If you’re like me, it’s rare to find time to sit and read more than a magazine.
A book really has to grab my attention to be read cover to cover.
A week ago such a book showed up in my mailbox. It was called SPEED DUEL: The Inside Story of the Land Speed Record in the Sixties. Written by Kingston, ON author Samuel Hawley and published by Firefly Books this 322-page tome took me less than six hours over three days to finish. Don’t think that’s any reading record but blazing quick for me.
Hawley weaves a great tale which basically begins in 1960 when eight different American gearheads begin the journey to bring the Land Speed Record back to America.
When Mickey Thompson, Art Arfons, Craig Breedlove and a handful of others decided to really make a play for the LSR it was still held by deceased British driver John Cobb.
Unlike the American hot rodders, Cobb was a wealthy fur broker. He had first set the LSR in 1939 by driving his piston-powered Railton Special to a two-way average of 367.91 mph. In his next trip back to the Bonneville salt in 1947, he broke his own record setting a two-way average of 394.14 mph. He wouldn’t get a chance to break it again. Cobb was killed in 1952 while trying to set the water speed record at Loch Ness in Scotland.
His boat, dubbed the Crusader crashed at a speed in excess of 200 mph.
The LSR would stand until 1963. Breedlove and his jet-powered Spirit of America would break Cobb’s mark and bring the LSR back to the US for the first time in 35 years.
After that, both Breedlove and Arfons, driving his Green Monster jet-powered car, would be locked in a battle of one-up-man’s ship until 1967.
If you’re not familiar with the story, I won’t spoil it and tell you who ends up the top dog – at least until the record is reset in 1970 by Gary Gabelich driving the Blue Flame rocket car.
Hawley really captures the drama of the race to the LSR which included multiple sub plots wrought with tragedy (the deaths of Athol Graham in 1960 and Glenn Leasher in 1962) hope, innovative engineering, high finance (the sponsorship battle between Goodyear/Firestone) and more. He also gives real insight into the motivation of the key players, especially Arfons and Breedlove, creating dramatic tension that non-fiction books often lack.
There are also multiple pages of black and white photos chronicling both events on the salt and leading up to those events.
I guarantee you’ll be captivated by the book.