some, he was even immortalized in the Beach Boys song “Spirit of America,” in which he is described as a “daring young man” playing a “dangerous game.”
Born on March 23, 1937, Breedlove was a firefighter whose childhood love of cars inspired him to race. He also worked at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica as a structural engineering technician, a background that furthered his work with jet-powered cars.
His early designs included a rocket-shaped vehicle with three wheels, a jet engine, and a tail fin; it was more fighter than passenger car.
In Spirit of America, on August 5, 1963, in Bonneville, Breedlove drove 407 miles per hour to set a new land speed record. The record changed hands eight times over the next two years, culminating in Breedlove’s last mark set on November 15, 1965.
In one of Breedlove’s record runs, he lost his brakes and parachutes. His car failed to stop more than a mile and crashed into telephone poles before landing in a salt pond. Breedlove escaped unscathed.
Breedlove wanted to try to break the 633 mph land speed record in 1996, but he fell and had to abandon the endeavour.
Breedlove was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1993, the Dry Lakes Racing Hall of Fame in 1995, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2009.
He has been married six times, the last of which lasted 20 years. In addition to his wife, he leaves behind two children from his first marriage, a half-sister, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.