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The Drive Takes a Dive Into the Bonneville Salt Flats in Honor of Speed Week

Who doesn't like traveling 600 mph over our nation's flattest surface?

It’s officially speed week, and when we think of speed, we immediately think of the legendary Bonneville Salt Flats. Up until the 1930s, land speed records were set at Daytona Beach, but around 1935 the Bonneville Speedway sprung to life. The first event was a “friendly” competition between Ab Jenkins and Britain’s Sir Malcolm Campbell to see who could race across the flat the fastest. Sir Campbell won with a speed of 301.129 mph in the Blue Bird—a 36.7-liter 2,300-hp supercharged Rolls Royce V12.

In 1947, John Rhodes Cobb broke the land speed record by nearly 100 mph. Although he made a successful 400-plus-mph pass, he was unable to do it in both directions and was cited for 394.196 mph. Fourteen years later, Craig Breedlove officially broke the 400-mph mark with a speed of 407.447 mph. This was done with the help of his turbojet-powered Spirit of America. However, since it had three wheels, officials classified it as a motorcycle. Clearly unhappy with the results, Breedlove came back in 1965 with the Spirit of America – Sonic 1, hitting 555.485 mph. 

As is tradition in the top-speed community, competitors came out in force to beat Breedlove, and just five days later, one succeeded. A gentleman by the name of Art Arfrons hit 576 mph in The Green Monster. The record was not broken again for another five years when, in 1970, Gary Gabelich hit 622.407 mph in The Blue Flame. Gary’s vehicle was rocket-powered and produced 22,500 pounds of force—or 58,000 horsepower. Amazingly, Gary still holds the Bonneville Speedway Land Speed Record.