Craig Breedlove, the First Person to Break the 600 MPH Barrier
Craig Breedlove has had a need for speed ever since he was a kid. His love for all things mechanical only grew after he visited Bonneville for the first time at the age of 12.
“I was very interested in aerodynamics, so when I saw the cars I was excited,” says Breedlove, who grew up in the hot rod hotbed of Southern California. “When I was a teen, the big rage was hot rodding. If I had lived someplace else, maybe I would have done something else.”
Breedlove focused on land speed racing, and would eventually go on to become the first person to officially break 400 mph, 500 mph and 600 mph, all in streamliners named “Spirit of America.”
We flagged down the five-time world land speed record holder to talk about his records, his life today and if he’ll ever climb back into the driver’s seat to go for another record.
GG: What’s the most challenging part of putting together a land speed record attempt?
Craig Breedlove: I think the most difficult part is getting the necessary sponsorship and financing to be able to run the car. Another hard thing is how much there is to do beforehand. You’re involved in every aspect of putting it together.
GG: What was your routine before a high-speed run? Was there anything you had to do before getting into your vehicle?
Craig Breedlove: The first thing you’ve got to do is show up! I always made sure that I really knew the course before the run. I would spend a lot of time riding my motorcycle up and down the course to learn every inch of it. The day of, it’s got to be total focus. You have to take a deep breath and shut everything else out of your mind except that mission. You have one goal in mind: get the car through the lights and then get the car to stop!
GG: Why did you name your streamliners Spirit of America?
Craig Breedlove: One of my childhood heroes was Charles Lindbergh and his plane was called the Spirit of St. Louis. I always liked that name. I was also very enthralled with President Kennedy. We were working on the car when he did his inaugural address, and we didn’t have a name for the car yet. Kennedy’s inaugural address included the famous “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” line, and we felt that if we could bring the world speed record back to the United States, that was probably the only thing we were capable of doing for the country.
GG: The Beach Boys wrote a song about you and your car called ‘Spirit of America!’ How did you feel about that?
Craig Breedlove: I had no idea! I was driving down the freeway one day and the song came on the radio; that’s how I found out about it. I was flattered. I didn’t realize that what I’d done had made such an impact.
GG: What’s one misconception people have about land speed racing?
Craig Breedlove: People don’t realize that there’s no prize money; it’s like trying to go to the Olympics to compete. You don’t really get money for winning a gold medal. You do it for the pride.
GG: Be honest — were you a little heartbroken when the English Thrust SSC team broke the speed of sound at Black Rock Desert in 1997?
Craig Breedlove: No, that was a great accomplishment! I have the utmost respect for Richard Noble’s (Thrust SSC’s team leader) ability, and I know how difficult it is to organize something like that…I was there when Richard and “pilot” Andy Green did it. We were having some problems at the time, it wasn’t our day. I got a wind report that was not understood correctly. It was my fault; I misread the thing…We probably should have called the run off completely, but at the time, you’re trying to get the record and I think I let my enthusiasm override my good sense.
GG: What’s your daily driver these days?
Craig Breedlove: I am a Ford pickup guy. Over the years, I have had a Corvette and a few different cars, but I always end up driving my Ford pickup. It’s just the best kind of car that a guy like me could have. If you have a really nice street car, you have to watch where you park it, and you can’t go running around at 150 mph on
GG: How has land speed racing changed over the course of your career?
Craig Breedlove: The safety equipment is much better, which is a great thing. It’s rare now that you hear of a fatality in motorsports. The cars are much more sophisticated, aerodynamically and mechanically. It’s still a dangerous occupation, so it still takes someone who is willing to work really hard and put themselves at risk to accomplish what they say they’re going to do.
GG: What’s your biggest regret?
Craig Breedlove: I am very disappointed that we didn’t get to run our latest speed record car, due to lack of funding. We put so much effort into it and the car’s performance was there, but it was just a matter of not having the money to do it. It took well over five years to put the project together, and I was sorry it didn’t work out.
GG: Do you have another run in you or have you officially retired?
Craig Breedlove: I am 79 years old, and [I’ve realized] that there has to be an end to everything. We’re working on a new car but I will not be driving it. I don’t know if we’ll be able to get the funding for it but I’ve got the car designed. I definitely won’t be behind the wheel, though!
GG: Looking back, how do you feel about what you’ve accomplished in your career?
Craig Breedlove: I was fortunate enough through my life that whenever I was wanted to do something, it always managed to come into my life, almost like a preordained thing. I’ve been really lucky and blessed. There’s an old saying that really [describes my life]: given the choice between skill and luck I’ll take luck every time!