Honoring Craig Breedlove, Land Speed Record HolderApril 7, 2023
This special This Just In honors the life of professional race car driver and five-time world land-speed record holder Craig Breedlove, who passed away on Tuesday, April 4th.
Breedlove is well known for his incredible land speed records, and best known for being the first person to exceed 500 mph– then 600 mph– in history. He passed away earlier this week at 86 years old.
His records were set in a variety of vehicles named Spirit of America, turbojet-powered designs made to shatter the perceived limits of land-speed runs. And whenever his score was beaten, Breedlove launched down Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats to take his crown back. His first record run was in 1963, using 95-percent of Spirit’s thrust to achieve a 407.45 mph average. In 1964, he managed to breach 400 again, clocking in at 468.72 mph, followed by a run at 526.28 mph– granting him that legendary “first” status.
As it turns out, the original Spirit of America wasn’t FIA legal; rules dictated four wheel designs with at least two being driven. That’s when Sonic I debuted as his FIA-compliant answer, powered by another turbojet and hitting a two-run average of 555.483 mph in 1965, soon beaten once again by Art Arfons and his FIA Green Monster. That’s when Breedlove struck back with his 600.601 mph run with a return pass of 608.201 mph which immortalized his second “first” status. That record stood until 1970, overridden by Gary Gabelich and his Blue Flame.
Records can be broken, but his “first” titles can never be taken. And to add more to the Breedlove resume, his wife, Lee Breedlove, piloted Sonic I up to 308.506 mph, making her the fastest woman at the time– and them the fastest couple, which they still hold.
We had a chance to interview Craig Breedlove back in 2017, during which he talked about his endurance records in the prototype Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe CSX2287. Shelby offered to sell him the car for what we see now as measly $5,000, now worth $25 million. He even showed off some blueprints for a new Spirit of America which was never built.
Whether you’re a speed-freak, a performance buff, a car enthusiast or just intrigued by our collective history, the story of Craig Breedlove is certainly worthy of your attention.