American motorsport driver and Land Speed Record Holder Gary Gabelich was born 29 August 1940. During the 1960’s Gary worked and drove a split window 1960 era VW kombi delivery van for Vermillion’s Drug store . He lived with his parents in the Bixby Knolls area of Long Beach, CA during this time. He later went to work for North American Aviation which became North American Rockwell after a 1967 merger with Rockwell-Standard. Gary started in the mail room and stayed for 9 years in various positions from staff assistant before becoming a part-time test subject for Project Apollo in the years 1968 & 1969. Gary served as an Apollo test astronaut in 1968-1969 as stated on the plaque his family dedicated to him in 2001.
Unlike the actual astronauts, he was not flying the capsules, but testing their long-term viability in weightless conditions, their tolerance and performance under conditions of extreme lateral forces and, though they seldom spoke of it on televised moon shots, the toilet facilities. Gabelich was Mercury Seven astronaut Wally Schirra’s exact size and he did a lot of space checkout for him and testing of capsules and equipment before they were man-rated for operational use. Project Mercury ended in the early 1960s and Wally Schirra went on to become commander of Apollo 7
Gabelich broke the Land Speed Record by achieving average speeds of 622.407 mph (1,001.667 km/h) over a flying mile and 630.388 mph (1,014.511 km/h) over a flying kilometer on 23 October 1970. The thrust used during this attempt was between 13,000 pounds (5,900 kilograms) and 15,000 pounds (6,800 kilograms). A top speed of approximately 650 mph (1,050 km/h) was momentarily attained during one run. However The FIA rules dictate that a land speed mark is recognized only after two runs through the FIA measured kilometer and mile courses. The two corresponding speeds are then averaged for the official time and speed. Additionally both runs must be made within one hour. Gabelich averaged 629.412 mph (1,013 km/h) on his first run and 631.367 mph (1,016 km/h) on his second run for an average speed of 630.388 mph (1,015 km/h) establishing a new kilometer FIA LSR. The mile FIA LSR was the first exceeding 1,000 km/h (621 mph) and remained unbeaten until 1983, when Richard Noble broke it driving Thrust 2. The faster kilometer FIA LSR remained unbroken for 27 years until ThrustSSC went supersonic in 1997.
In 1969 Gabelich established a quarter mile Drag boat record of 200.44 mph (323 km/h) This is not the same as the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) Water Speed Record (WSR) in which Donald Campbell broke 200 mph (322 km/h) on 23 July 1955 in the Bluebird K7. Sadly Gabelich was seriously injured in the crash of an experimental 4 wheel drive Funny Car in 1972 that careered out of control at 180 mph (290 km/h) during a quarter mile run almost severing his left forearm and broke his left leg so severely that more than a year later he still wore a cast. This incident ended his racing career and he never raced again, concentrating instead on a new supersonic vehicle.
In the early 1980s he established the “Rocketman Corporation” with Tom Daniel. The objective was to design and build a vehicle capable of reaching speeds in the 800 mph (1,287 km/h) range. This conceptual vehicle was named “American Way” but the project was cut short by his untimely death in January 1984 in a motorcycle crash.Gary Gabelich was part of the cast in the 1977 movie “Joyride to nowhere” and he made a documentary,”One Second from Eternity: The History of the Land Speed Record” in 1971. Gary and his family appeared on the Family Feud with Richard Dawson, where he presented the key to the city of Long Beach, California. to Mr Dawson. In 2008 Gary was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame in front of the Convention Center on Pine Avenue. He was represented at the ceremony by his wife Rae, a Long Beach City Councilwoman who retired in 2012 after 8 years service. On 23 October 1970 Gary Gabelich set the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Land Speed Record (LSR) with the rocket car Blue Flame on October 23, 1970, on a dry lake bed at Bonneville Salt Flats near Wendover, Utah. Blue Flame, was fueled with natural gas and when driven by Gary Gabelich it achieved the world land speed record on Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah on October 23, 1970. The vehicle set the FIA world record for the flying mile at 622.407 mph (1,001.667 km/h) and the flying kilometer at 630.388 mph (1,014.511 km/h).