Bet you didn’t know The Beach Boys‘ song “Spirit of America” was inspired by a 1963 land speed record.
That record was set by the late Craig Breedlove, who set five land speed records back in the 1960s.
Breedlove’s hunt for speed began in his teens when he spent four years rebuilding a junk three-window ’34 Ford Coupe.
In 1955, at age 18, and without any fanfare, he collected his first time slip on the Bonneville Salt Flats at 152.80 mph in Class C Coupe and Sedan.
Inspired by JFK’s famous words — “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” — Breedlove put the words into jet-powered action reclaiming world honours for the USA on August 5, 1963, with a 407 mph mark.
Dethroning Britain’s John Cobb, it was the first time an American’s name had been on top since 1928 when Ray Keech posted a 207.552 mph record driving his “White Triplex.”
“It was the most patriotic thing I could think of,” Breedlove said.
“I wanted a name every American could be proud of, and “Spirit of America” seemed like a natural.”
Married six times, Breedlove, who died at the age of 86 at his home in California this week, was the first person to post speed marks faster than 400, 500 and 600 mph.
All of his jet-powered cars carried the same name over his 60-year racing career.
It could have all ended badly in 1964 when, seconds after he had pushed the land-speed record past 500 mph, he pushed the button to release the parachutes that stopped his jet-powered car.
Unfortunately, they failed and the car careened off course, slicing taking out a pair of telephone poles, catapulting over a berm and finally coming to rest nose down in a brine lake.
But he walked or should we say swam away unhurt.
Returning to the sport he loved after a 30-year hiatus, another crash stymied Breedlove from becoming the first driver to break the sound barrier.
“He was an American treasure,” wife Yadi said.
“Our hearts are heavy today letting him go, but we also acknowledge Craig’s courage and bravery seeking motorsports honors for the United States of America. For decades, his deeds touched many, many people around the world.”
Son Norman credits his father with demonstrating how to shepherd dreams forward.
“What I admired most about dad was his tenaciousness,” he said. “He simply would not accept rejection and repeatedly went back to people and companies until he got a “yes”.
Breedlove also co-drove to endurance records on a large oval marked out on the salt in a Cobra Daytona Coupe in 1965 and then an American Motors AMX on a Goodyear test track in Texas in 1968.
American Motors Corporation (AMC) hired Breedlove in 1968 to prepare the automaker’s pony and high-performance cars, the Javelin and the AMX, for speed and endurance records.
He was voted into Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (1993), Dry Lakes Racing Hall of Fame (1995), International Motorsports Hall of Fame (2000), Automotive Hall of Fame (2009). He earned life membership in the Bonneville 200 MPH Club (1963).
Breedlove’s five speed records:
August 5, 1963 – Breedlove reached 407.45 mph (655.73 km/h) in Spirit of America at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah.
October 13, 1964 – Breedlove reached 468.719 mph (754.330 km/h) in Spirit of America at Bonneville, reclaiming the record from Art Arfons.
October 15, 1964 – Just two days later, Breedlove broke his own record and breached the 500 mph barrier at 526.277 mph (846.961 km/h), in Spirit of America at Bonneville.
November 2, 1965 – Breedlove reached 555.483 mph (893.963 km/h) in Spirit of America Sonic I at Bonneville, reclaiming the record from Art Arfons.
November 15, 1965 – Thirteen days later, Breedlove breached the 600 mph barrier at 600.601 mph (966.574 km/h) in Spirit of America Sonic I at Bonneville.