Richard Noble has taken our car keys.
“Record breaking is very dangerous business,” he says.
In the first of the required back-to-back runs, SSC has, in fact, gone Mach 1. The parachutes are torn from the ass end of the race car. Parachute failure is what sent Craig Breedlove into a brine pond and what launched Paula “Miss STP” Murphy into the back forty of California’s wine country. In this instance, however, the damage is minimal. There is so much drag built into the design of SSC , that it can slow down from a speed of 760 mph with room to spare. The Hand of the Supreme Consciousness began to push onto the race car and slow ‘er down, a gentle tug that decreases the machine’s velocity to where Andy Green can actually begin to apply the brakes and not melt them a la Breedlove in 1964… Breedlove, of course (and unlike Green), did not have the benefit of lights blinking in the cockpit and buzzers and beepers whooping as warnings to the driver that it was now safe to apply his foot to the brake pedal… so, with all of this in place, Green judiciously hit the brakes, well aware that he has had a chute failure, and after seven miles or so of coasting, brings the beastly black behemoth to a stop.
Which has really fouled up the routine. Here they are, in the first leg of a back-to-back record run with an hour turnaround time, and SSC has overshot its mark – where the support vehicles are waiting – by a mile or so…. The support team has to fire up the tow trucks and chase Green down, mount the massive race car onto the trailer hitch, turn back around and begin to service the car, replenish the kerosene, download data, pack the parachutes… uhhh, pack the parachutes… yeah, pack the parachutes…this is the nexus of the crisis, after so much grunt work and sleep deprivation in a couple of utterly uninhabitable climates, here they are, they have gone Mach 1 and all they have to do is turn this sucker around and the parachute lines are tangled into knots of macrame and a lattice of spaghetti. What to do?
Richard Noble manages the crisis. “Bloody hell, cut the goddamn parachute off.” So they do.
The assembled smell blood in the water. A supersonic speed record is imminent, and these guys are going after it with the parachutes cut off. Flash, the bartender from the Black Rock Saloon, is waving the Union Jack and sporting a t-shirt that reads. “the Empire Strikes Back.” The tension of waiting is as thick as the dirt on Noble’s rentacar. And then the stress tightens even more, as nobody is prepared for what comes next…
Breedlove’s publicist pulls Richard Noble aside and tells him that Breedlove is out on the access road, and wants to offer congratulations for actually breaking the sound barrier, but doesn’t want to spoil or interrupt Noble’s moment of glory. All the journos and photographers gathered around the dusty rentacar crane their necks and tilt the axis of their hearing ability to eavesdrop on the incessant whispering and weaseling from Breedlove’s boy.
This is a moment of crisis and for all of Breedlove’s recent folly (bungled communications which led to structural damage of his racer – and nearly a motorhome and its inhabitants; his return to the desert with the notion of making a drone run at supersonic speeds; a engine fodded because somebody left a bolt on the engine’s inlet duct; getting the rig stuck in the mud as they pulled out of Black Rock; the exclusive penny ante deal with Speedvision that reduced video uplinks of his efforts to a near blackout; and when the team got its shit together enough to actually make a run, the miscues that led to a series of rather unspectacular runs on the playa), here he was, hovering off of the lake bed in a white van with the motor and a.c. running, relaying his congratulations to the guys who were on the verge of pulling the whole thing off. If these scenes were not running in fast forward through Richard Noble’s cranium, they were certainly running through the noggins of the gathered journalists who had endured the last six weeks in the town that Bruno built.
“For fuck’s sake, tell him to get out here.”
“Well, Craig feels it would be unsportsmanlike to impose on your moment of glory.”
Some journalists chuckle. Others arch their eyebrows in mute bemusement.
Noble reprises his suggestion for Craig to join him. The SOA flack nods.
W-a-y off in the distance, a bubble of heat waves and smoke s-l-o-w-l-y grows in dimension. It looks like a mirage, but is actually Breedlove and his minions, making their way onto the lake bed at a speed of 35 mph.
It takes forever.
He gets out of the van and he looks like Mick Jagger. The journalists rush him and turn on microcassettes and shutters click and flashbulbs pop. It is unfuckingbelieveable. Here is the moment that Noble and his SSC compatriots have forsaken their lives for and All eyes are on Breedlove. As Craig makes his way across the press area of the measured mile, his handlers part a sea of news gatherers with the swift assuredness of James Brown’s bodyguards and Noble is left alone by his dusty rentacar.
Gradually, Breedlove makes it to the rentacar and shakes Noble’s hand. They are now enveloped by journalists who are fluid in an experiment in the Bernoulli Effect.
“Richard and I both agreed (ka-buszzhh ka-busszzh ka-buszzh) that Andy Green is the first person to break the Sound Barrier. (ka-buszzhh ka-busszzh ka-buszzh).” The light reflects in Craig’s aviator shades. He is oblivious to Flash waving the Union Jack.
Six and a half miles away, SSC is rolling again.
They light the beast, Green eases ‘er down the lake bed for a mile or so and then hops on the throttle.
“USAC timing, can you confirm that we did it within the hour?”
“Unfortunately, SSC you missed it by 43 seconds.”
Richard Noble doesn’t miss a beat. “Right then, that’s record breaking.”