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  Chapter Seven:

  Professional Sports
  Track and Field
  National Parks
  Boy Scouts of America
  Land Speed Record
  Overseas Travel



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Land Speed Record

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The world record for land speed, not subject to any particular human limitation, increased throughout the century.
This was not a purely American record because several of the drivers, including the 1997 record holder, were British. But only the United States had the Utah salt flats and Nevada desert to provide the flat, open, hard, unpaved terrain on which massive automobiles could safely run a measured mile. 

The chart shows a fairly constant rate of improvement from Henry Ford’s 100 miles per hour in a seventy-two-horsepower Ford Arrow at Lake St. Clair, Michigan, in 1904 to Andy Green’s 763 miles per hour in a Thrust SSC at Black Rock Desert, Nevada, in 1997. Early record-breaking cars were similar to production vehicles, with one or more internal combustion engines. By 1960, such a car was pushed to 400 miles per hour. Further advances became possible after the introduction of jet engines. At the end of the century, record-breaking vehicles resembled jet fighter planes without wings. Indeed, the 1997 record-holding driver was a British Royal Air Force pilot. 

These steady improvements stood in sharp contrast to auto races on oval tracks, where the physical limitations inherent in the shape of the track and the actions of competitors imposed much tighter constraints on speed. Eddie Cheever averaged 145 miles per hour to win the Indianapolis 500 in 1998, which was nearly twice as fast as Roy Marroun’s average speed of 74 miles per hour in 1911 but a little slower than A. J. Foyt’s winning speed of 147 miles an hour for the same distance in 1964. The record for the Indy 500 was 186 miles an hour, set by Arie Luyendyk in a Lola–Chevy Indy in 1990.

Chapter 7 chart 5

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

WA 1999, page 979. See also Guinness Book of World Records (New York: Sterling, 1965), page 302. See also “List of world land speed record holders” at (accessed August 25, 2000). For improvements of oval and other tracks, see WA 1999, pages 978–979, and Guinness Book of World Records (New York: Sterling, 1965), pages 302–303.


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