Craig went to Las Vegas for the divorce, where he was "lonely and disoriented." The day it came through he married a blonde model he had met several weeks before. That marriage fell apart within two weeks after the newly-weds returned to Los Angeles. Looking back, Breedlove says sheepishly, "It's like the man said after he took off his clothes and jumped into the cactus: 'It seemed like a good idea at the time.' "
"Craig is too open and trusting," says Lynn Garrison, his business agent for the past six months, a high-powered promoter who talks aggressively of setting up charitable foundations and speed shops in Breedlove's name. In the meantime Craig has whittled away at his debts with income from property he has somehow managed to hang onto, from fees for personal appearances at auto shows and the like and from selling such possessions as a late-model Mustang and a pickup truck. One conveyance he has not disposed of, a curious indulgence for a man who drives a 1956 Buick, is the Cessna Cardinal he flies for rest and relaxation from the battles of daily life. It is an $18,000 plane on which he still owes $12,000 in payments.
If nothing else, Breedlove's recent troubles have acquainted him with the facts of real life, as opposed to the charmed one he formerly led. The first incarnation constitutes one of auto racing's favorite legends: the story of how Breedlove, a 22-year-old fireman in Costa Mesa, Calif., paid $500 for a surplus J-47 jet engine; how he built his first car, the three-wheeled Spirit of America, in his father's garage ("It's my hobby," he said breezily when neighbors complained of the noise); how he met Lee and, quitting the fire department to work full time on the racer, lived off her earnings as a carhop at a Los Angeles drive-in.
In light of his present dilemma, the most compelling part of the legend is the way Breedlove brashly approached Goodyear and Shell Oil in 1961 and talked them into backing his seemingly quixotic scheme. The land-speed record then stood at 394.196—it had been set by Britain's John Cobb way back in 1947—and Breedlove, shades of Andy Granatelli, vowed, "I'm going to bring it back to America."
The timing could hardly have been better. As suggested by the recent dearth of competition, business at Bonneville has been highly cyclical. In the early 1960s a pride of other drivers—including Donald Campbell, Walt and Art Arfons and Mickey Thompson—also emerged in pursuit of Cobb's record. More than any of the others, destiny's choice as the foil for Breedlove's feats was Campbell, the world's leading water-speed man and son of the legendary Sir Malcolm Campbell, who had been the fastest man on land and sea in the 1920s and 1930s.
Breedlove, the young upstart, fizzled in his first Bonneville run in 1962, then returned the next year to drive his three-wheeler at 407.45, easily eclipsing Cobb's mark. Meanwhile, Campbell, the wealthy sportsman for whom 60-odd British companies had built Bluebird as virtually a national crusade, was washed out by floodwaters in Australia. With British prestige supposedly at stake, there were black suggestions among his countrymen that Campbell, who had survived a wicked accident at Bonneville in 1960, had mislaid his nerve. When Breedlove stopped off in England during a world tour following his Bonneville assault, Campbell, having returned from Australia, threw a party at his country home in Surrey in the Californian's honor.
The gesture caught Breedlove by surprise. "I couldn't believe he would have a party for me after I'd broken the record," Craig says. "What was more amazing, he invited the press, even after the way they'd all been down on him and comparing him with me. And you know? In five minutes Campbell had the press falling all over him. He turned on the charm and started telling some of those great stories of his. And, hey, he was just as gracious as could be toward me. I was afraid he'd look down his nose, or resent me, but he was just as gracious as could be."
The next summer, returning to Australia, Campbell ran Bluebird at 403.1, which stood as the mark for wheel-driven cars only until Californian Bob Summers claimed the record in Goldenrod the following year. By that time the jet exploits of Breedlove and Art Arfons had reduced wheel-driven cars to minor league status. Already the first to reach 400 mph, Breedlove also became the first at 500, wrecking his three-wheeler in the process, and, as we have seen, the first and only man to break the 600-mph barrier in the four-wheel Sonic I.
As the speeds increased, so did the dangers and, inevitably, the pressures to go faster still. Those pressures may have expressed themselves subconsciously that day in 1964 when Breedlove destroyed his three-wheel jet. After Spirit flashed through the measured mile on its return trip of the two required for an official record, its safety chutes ripped off, the brakes melted away and Spirit knocked over a telephone pole before finally hurtling into a canal 18 feet deep. Drenched but virtually unscathed, Breedlove climbed out of the cockpit and giddily declared: "And now for my next act I'm going to set myself on fire."
In calmer moments Craig likens his line of work to "walking out on a limb to see how far you can go without breaking it and then retreating just in time." To cope with the fear he has felt, at one point he visited a psychiatrist.