On the wall of Gary's office there is a cartoon clipped from a newspaper and presented by his girl friend Linda. It shows Hazel, the maid, casing the family's preadolescent heir standing on a pair of water skis in the backyard plastic wading pool, holding onto a rope attached to the rear bumper of a car. "Have you thought this thing through?" Hazel asks. Gabelich has thought his project through, and his proposed new attempt at the sound barrier, like his previous record runs, is no mere display of mindless fortitude.
A year ago last spring at Orange County International Raceway, Gabelich did get into a car that had not been thoroughly thought through—and the result was a crash that almost ripped off his left forearm and broke his left leg so severely that more than a year later he still wore a cast. "We had rushed the project, and I had bad vibes about it," he says now. The car was a four-wheel-drive experimental "funny car" (a dragster with the facsimile body of a regular Detroit car), and it careened out of control at 180 miles an hour during a quarter-mile run. "Being in the hospital gave me time to think," Gabelich says, "and what I thought about mostly was getting back in shape to work on the sound-barrier project."
Gabelich wants to win at whatever he does. Thus, when he began racing motorcycles he raced under the improbable pseudonym of Orval Volotch. "As holder of the land speed record I'd be expected to win, but I really didn't know much about that kind of racing. So when I used another name it took all that pressure off and I could have fun." Still, he finished first among the "pie plates," the unrated amateurs, in his first desert run.
For Gary Gabelich everything is right now. He is almost totally without introspection and obsessed with doing well, whether water skiing, driving The Blue Flame at more than 600 miles an hour, talking to promoters and potential sponsors or making one of the endless public relations tours for the American Gas Association. "Sometimes I think I'd rather be somewhere else," he says, "but since I've got to be wherever I am, I figure I might as well make a good job of it. I want to be a winner."
A large part of the pleasure Gabelich takes in his work is directed at firing the enthusiasm of those around him. He frequently begins the day, particularly before a speed-record attempt, by playing Isaac Hayes music to his crew. "It gets everybody in a really good mood and sets up good vibes for what we've got to do," he says.
If Gary Gabelich is absorbed with his delight in the present, Craig Breedlove is the Hamlet of the world of speed—constantly weighing the value of what he is doing against the risks involved and his plans to someday give it up and indulge himself with all the places he wants to go to and do absolutely nothing. "I don't know if there is anything valuable that could come from breaking the sound barrier on land," he muses, "though I'm sure we'd learn something from it, and anything we learn helps." But he says the only immediate reasons he has for wanting to drive a car faster than the speed of sound are for the distinction of being the first to do it and, of course, to make money, money that will allow him to do nothing, anywhere he chooses.
Breedlove suffers the strange dichotomy of wanting the adulation that comes with his accomplishments and viewing the demands on his time and energy that follow such notoriety as a punishment for his having done precisely what he wanted to do. Each new record necessitates a long promotional tour that is written into his sponsorship contracts: talk-show appearances, local press conferences, lectures and cocktail parties, until the ultimate reward for breaking the land speed record emerges as a hangover and soggy hors d'oeuvres.
Nevertheless, the sound barrier is there. "Nobody knows what will happen when we exceed the speed of sound, and that's why we've got to find out," he says.
Breedlove got into the speed game as a drag racer. After establishing some pretty fast credentials he convinced a Los Angeles aircraft-components manufacturer in 1960 that he was serious about breaking the land speed record (then 394.20 mph), got $10,000 in sponsorship and set to work designing his car. Mickey Thompson's attempts in a wedge-shaped racer powered by four Pontiac V-8 engines had persuaded Breedlove that jet power was the way to go. He also was convinced that a car with a single nose wheel was the only design providing for a sufficiently small frontal area to bore through the wind resistance that—beyond a certain speed—neutralizes horsepower.
The FIA, the international body that oversees all official automotive speed records, refused Breedlove sanction for his new car on the basis of an old familiar theme: an automobile must be wheel-driven. This same refusal of sanction had earlier discouraged Donald Campbell, who also had believed in the utility of jet thrust.