b. Aug. 29, 1940, San Pedro, CA
Gabelich did some hot rod racing in high school and at nineteen he traveled 356 mph at the Bonneville, UT, Salt Flats in a jet car, probably a record for a teen-ager. Then he went to work in the mail room at North American Rockwell, eventually becoming a test astronaut for the company.
He was offered a desk job because of budget cutbacks, but he decided to get back into racing, both on water and on land. He won the American Power Boat Association fuel hydro championship in 1968, set a National Drag Boat Association record of 200.44 mph in 1969, and also raced go-karts and automobiles.
Reaction Dynamics, Inc., was looking for a driver about that time for the Blue Flame, a 37-foot-long, 4,950-pound vehicle powered by a liquid natural gas-hydrogen peroxide rocket engine. Craig Breedlove, holder of the land speed record, wanted too much money. A drag racer, Chuck Suba, came to terms but was killed in a racing accident shortly thereafter. Gabelich was the third choice, and he jumped at the chance.
The Blue Flame's run for the land speed record at Bonneville was scheduled for September of 1969, but it was postponed indefinitely. The first attempt finally took place a year later, on September 22, 1970. It was a dismal failure, reaching a speed of only 426 mph compared to Breedlove's five-year-old record of 600.601 mph. A lot of tinkering and testing took place.
Gabelich hit 609 mph on the first of two mandatory runs on October 15, but a mechanical problem prevented the second run. The same thing happened on October 23, when the first run reached 621 mph. Finally, on October 28, Gabelich and the Blue Flame averaged 617.602 mph on the first run and 627.207 on the second for a new land speed record of 622.407.
He said afterward that he thought the Blue Flame might be able to reach 750 mph, beyond the sound barrier. But Reaction Dynamics had no more plans for the Blue Flame and Gabelich became a drag racer. Gabelich's right hand was severed in an early in 1972. It was sewed back on, but further racing was out of the question.
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