It is rare indeed in this complex world when one man, and one man alone, becomes the repository of all human experience in any field. England's Donald Campbell, however, has achieved this lonely and frightening position. There is only one jet speedboat in the world, Campbell's Bluebird; nobody but he has ever occupied its tiny, plastic-canopied Duralumin cockpit and no other man has gone more than 200 mph on water and lived. There is a relatively roomy society of U.S. Gold Cup drivers, and when Art Asbury pressed Canada's Miss Super-test II to a new propeller-driven record of 184 mph last month, they all knew just about what he had experienced. Only Campbell knows how man feels and what he encounters when he goes 100 mph faster than that.
Yet Campbell did not lack for kibitzers during the two months he spent in New York State last summer trying to boost his 225 mph world record to 250 mph (his fantastic 286 mph run, made in England in 1954, cannot be accepted, since records are based on the average speed of two runs made in opposite directions within one hour). He all but killed himself when Bluebird hit a wave at 240 mph on Lake Canandaigua in August, and many in the crowds which watched his dismally unsuccessful speed runs after that concluded that he had simply lost his nerve. Campbell admitted that it sometimes took him weeks to key himself for nerve-racking sensation of 200 mph-plus and let it go at that-few were quite able to follow his involved explanations of the dangers implicit in the slightest irregularity of lake surface.
Back in England last week, however, he sent Bluebird howling down dark, hill-hemmed Coniston Water in one last attempt at the elusive record. As the boat fled toward the measured kilometer, Campbell felt that he had found a few minutes of almost perfect water at last, and he opened his throttle wide. He was instantly astounded by the boat's reaction and his voice called over the radio: "What the hell's happening? She's all over the place." Leo Villa, the cunning little engineer who had also served Campbell's father, Sir Malcolm, called in warning: "Easy, skipper—she's nose light." Bluebird was oscillating, and if her nose lifted 3½° she would go up and over backward. But by then the kilometer had been run. The speed: 260.107 mph.
Hurriedly, before the wash from his progress could reach shore and rebound into the course, Campbell turned and came flying back trailing a long tail of smoke, steam and reverberating sound. He was white and shaken when he got out of the cockpit. "A real pasting," he muttered. But in a few minutes he grinned jubilantly. His average: 239.07. "Some unkind people," he said, "thought I didn't want to do it. The man without fear is a man with no sense and no feeling. But when conditions are plumb right I'll take my chance." He then suggested that he would build a new Bluebird. "This boat will not reach 300 with safety," he said. And pushing on toward that beckoning frontier—and across it—is now Don Campbell's objective.
RETURN OF THE IRRELEVANCY
Back in 1939, when Robert M. Hutchins was chancellor of the University of Chicago, he considered intercollegiate football one of the "irrelevancies," and over the dead bodies of Old Maroons he abolished it. But Hutchins could not abolish autumn and the changes the season works in young blood. Autumn kept coming to the campus, Hutchins left and again, this year, the old seasonal irrelevancy returned—Chicago defeated Wilson Junior College 24-6 October 31 and last week lost to North Central College 18-0 in what were, well, almost football games. The scores might have been higher but there were no extra points—there were no goal posts to kick them over. There were also no kickoffs, as the proceedings, in order to receive official sanction, had to remain in the "scrimmage" category.
The Chicago squad was made up of 41 enthusiastic students—averaging 178 pounds per man—who had enrolled in a football course taught by Walter Hass, the university's athletic director. Only one-third of them had ever played the game before. They were outfitted, for the most part, in white satin pants, maroon jerseys and white helmets. Most of the jerseys and an occasional antique brown helmet dated back to the pre-1939 era when Chicago was a member of the Big Ten.
Some 175 spectators, largely students, watched on the sidelines last week during the gray, chilly afternoon and freely joshed the substitutes, five of whom—collectively—established some sort of modern football record by wearing mustaches. Six small boys and a yellow dog climbed to the top of the deserted soot-blackened north stand of Stagg Field and gave a cheer. Then they climbed down again.
The game had a nice, amateur air to it. A North Central lineman was banished for threatening a Chicago player. Coach Hass spoke to Jesse Vail, the North Central coach, and the two men waved the offender back. He shook hands with his late enemy and play resumed. Since there was no marching band to take up time, the teams broke for just five minutes at the half. And no one minded that the Chicago center, Bob Taylor, was a postgraduate divinity student who had played for Rutgers.