Posts Tagged ‘blue flame’


November 3, 2008

You got Gabelich hired as a driver and I assume…

PETE: He was hired by the gas industry, we didn’t hire him. He had his own deal with the gas industry which was fine with us because we didn’t have anymore in our account.

When you say “the gas industry” you mean… ?

PETE: The Institute of Gas Technology, which was the research and development arm of the American Gas Association at that time, was overseeing the project for the American Gas Association. It was a promotion of the safety and usefulness of liquefied natural gas. They were trying to promote it as a hypersonic fuel for aircraft and, of course, I think they probably succeeded in that now, but you know in certain areas, they were pushing at it.

LEAH: And the gas industry as a whole was trying to push natural gas as a modern fuel, and they were looking for something that would spark an interest in the younger people in gas.

How did you incorporate LNG with the hydrogen peroxide?

PETE: It was the fuel. Hydrogen peroxide created the oxygen. We added the liquefied natural gas to the engine as a fuel to burn and then we ignited it.

So the hydrogen peroxide was the oxidizer and LNG was the fuel, but with the X-1 car, what was…?

PETE: There was no fuel, it was just peroxide, forced through a catalyst pack at a 600 to 1 liquid to gas ratio and creating about a 1300 degree temperatured mixture of oxygen and water vapor.


PETE: Um hmm.

The catalyst pack was?

PETE: Silver. Silver screen, chemically treated and it had nickel for port screens.

So as you guys got to Bonneville, it’s like 1970 I think, and…

PETE: Dick went out there in 1969 when Mickey Thompson was running the Autolite Streamliner. He hired a survey crew out there and we did a full length survey of the course: how flat it really was, you know, how much of a dip and what sort of undulation the surface had, (there is) so much suspension travel we had to figure on at speed. So he was out there when Mickey was running and got the survey confirmation which we then sent to the engineers at the Illinois Institute of Technology; they were nine graduate engineers working on masters degrees for theses on various aspects of the design of the Blue Flame: structures, dynamics, aerodynamics, wheel design, all sorts of things.

I was the liaison between our company and my title was Manager of Vehicle Engineering, that’s what it was.

So this was not a couple of hot rodders building something in their backyard.

LEAH: The X-1 was. We built the X-1 during the week in our family garage – we parked it on the street. (!)

So anyway, you’re acting as a liaison between Reaction Dynamics and the Illinois Institute of Technology and so you got a bunch of…

PETE: Our company presented the basic layout of what we wanted to do and then they would work on refining those ideas: location of center of gravity and how it worked with the aerodynamics. We worked back and forth between the engineering students and the engineering staff at IIT…

(stop tape)

… I’m not sure I got this on tape, I want to be sure I’m hearing this, you said there was some scale wind tunnel testing, subsonic wind tunnel testing…

PETE: Supersonic.

And which wind tunnel was this?

PETE: It was Ohio State University. We paid them to build the wind tunnel model to the aerodynamic specs and wind tunnel tested up to Mach 1.120. 1.15 I believe. It was around 850 miles an hour that they wind tunnel tested it to and structurally it was built to hit a half-inch steep bump at 1000 miles an hour. There was nothing out on the Salt Flats that high, although there were deviations and dips which we thought maybe would be a problem, but as it turned out the 350 pounds of nitrogen pressure in the tires, the tire moved itself out of the way, it just made ruts.

So the tires were 350 pounds per square inch and they were filled with nitrogen?

PETE: Yeah, they were built by Goodyear, designed by Mike Hopkins.

Now I got the impression that at some point Firestone originally was interested in this car, and uh, they were never in the loop with this?

PETE: They were interested in our 1/4 mile car, the X-1.

Right, but then they pulled out.

PETE: Humpy Wheeler, who is a big deal in stock car racing now with tracks, worked for Firestone at that time and we had contacted them. They provided tires for the X-1 to start with, then later on when we became associated with Goodyear. Goodyear gave us tires for the car, the X-1.

Okay, so basically, as I understood it, Firestone pulled out of the “tire wars” altogether and nobody saw it coming.

PETE: So we went to Goodyear and Goodyear supplied us with tires. And with that, we got the letter of intent that Goodyear would be making us these tires and went to the Gas Industry and they then signed the contract to let us build the car, once they were assured that we could get tires. It wasn’t until afterwards that we found out it would be three years before we would get the tires.


PETE: We already signed all the contracts and everything and we were too much of novices to nail down all the specifics in the contract, we were just young people at the time and didn’t have any business experience as far as contracts. So we learned.

Do you think that partially because Firestone pulled out and so Goodyear has no real incentive?

PETE: They already have the record.

(With) Breedlove’s Sonic 1 car.

PETE: But, uh, they were not interested in having their record broken by someone else so they decided – they didn’t help us financially at all. They built the tires and provided us twelve tires tested and did the balancing on them and Cragar Industries built the wheels. Did just a beautiful design, we designed the wheel, they manufactured them and just did a super job on them, they made 12 wheels and Goodyear mounted them, spun test them on Walt Arfons’ spin testing machine and while they were spin testing it, they had the machine break while it was going 850 miles an hour with a tire up there.

So the tire took it, but the machine didn’t ?!

PETE: I think there was a four-inch shaft driving that thing and the shaft snapped. They said there will be tire marks in that test cell that will be there forever.

Okay and just to wrap this part of it up – Goodyear developed tires, specifically for this project…

PETE: They were going to and when they couldn’t deliver them soon enough we ended up using the front tires off Breedlove’s Sonic 1 car, only they were re-engineered for our car – same molds, but the insides were quite different and they’d come up with new fibers and double the bead wire and had changed the internal construction using the same molds as the front tires on the Sonic 1. Those were 35 inch diameter and because of it the car grew a third in size and tripled and cost and we lost the vehicle to the Gas Industry because we immediately overspent.


LEAH: Also our original contract with the Gas Industry called for them making payments here, here, here, and here. Those payments were contingent on the fact that we had this much work done before each payment by a date and we had to prove we could do it – well we were doing fine until there was a national steel strike, you cannot build if you don’t have steel. Finally they settled, and it was just going to be touch and go for us to possibly make the next point and the truckers were waiting for the steel strike to get over. When the steel strike was over, the truckers shut down and said, “now it’s our turn” and we had no steel, and we couldn’t build, the fellas went back looking for other part time work, no paychecks, there was nothing.

PETE: Six months nothing happened on the car.

LEAH: The Gas Industry said we’re taking our car, they took the car and they left and we were sitting there devastated. No work…

PETE: The car went to Chicago, got put in a shed and it was on the wheels by that time, but the propulsion system wasn’t finished, it hadn’t been tested.

LEAH: It was no longer our car, according to the contract we didn’t own it.

PETE: We lost the ownership of the car, because initially it was going to be our car.

LEAH: It was a very hard time, that was during the time when Ray Dausman said his part of the work was done. He had developed this propulsion system, he had seen it through, he didn’t walk out on the company, he saw through everything that was his part, but he couldn’t deal with this devastating loss and saw no need for his talents to stay there. So he sold his share of the company and got on with his life basically and the rest of us twirled until we could re-negotiate.

That’s brutal.

LEAH: It was brutal, you know we think of it very sadly. It was out of our hands, the Gas Industry knew that we weren’t just scuffing around with the thing. “Well, send us more money, we’ll build it,” you know, they were aware of the steel strike and the trucker’s strike, but there was nothing we could do, so then we re-negotiated and…

PETE: They ended up owning the car and they agreed to pay us to finish the car, and because they had twice the money, more than twice the money of the original contract and just to finish it, get it to the testing point, and of course it cost a lot more to run it.

So the last part of the car as far as buttoning it up finally was you guys were kind of out of the loop at that point or you were just hired employees?

PETE: We were basically hired employees.

So Reaction Dynamics was still involved with the car?

PETE: Oh yeah, we were doing all the work, but we were doing it for the Gas Industry.

Was there a positive out of that, were you like, getting a paycheck at least?

PETE: Once we started working on it again, then everybody went back to collecting paychecks and you know everything was basically the same except that we didn’t get the car.

LEAH: It wouldn’t be our car and we spent about a week as a family agonizing over what this was going to mean, but you don’t meet too many people with the determination of Pete and he was going to have that car finished. If we didn’t have it, we didn’t have it, but he had said it would be done, he’d given his word, he signed the papers and…

PETE: We decided that it still needed to be done, I mean it wasn’t for nothing that we did it. We wished we’d been able to go back.

(tape rolls out)

How much would you say was LNG and how much would you say was hydrogen peroxide? 50/50? 90/10?

PETE: I’d say when we finally ended up running it, well, we had, it jetted so that the flow 25% of what the full flow of the engine would be and we flowed in 25 % by volume of LNG, no wait a minute – yeah it was about 25%. 30 gallons of LNG and 160-something gallons of hydrogen peroxide.

What was remarkable about this car was that it was really the last hurrah for the rocket guys, I mean Bill Fredrick was trying something similar, but by that time it was so hard to get fuel in the US, hydrogen peroxide, you know?

PETE: I guess you can get it, but whether or not they would allow you to import that much into the country I don’t know.

Well, (drag racer) Brent Fanning was telling me that there was one manufacturer left in Europe that would manufacturer at a percentage that a decent rocket, which I think is above 85%.

PETE: Yeah, it will run about 70% but it’s very poorly, it runs poorly and very inefficiently, 90% and above is better, 98% is better yet.

Spoken like a true drag racer.

PETE: 98% is military. That’s torpedo fuel.


November 3, 2008

The X-1. The perfect nomenclature for a rocket-powered Land Speed racer. It’s moniker was appropriated from Chuck Yeager’s airplane, a piece of machinery that rode in the belly of a B-29 bomber until pod doors opened over the barren slate of the Mojave Desert, where every inch of air and space is a proving ground.

(Yeager proved that Mach 1 was not something to be feared, it was something to be penetrated. Breaking the sound barrier is an everyday occurrence for fighter planes nowadays and has even trickled down into the domain of consumer air travel in the form of the Concorde…)

In both instances, the “X” represented “experimental,” and was meant to be a precursor to the real deal: in the instance of the airplane, the X-1 was a means towards understanding and defeating the turbulence of supersonic buffeting. In the form of the rocket-powered dragster, it was an attempt at understanding exactly how much ooommmpphhh could be wrenched out of a rocket motor in a car.

The X-1 dragster (aka the Rislone Rocket) was merely a means to an end, the end being 1000 mph — well beyond Mach 1 — in a larger, more powerful vehicle: The Blue Flame.

Like Yeager, Gabelich was a hired gun, a fearless hot shot who climbed into an unfamiliar situation. (After the negotiations with another test pilot who demanded a nice chunk of change in exchange for powering through the unknown, Yeager got the rocket ride when he eschewed the need for a bump in his Army Air Corp’s pilot’s salary.) Gabelich was hired after Suba was killed in a Top Fuel dragster.

Gary Gabelich: Who was he? His reputation was that as the world’s fastest flower child. Was that accurate? This is the guy who whose parting words in a conversation were “Have a happy forever.” This is also the guy who, while driving the Sandoval Bros. Top Fuel dragster out at Fontana Drag City would greet the track photographers with “the Bone,” obscenely and mischievously sticking one finger in the air for the duration of the run…

What can you tell me about Gabelich, I mean you said he was personable and charismatic and fearless, but he was also, I mean, you guys are, you know, nice Midwestern people that uh…

PETE FARNSWORTH: The only time that we really spent a lot of time with him was at the Salt Flats. I mean he came to the Midwest here when we were fitting the car for controls, when we got everything in the right place, the window opening, you know, so that it was centered on where he was going to sit, and the depth of the seat and location of pedal controls, things like that so he could reach everything while he was strapped in. Other than that, he wasn’t out to the Midwest here very much and generally, he’d be out for a couple of days or so and we’d go and have dinner, but it was a whole bunch of people, a big happening.

LEAH: We heard that he was kind of wild in the California area when he was with his own element but that was not, he kind of segmented things, you know, he kept this group over here and this group over here and we weren’t in the group that was, you know partying with him or anything like that and so, you hear things.

PETE: When he came to the Salt Flats, he had his own contingent, you know, people that were right around him and we met a lot of them out there.

Or was there more, you know the hippie biker kind of contingent that he had with him?

PETE: I guess all of the above.

I mean without being a value judgment, it’s just that he was a different personality type.

LEAH: I would say from uh, as you said Midwest value type thing, that they were all the (clears throat) California crowd. They were from the other end of the country, you know, there’s the Midwest and there’s the California guys. No they weren’t really the hippie biker type, we had that around here, too, they were just, on a different stage, but it was…

PETE: … they were really good friends of Gary’s though, boy they’d do anything for him.

LEAH: He was very mindful of his image, because he wasn’t out there, he was the driver of the Blue Flame. That man was on from the time he got out of the car. When we went back to the motel, little kids would come up and talk to him and he’d pet their dog, he’d bend over to talk to the little old Grammas you know, get down to their level and talk to them.

PETE: Yeah, he was very good with people…

LEAH: … he could just sell everything, but…

PETE: When he got with his own group, then he did whatever they did, but we didn’t necessarily associate that much.

(stop tape)

After you guys set the LSR, Gabelich was hurt in a funny car crash not too long after that.

PETE: Yeah with the money he made driving the car, Natural Gas Industry paid him 50,000 bucks, plus they paid him for appearances too. He built the 4 wheel-drive funny car, they took it out and were testing it and he clipped the guard rail and crashed it and cut a foot off and a hand off and uh, pretty amazing that they put him back together —

Yeah there was a surgeon around that…

PETE: Yep, they threw him the car — and still in his firesuit and all the pieces — and went over there and there happened to be a neurosurgeon on duty who put him back together. As I understand he won the California State Handball, Racquetball championship after that — maybe it was for handicapped people or something, I don’t know — but just the same, you know it was pretty amazing. We had pretty much lost track of him by then.

I sent out e-mail queries to those who worked with Gabelich. Many went unanswered, a mute testament to how much his chums still respect him and continue to honor his privacy. The best and most informative reply read as follows:

I think I understand why those who knew him (to probably even the slightest degree) are “tight-lipped” about GG… it’s because we loved him.

Like all of us, he had his “failings” if you will, or his “weaknesses”… but unlike most, he was so very open about “them” (as well as everything else), with an almost child-like naivete that you could NOT help but love him and accept him with open arms… he was just Gabelich!

You’d find his picture in TWO places in the dictionary… the first is where it says “charm”… he was the most “charming” person I’d ever met! And I’m talking SINCERE charm… that is why he was so special… because if anyone ever had the opportunity to be “stuck-up” it would have been Gary, as he was “movie-star, drop-dead handsome,” famous, daring, and with a fantastic personality, he had it all.. yet he was TOTALLY unassuming, generous, and loving to EVERYONE and NOT just when he was in the spotlight… but ALL the time… what you got was the real Gary, ALL the time. With one bright white smile he’d charm your socks, shoes, pants and shirt off!

The second place in the dictionary would be where it says “fearless”… I don’t know what it was… if he actually thought he was indestructible, if he just didn’t care… or just loved doing what he did… I don’t know, but he truly had NO FEAR!

I was at Orange County International Raceway with him when he crashed… I know what really happened… but… I’m afraid that all I can do is tease the shit out of you, in that I was one of the fortunate ones who knew him and witnessed GG “events”… usually along with others, but sometimes just me and him… or me and him and a “friend” at the shop at 2 AM… He was a super-magnet to beautiful women… but he didn’t seem to overly care about the chicks… I think his “daring” lifestyle (as he did more than drive race cars… like doing stunt work in Hollywood, and being a human “guinea pig” for the Air Force… etc.) was his REAL passion…

And with that, I will have to tell you that I too will have to join the tight-lipped club, in that I can only tell those things that I can tell (and that wouldn’t be much)… the rest I will not tell, to protect him, because I loved him.


November 2, 2008

”The skies were black with clouds and the season was late, so any storm represented the official end to the runs for the year. Gary made a successful first run, the car was turned and fueled for the return through the ’Flying Mile,‘ it was a moment of ’should he or not?‘ The timers gave Gary the radio call that the decision to go or not was his. He sat in silence (he was always sort of spiritual). Suddenly the clouds parted and a ray of sun pierced the windshield, Gary’s words were: ’That’s a sign from God‘ and he lit the match for the record setting run.“— Blue Flame crewmember Paul Stringer.

Inspired by the US moonshot and Gary Gabelich’s achievement in the Blue Flame (a cool two-way average speed of 622.407 mph on October,1970), Craig Breedlove uses the drag strips to shake down his English Leather rocket dragster, powered by a hydrazine-fueled lunar module motor. His ultimate target speed with the rocket is the Speed of Sound, but Uncle Sam intervened and confiscated Breedlove’s eye-dropper and chemistry set. Or as Craig puts it, “We actually built the English Leather rocket car as a prototype test vehicle to develop a hypergolic rocket system for a Land Speed car… We ran that engine on unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine and nitrogen tetraoxide for an oxidizer. We were able to order it at will, TRW was able to vouch for us that we were not a bunch of dingbats out there. In 1974, all of that was outlawed.”

Nonplused, Breedlove begins to r&d a hydrogen-peroxide rocket car. Different design, same results. “We changed the design of the car to four peroxide thrusters because they had not yet restricted hydrogen peroxide in any way,” he explains to me in the SOA compound on Black Rock in 1997. “After we made the switch, all of a sudden you couldn’t manufacture or sell peroxide in any concentrations higher than 70 percent. And 70 percent is a lousy rocket fuel. At that point the entire rocket-powered land speed vehicle was trashed.” Disheartened and almost destitute, Breedlove jettisons his dream of going Mach 1 and began living on his sailboat, a sad statement on the Spirit of these here United States. With the government putting the kibosh on lunar module fuels in the private sector, Gabelich’s rocket-powered record run was the final chapter for Bonneville as the playpen for truly unlimited thrust. Bummer.


November 2, 2008

What was the budget going in, I mean what did you guys think you could deliver for?

PETE FARNSWORTH: We signed a contract I believe for $165,000.

Um hmm, so that’s almost a half a million by the time it was done?

PETE: It was a little more than half a million when it was completed run and a movie made about it. It was all part of the budget.

So I’m assuming the chassis’s 4130 chromemoly?

PETE: From the back of the driver to the front of the front wheels, structure in front that held the pressure tanks for the fuel systems was chromemoly 4130 and all the structure from the driver back was 4130. I heli-arced that whole thing together.

And the propulsion system, did they end up using the liquefied natural gas?

PETE: Um hmm. That was a bi-propellant engine, hydrogen peroxide, liquefied natural gas. We did break the primary injection system for the liquefied natural gas on one of the early runs and bypassed and ran the secondary system which we were going to put 3/4 of the fuel through the secondary injection system and 25% through the primary system. We broke the primary system and ended up only through the high speed, the high powered section of it.

Okay, so there was two injection systems but either one used a combination of the two propellants.

PETE: Yeah, yeah…

Because here’s the confusion, some people don’t think that there was LNG running through the car.

PETE: The gas industry insisted on that, there was definitely LNG running through the engine. It helped in creating heat in the combustion chamber on the run and we were way down on power. We went out there, the engine was designed for 22,000 pounds of thrust at full power; the first year we didn’t need nearly that much, we only were going to run the primary fuel injection system, with the 25% fuel flow. We ran it at that and we sunk a big steel post in the Union Grove (drag strip) down in their shutoff area way down at the far end. We tied the car to it and put strain gauges between the car and the post and the post was down in several yards of concrete below ground with a nine inch diameter steel post and, uh, tied it to the car with 5/8 steel cables and we were consistently getting 16,500 pounds thrust cutting the engines. That’s what we went to the Salt Flats with.

Okay I’m trying to understand what you said — The 16,500 pounds was strictly out of the primary injection system? Not even using the secondary?

PETE: We were not going to use the secondary system the first year. We had enough power, we were going to upgrade it the second year supposedly to go supersonic, but in order to do that we would have to have gone to Schenectady, New York and check out the rocket — the Lowell Rocket system on their rocket test — and check it for combustion instability and that would have been probably well, we’re not really even sure, but we think it would have been 50 or 60 thousand dollars additional just to test it in those days. 1970 dollars.

And so you guys wanted to go Mach 1 but the Gas Company just wanted to…

PETE: Well, they got the record and that was enough for them. They toured the car around the world it was the first car to exceed a thousand kilometers per hour in Europe. It was a tremendous hit, over there, Jesus, one thousand kilometers per hour on the ground, but it was just a number. Speed of sound… THAT was the number.

A physical barrier, yeah?

PETE: We were restricted the first year as well by Goodyear: no more than 700 miles an hour with the tires, till they could evaluate the design and take the tires, cut them apart, make sure that everything was all right. So we went 660 with it, with a broken motor, we ended up having 10,500 pounds thrust on the record runs. A very interesting project, but just heartache after heartache. But you know, (these were) experiences that you wouldn’t trade for anything, no matter what.

On one level it sounds like you got jobbed out of you know, going Mach 1.

PETE: No, no, we never said that. You know, we would have liked to have the attempt at it.

Okay, I mean basically that next year you wanted to break…

PETE: They never agreed that they were going to do that, (but to make) an evaluation after we ran the first year.

If the car hadn’t been repossessed and had you guys still had some cash or maybe derive some cash from the car, from appearances and in car shows and what have you, that potentially you would have gone out the next year.

PETE: Perhaps.


November 2, 2008

After setting the Land Speed Record, Gary Gabelich drives a 4 wheel drive Funny Car, a car doomed to make one run. During a closed photo-op for some drag racing magazines at Orange County International Raceway, it is agreed that Gabelich will merely “smoke the tires” for photographers. Caught in the moment, Gabelich stays on the throttle and the car climbs onto the guardrail and rolls, unraveling like a tin lid on a can opener. Gabelich’s body is not exempt from the slicing and dicing and a hand is severed as well as other limbs sliced open like so much canned fruit. Through a stroke of luck, after being stuffed into a station wagon and raced to the hospital with severed limbs in tow Gabelich is sewed back together by a crack team of neurosurgeons. He was said to never be quite the same, unfortunately. He is later beheaded in a motorcycle accident with a diesel truck on the streets of San Pedro, CA. As a testament to free-wheelin’ lifestyle, he is eulogized more in biker magazines than in any hot rodding publications.

“Gary was very upset when the car was sold because he wanted to attempt a sound barrier run with the car. In 1970 when they raced it, they had many mishaps. The most damning was they burned out the retro in the rocket and had to get a loaner or a gift motor to finish. As I remember the original rocket had about 40,000 pounds of thrust and the actual motor they used to set the record had about 14,000. That would lead you to believe that the car could go much faster given the space limitations of the Salt Flats, and the ground effects of going supersonic.

”I can’t even describe how many hours we spent talking about where the air goes (under the car). Would the air flip the car when supersonic ’splits the air?‘ They talked at great length about lengthening the rod on the front tip of the car to split the air farther out in front to prevent any negative effects. Craig Breedlove was a very close friend of Gary’s and he as well was always helpful in helping Gary advance his efforts. Craig and Gary where from the same town in California and I met Craig in 1966 on a water skiing trip. Most would think that they would be strange bedfellows when Gary got picked to drive the car, but Craig was one of his biggest supporters and fans.

“Gary was trying to figure out how to stop the new car going supersonic also.

“The problems are: no air for chutes and brakes won’t work over 400MPH. He was working on a splitting tail like the Space Shuttle and body panels that popped out. Of course, he never considered running anywhere but the flats.

”Gary‘s feelings about the car being sold was this: the car was owned by the Natural Gas Association as a publicity stunt. When the car got the record, they received millions of dollars in promotion which they never could have bought. They never saw it as a race car and felt that a return to the flats and the risk of an accident would become negative publicity. Hence, the car was sold.

”Gary even pursued contacting the new car owner about another run. Apparently, the car had been dropped while being off loaded from a ship when it left the country and there was some tweaking of the frame and that ended his interest.

”Gary then began trying to raise sponsors for a new car he‘d named The American Way. While he raised some eyebrows at the time, he raised no money for the project as interest in the LSR had waned by then. This was in 1979 nine years after the last true attempt and he wasn‘t breaking another guy‘s record; he would only be raising his mark and sponsors wondered how much interest this would raise. To raise the interest, he and Craig Breedlove stated they‘d create some new interest by building two cars and they‘d ’drag race‘ for the record on the flats. Wow, a 700MPH drag race! Of course, Craig would have to change his thinking to a rocket as a Jet vs. Rocket race would be no race in a drag event the best I can remember is something like 0 to 500 in 10 seconds (more than a few G forces).

”One of the reasons Gary was chosen to drive the car (Blue Flame) was because his full time job was he worked for Rockwell International in Downey, California as a ’Test Astronaut.‘ He tested all the space suits for the Apollo space missions. This is a glorious title to say he was the guy going around in the centrifuge. He was used to a lot of G forces, they were always concerned that the driver would blackout during acceleration.

”As far as Gary‘s life being cut short, while we all miss him lots, few of us could picture him dying an old man. Gary’s life was lived on the edge from the time he was 15 years old. Gary started racing by cleaning up the grease/oil mess for some kids in his neighborhood who had a drag car. He did this for a few years on the promise that someday they‘d let him drive it at the drag strip. That day came when he was 15, on the first pass he went faster than any run ever in the car. One year later, he had his own car and became a legend in California drag racing. He was the ultimate crowd pleaser being a lot ’nuts & wild‘ and being EZ to spot as he always wore an ostrich plume on the top of his helmet. He’d love to taunt his competitors on the starting line by shaking his fist and sometimes getting out of his car to yell something. Of course, it was all in good fun and I never met another racer who didn‘t love his magnetic personality.

”While setting the LSR made Gary infamous, many of his friends consider it a high point in his life that made the rest of his life chasing a dream. After the record, he didn’t know if he was a career LSR car driver or needed to return to his career in Drag Racing. Before his death, he nearly lost his life four times to my count. He flipped a drag boat @ 200MPH and as he went in the water the motor hit him in the back, nearly killing him. His kidneys were badly damaged and he was on dialysis for two years. He had two accidents in the same Funny Car (Beach City Corvette). Once, he lost the chutes and ended up on fire on a freeway and the second accident, the car caught on fire during a run and burned to the ground (he jumped out at over 100MPH). That accident burned holes clear through his goggles and helmet but he had only minor burns to his face and head. The fourth accident was a crash in his own Funny Car. It had 4 wheel drive which made it very fast off the line. On a photo shoot for a magazine, the throttle locked down during a ’burn out‘ and he lost control. At about 160MPH it went through a guard rail twice and flipped end over end.

”Gary had one of his hands cut off to the outside skin, one leg was behind his head and one was wrapped around the steering wheel. That leg became the problem. While his hand was re-attached and the leg behind him was dislocated, the surgeons wanted to remove the other leg as it was nothing but shattered bone from the ankle. Gary would not let them remove the leg, so they inserted a long rod to replace the bone. He adapted to the handicap, but spent about a year trying to get rid of gangrene.“ –Blue Flame crew member Paul Stringer.