cigar-shaped racing car rocketed down the gleaming white straightaway of Utah's
Bonneville Salt Flats this week in an all too daring effort to break the
400-mph land speed barrier. At the controls was Athol Graham, a 36-year-old
Salt Lake City mechanic who had dreamed for 10 years of surpassing Sir John
Cobb's speed of 394.2 mph and entering into the 400-mph realm.
The roar of the
airplane engine powering Graham's car dinned across the Flats as it neared the
three-mile point on the 12-mile racing strip. The machine was going more than
300 mph and still accelerating. Then the left front wheel flew off the
The car twisted
sharply, bounced into the air and tumbled end over end for three quarters of a
mile, disintegrating into a tangle of gasoline-soaked junk.
"This is Post
2. He crashed!" an official observer near the accident scene shouted into a
phone connected with the timer's stand at the measured mile. "Did you say
he passed?" called back a timer from the stand. "No. He crashed!"
answered Post 2.
unconscious when the first ambulance reached him. Flown to a Salt Lake City
hospital, he died two hours later. It was a shockingly tragic beginning to a
season which is to see the biggest assault ever made on a land speed mark.
In the next six
weeks at least four other men are coming to Bonneville with good chances of
reaching 400 mph. One, England's Donald Campbell, might even do 500. Son of
one-time speed king Sir Malcolm Campbell and holder of the present water-speed
record (260.35) he has worked three years to develop his Bluebird streamliner
(see page 20). Three million dollars and the help of 68 British-companies have
gone into Campbell's effort, set for early September.
Among the other
contenders due. at the Salt Flats are Mickey Thompson, the El Monte, Calif. hot
rodder whose four-engined Challenger I set a U.S. mark of 332.8 last year, and
has been improved since, and Arthur Arfons, a speed-happy mill-and-feed man
from Akron, whose car is undergoing final wind-tunnel tests this week. Even a
jet will be run at Bonneville. Owned by Nathan Ostich, a 50-year-old Los
Angeles physician, and powered by a B-36 bomber engine, it has enough
horsepower to top 500 mph.
But beating them
all to the starting line was the most improbable of all the record
Graham was a
mechanic in a Salt Lake City garage 10 years ago when his nagging itch to break
Cobb's record became a magnificent obsession. He didn't believe that the
building of a high-speed racing car required the technical help of major
corporations and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Confident of his mechanical
genius and ability to shop and barter, he set out to build a car by
In the first five
years he accumulated three Allison airplane engines and a new Cadillac. He quit
his job in 1955, sold the Cadillac and opened up his own garage in the
outskirts of Salt Lake City. There, when he wasn't repairing a balky carburetor
on a customer's family sedan, he began putting together his dream, the City of