If any team can break Mach 1, it's Noble's. Thrust SSC is sophisticated beyond Breedlove's pocketbook or even his inclination. Noble has used countless computer simulations and rocket model runs to provide the data for building a safe supersonic car. It's a formidable effort. But funny things happen on the way to 750 mph, and it might turn out that no man has the patience or desire to withstand them just to hear a sonic boom. (Or not hear it; the driver, running ahead of the sound wave, might not be able to hear that he has gone supersonic.)
Breedlove is sufficiently spooked by Mach 1 that he has no intention of trying to cross that threshold in a manned car. Given the unknowns, why shouldn't he be spooked? It's not a matter of 1890s ignorance, when it was thought the air would be sucked from a passenger's lungs as soon as his car traveled faster than a horse. In the 1990s enough is known about shock waves to cause genuine trepidation. In flight they radiate equally in all directions. But on the ground a shock wave might bounce off the desert floor. Breedlove wants to automate his car, bring it up to the speed of sound and then, if it doesn't cartwheel east to Salt Lake City, try driving at that speed.
Breedlove is more of a seat-of-the-pants guy anyway, producing cars that are nothing more than a tinkerer's dream. "It's not the car in Tim Allen's garage," he likes to point out. But the design is mostly generated in his head. Breedlove is a poster boy for backyard mechanics everywhere. He designs and drives by experience, and right now breaking the sound barrier is beyond his experience. "This is pioneering stuff," he says. "There is no data for a run this fast this close to the ground. It's a scientific wild-haired guess."
Noble might have used a little more science than Breedlove in his wild-haired guess and, at the moment, seems on a faster trajectory than his rival. But out on the Nevada desert, where wind and flying debris can sabotage the most dedicated effort, it doesn't pay to be too confident. Most anything can, and does, happen. These speed records, after all, are achieved slowly, and you have to pity the man who thinks he can rush into one.