"I've tried to solve it," said Arthur, "because we're both gettin' old and why carry a fight like this to the grave? But he played me such dirty tricks the last time I just figured that was the end."
Arthur did nothing on the salt flats except set a new standing quarter-mile record of 258.62 mph, a Mickey Mouse accomplishment but one which helped to while away a week in which he figured there was no point in risking his life to break his own land-speed record.
Shortly after that Walter came back with 25 rockets mounted in the Wing-foot Express, enough to generate almost 50,000 hp, making his car the most powerful ever to attempt the land-speed record. Even the usually cool driver, the blond Tatroe, appeared edgy as the car was towed up to the starting line. Just before the scheduled time for ignition, Walter threw his arms around Tatroe, and the two held each other close before Tatroe spun away and climbed into the car, where Walter ran him through an umpteenth cockpit check. "Bobby knows those buttons better than Walter by now," said an onlooker, "but that's just like Walter to go through the whole routine again."
"Now remember to watch for the signal!" Walter shouted at Tatroe's helmet.
"Do I have to go then?" said Tatroe. "Or can I go when I'm ready?"
"Well, take two minutes after we give the signal," Walter said. To Dick Hoskins of Goodyear he said, "Two minutes ought to give him time to settle down." Walter and Hoskins ran for the chase car, and a small, nervous delegation of journalists and USAC officials backed far off to avoid the rocket exhaust. Hoskins waved his arm out the window of the chase Mustang, the signal for Tatroe to take off, and silence fell across the lonely salt flats. Exactly one minute later, orange-and-blue flames shot 30 feet out the tail of the car; a shock wave almost knocked the bystanders over, and Tatroe and the Wingfoot Express were off and gone over the salty horizon. Hoskins and Walter Arfons were the first to reach the car after the run and, by the time reporters and photographers arrived, Hoskins was walking head-down toward the sidelines, muttering, "There'll be no return ride. The car's destroyed." Some of the rockets had fired at both their ends—out the back and into the guts of the car simultaneously. The resulting blaze had burned most of the tail panels out and gutted the wiring inside. But Tatroe was unhurt and fully in accord with Walter Arfons, who quickly recovered his aplomb and said, "My golly, it's only the skin that's burnt, and we've got another wire harness all rigged up in reserve. We'll patch up and come back."
Several days later they did come back, and with 24 of the 25 rockets firing perfectly and the car handling like a new Porsche, the Wingfoot Express made the first of the two timed runs required for a record. At the end of the track Tatroe jumped from the cockpit and shouted at the crew hurrying up in a truck full of fresh rockets, "580! My airspeed was 580! Change the rockets! Let's go!" Walter drove up and Tatroe hollered to him, "I showed 580 on the airspeed!" The pair embraced hurriedly and began supervising the job of installing fresh rockets Then a USAC official arrived from the timing shack and whispered something to Walter. "Leave it go!" Walter called to the crew.
"What d'ya mean, 'Leave it go!' " said Tatroe.
"We were clocked at 476 through the mile," Walter said. "Leave it go. It's no use." The last of the burned-out rocket cannisters was removed from the cat ( Goodyear had used up $60,000 worth of JATO bottles altogether), and the Wingfoot Express was prepared for the trip home. Now that Walter had failed, at least for 1965, everyone breathed easier, including Arthur Arfons' best friend and chief mechanic, Ed Snyder, who had said earlier: "If anybody breaks Art's record, especially if Walt breaks it, Art'll come back here and break it right back or he'll take his car home in little pieces." And reporters also remembered the words of Walter Arfons several weeks before: "If I didn't make the record I'd be glad because Arthur wouldn't have to push no more. I want to break the record. This is my life; this is what I chose; it's the only thing I know. But if I don't make the record, down deep I'm glad because I didn't have to push Arthur. I'm afraid for him. He'd throw all precautions to the wind. I wouldn't want nothing to happen to him."
Hardly a week of relaxed tensions had passed before Craig Breedlove, who had had nothing but trouble with his big new jet car all season, returned to Bonneville for a final try. Although Breedlove had held the land-speed record three times, and although his jet car was as powerful as the Green Monster, experts gave him little chance at the record, mostly because his Spirit of America Sonic I had a history of instability and also because it was frightfully big—"It's two foot longer than our bus," said an Arfons crew member laughingly. But Breedlove fooled everyone by shoving the world's land-speed record up to 555.-127, breaking the old mark by almost 20 mph, and then compounded the insult by propping his petite wife behind the wheel and watching her drive 308.56 for a new women's record, both for the greater glory of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.