THE TWENTIES

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THE TWENTIES

“Everything was going well and the record appeared to be in the bag, when, suddenly, at a speed of more than 200 m.p.h., the weakened rear tire blew out… the Black Hawk swerved to the left, skidded for several hundred feet, then jumped into the air in three great leaps. (Frank) Lockhart was not strapped in, and he was catapulted out of the car. The unconscious driver was dead when he reached Halifax County Hospital. The record set by Ray Keech still stood.” – Paul Clifton, THE FASTEST MEN ON EARTH.

By the end of the 20s the back-to-back-turnaround, two-way-average-within-an-hour system is established as the criteria for holding the record. The LSR wars crank up throughout the remainder of the 20th Century with Brits Henry Segrave, Sir Malcolm Campbell, George Eyston, Richard Noble and Andy Green as well as Yanks like Craig Breedlove, Art Arfons (Walt’s half-brother) and Gary Gabelich; on flat tableaus such as the beaches of Wales, Denmark, and Daytona and fossilized badlands such as Verneuk Pan, South Africa; Bonneville, Utah; Lake Gairdner, Australia and Black Rock, Nevada.

Art Arfons, a guy who crashed at 600 mph and lived, told me over the phone that “the real trailblazers were the ones at Daytona; Eyston and Cobb and them guys.” Art Arfons also had this to say about the rich, gallant British aristocrats who broached the 200 mph benchmark, “Those men really had to be something else.”

Arfons litanized the British Land Speed Heroes, the men who had dominated the Salt as America attempted to dig itself out of its economic Depression and as it slugged it out in World War II. American involvement in the Land Speed Record had ended before the Stock Market Crash of 1929… After that, the daredevils and speed maniacs seemed more content with drag racing than the massive and expensive undertaking of an ultimate Land Speed Record…

March 1927. It is a battle of the Bluebloods. Great Brit Henry Segrave punctures the 200 mph benchmark for automobiles, clocking 203 mph on the “treacherous sands” of Daytona Beach in his Sunbeam. His source of motivation was a pair of 12-cylinder Sunbeam Matabele aircraft engines. A year later Segrave’s mark is raised by Malcolm Campbell – a rigid, regal man with an angular mug and a buzzard’s beak of a nose who claims to be a pirate in a past life but looks more like the Human Fly with his bug-eyed goggles – who clocks 206 on a pass that nearly had Ol’ Malcolm singing “Nearer My God to Thee”; while blazing across the beach at 200 mph, Campbell’s Bluebird encounters a sand ridge which serves as a catapult and launches the hapless, passive car and driver 100 feet into the air. Cowabunga! Campbell lives and splits the beach scene in search of some Salt Flats – preferably in the colonies of the British Empire – that could safely accommodate his target speed of 250 mph.

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