There are few moments if any in American racing history that can rival what you’ll see below. It is a few minutes of narrated footage which I believe is from a Goodyear produced film called, “The Wildest Ride” which documented the huge triumph of Craig Breedlove at Bonneville in 1964 and also highlighted how he was nearly killed in about six different ways during the run that ultimately sealed the record for him. This is about as good as it gets for racing history lovers because the video is clear and crisp, the narration is perfect, and the human element in this is virtually indescribable. On the technical side, you will watch Breedlove become the first man to driver over 500mph and he is also the first man to set a record at Bonneville over 400mph in this video. Before things started to go bad (rapidly) on his return run, Breedlove hit a speed of 539.89 mph. Remember, this is 50 years and one month ago!
On the Spirit Of America’s first run, the machine that was built by a group of California hot rodders with some engineering input from aerospace eggheads ran flawlessly, counter to the nightmares that Breedlove reported having the evening before while trying to sleep. He was literally having premonitions of his own death. The crew turned the Spirit around (literally) fueled it up, repacked the parachutes and sent him off on his way. Again, flawless run. Then disaster struck as Breedlove pulled the parachute handle and the first ‘chute deployed and tore off….then the second one did the same thing. It is at this point where your heart will jump into your throat because you can hear radio transmission counting down to the disaster. “He’s past the 3….he’s past the two….he’s really flying past the one….” and then off he went into the slop of unprepared salt. Breedlove’s car snapped a telephone pole off like a twig and with only a couple degrees of steering input, he could do nothing but watch a huge salt berm come closer and closer until it launched him 30ft in the air and sent him flying into a salt pond where he nearly drown in the car.
His crew thought the worst. They had lost sight of him and expected to find Breedlove in pieces on the salt but that was not the outcome that greeted them once they scaled the bank. There he was, shaken to his core but smiling and yammering on in the way that people who just escaped death do. It went from a scene of certain macabre sadness to a scene of jubilation augmented by the adrenaline and other endorphins floating in the brains of the men who found the one man they all admired alive and well, against all odds.
It is hard not to be emotionally moved when you watch that part of the film because it is clear that these guys are not so amped up because Breedlove went fast they are amped up because the guy is alive. His famous remarks are captured here and we’ll let you hear them for yourselves. This is an absolute treasure. The hugs, the tears, a father squeezing his son harder than he has ever squeezed before. It was hot rodding’s ultimate triumph in our eyes and it could not have happened in any more of a jaw dropping, spectacular, and amazing fashion.
PRESS PLAY BELOW TO LIVE THROUGH ONE OF THE MOST TRIUMPHANT AND HEART STOPPING MOMENTS IN AMERICAN MOTORSPORTS HISTORY -