Elwin "Al" Teague


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Here’s land speed racing legend Al Teague accepting entry to the new 400 MPH Chapter of the 200 MPH Club. To get in the 2 Club, you must set a record at Bonneville that exceeds the Club minimum for your class and that minimum might be faster than the existing record, which many folks don’t realize (see Bonneville200MPH.org). The Club holds a Wednesday-night banquet, where new members are awarded red hats for 200 MPH, blue hats for 300 MPH, or black ones for 400.
Date Location Driver Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile
Aug 21, 1991 Bonneville Salt Flats, USA Elwin Teague USA Speed-0-Motive IC 409.978 mph   Set new wheel driven and piston engine mark.

Al Teague has been in Land Speed and Drag racing since the late 50s when he started drag racing with his older brother Harvey. They bought their first car, a roadster, in 1958 and ran a GMC 6-cylinder on weekends at various drag strips around Los Angeles. They upgraded their power plant to an injected Chevy V8 and changed to a “slingshot dragster” and successfully ran races in the 8 second range, about 170-175 mph. They then put the Chevy into their roadster and set a record in D/Altered Roadster at 150 mph turning a 13.2 second 114 mile run.

Al was born in East Los Angeles; graduated from Rosemead High School and from East Los Angeles College with an Associate of Arts degree in Business. It was in 1961 that Al met George Bentley, who was to became a lifelong friend and later a partner in several cars.

From 1959 to 1962, Al and his brother Harvey raced a 320-cid Wayne/GMC six-cylinder-powered '29 roadster at nearly every Southern California strip, reaching the low 11s and mid 120s . "I went 98 mph on my first pass and scared myself silly!" he recalls. The brothers bought the former Rollema & Hill Itow-chassis dragster and installed the Jimmy in it. They turned 10.50s and 137 mph on gasoline, then 152 on fuel in 1962. Al began driving the Sadd Brothers D/FR as well, and the roadster pushed by Teague's flamed '49 Cad hearse became a familiar sight at Southern California strips.

In 1963 Al was drafted into the US Army. He served in Vietnam and was honorably discharged from the Army in early 1966. He then took a job at Evans Speed Equipment, in South El Monte, CA working for his good friend Gene Ohly as a machinist. He did this work for 14 years until he became a Millwright in 1978.

Al teamed up with Manuel Flores in 1967 and they ran an ex-Red Mountain Boys jr. fueler and the Flores & Teague El Rhino 190-mph Top Gas Dragster. turning E.T.’s in the high 7’s and speeds over 190 mph at the local drag strips.

Al made his first trip to Bonneville in 1967 as a spectator with Gene Ohly and George Bentley. In 1968, they returned with the legendary Sadd, Teague & Bentley Bonneville “Red Roadster” powered by a blown Chrysler Hemi--the car that would make him famous. It was also in 1968 that Al started Land Speed racing at El Mirage Dry Lakes. He set his first Dry Lakes record at over 205 mph.

BONNEVILLE: In 1970, running the blown Chrysler on fuel, Al set a record at Bonneville at 231 mph and the A/Fuel Roadster record at 202 mph. During the 72 Bonneville Speed Week meet Al set the B/Blown Fuel Roadster record at 250.805 mph, including a one-way pass at an incredible 268 mph. This was an open cockpit, ’29 Model A highboy roadster. Al currently holds four records at Bonneville, including the A/Blown Fuel Streamliner record at 409.986 mph, and his newest one, the C/Blown Fuel Streamliner at 366.043.

In January, 1975, Al began construction on what would become the world's fastest wheel-driven automobile in his mother's garage. The Streamliner “Spirit of ’76” started as an open-wheel high-speed Lakester, based on a design by Lynn Yakel and made from the mold of a motorcycle streamliner by Denis Manning. The car was completed in 18 months and ran at Bonneville in the fall of ’76. Using the famous 392 cid Chrysler cast iron hemi engine, he turned a respectable 260 mph in the measured mile.

In 1980 he ran 280 mph and in 1981, 308 mph in the measured mile. Bonneville was rained out during 82-83 and Al remodeled the car, moving the front wheel inside the body in its unique staggered, offset design. In ’84 he ran a 268 mph and in ’85 he ran the blown 392 cid Chrysler at 353+ mph.

In 1986 he covered the rear wheels with the body and changed his power plant to an aluminum hemi race engine. His speeds climbed each year; Al turned a 360 mph in 1987, the first year Jane, his future wife, went to Bonneville. In ’88, he went 384 mph, but began blistering and pealing his rear tires. In ’89 he went 398 mph but it cost him a couple sets of tires which were becoming more difficult to find. He went 400 mph for the first time in 1990. It was a trap speed at the end of the measured mile, but 400+ mph nonetheless.

On August 21, 1991 Al was timed at 425.230 mph in the measured mile and had a combined two average of 409.986 mph. His trap speed at the end of the measured mile was 432 mph, the fastest any wheel driven vehicle has ever gone. Within an hour, the car was serviced, turned around, and ran 394 mph to average 409.986 mph--a NEW FIA wheel-driven World Land Speed Record. Incredibly, it was all done by Teague, his wife, Jane, and a few buddies--without major sponsorship!

For quite a few years, since 1964 to be exact, there exist, de facto, two different Land Speed Records: the 'absolute' Land Speed Record, for vehicles with any type of propulsion, which is dominated by jets and rokets; and the LSR for automobiles, or the wheel-driven Land Speed Record. In 1965 this record fell to the Summers Brothers' "Goldenrod", which took it from Donald Campbell's "Bluebird", at a speed of 409.277 mph. It took twenty six years for an automobile to better that speed, albeit only by a fraction. It was Al Teague's "Spirit of 76" streamliner. Al Teague is a veteran Bonneville racer and he has built himself, in his small workshop, this car, which is quite a different vehicle compared to "Goldenrod" in that it only has one engine, as opposed to four, and rear-wheel-drive, whereas the Summers Brothers' had four-wheel-drive.

The car had started life several years earlier, in 1976, as a lakester, which is a streamlined car with mandatory open wheels: for the body, instead of the usual belly tank, Teague had used a mould originally designed for a motorcycle streamliner. The chassis, as simple as possible in typical Bonneville style, is a tube space frame, with torsion bar suspension at the front and no suspension at all at the rear. The engine was in central position, right behind the driver.

A few years later, in 1981, having made enough experience in the lakester category, Teague decided to modify the car into a full streamliner, with an all enveloping body which could eventually run for the wheel-driven record. Given the fact that the ex-motorcycle body was pretty narrow, Teague decided to use the lowest frontal section he could possibly obtain, by setting the rear wheels very close to each other right behind the engine. As to the front wheels, he designed an unconventional solution: the two wheels were mounted in tandem, although not in line, connected by the simplest linking he could figure out. It looked like a risky solution, but the car eventually proved to be one of the safest ever to run on the salt at top speeds.

The car first appeared as a streamliner in 1982, still with open rear wheels; then for two years Speed Week was plagued with rainfalls, but in 1985 it began to show its real potential by setting a new C class record. By 1986 the rear wheels were enclosed in the streamlining, while in 1989 the car acquired its definitive looks, which was to remain unchanged till the present day.

In the meantime the old Chrysler was replaced by a new Keith Black and Al's car had become one of the two or three fastest in the lot: it claimed the B class record in 1987 and again in 1988. In 1990 he bettered this record once again but this was not enough so... he added the A record as well, during the same event!

True, he missed the honour of being the first to pass the 400 MPH barrier during a Bonneville meeting (Nolan White and himself both did it, but White did it first, at World of Speed in September 1990). But just a year later his efforts had the best of all rewards that magic day in august 1991 when during the 43rd Speed Week he set the new record for Class A (unlimited) supercharged streamliners at an average speed of 409.978 mph over the mile (over the kilo the speed was even higher, 425.050 mph).

Faster than "Goldenrod", but not fast enough, everybody thought, to take its mile record: the FIA rules state that the new speed must be at least one per cent higher to be recognised as a new record (the speed over the kilo was more than enough, but for some reason nobody paied attention...). After a few weeks, though, the FIA made it clear that the categories for the official International and World records had changed some time earlier, separating blown and unblown engine classes: Teague's Keith Black Chrysler Hemi was supercharged; the four Chrysler Hemi's of "Goldenrod" were not. The mile record set by the "Speed-O-Motive" (together with the one on the kilo) went in the books, albeit in a different class than "Goldenrod": Category A, Group II, Class 11 (over 8 litres), while "Goldenrod" is in Group I. It doesn't matter: from then on Al Teague was (and still is to this day) in the golden book as the driver (and builder) of the fastest automobile on land! Of course, as we know Don Vesco in 1999 drove his Turbinator to a SCTA/BNI record of over 427 mph, but failed to comply with the slightly more restrictive rules of the FIA. Whatever your opinion regarding sanctioning problems, anyway Vesco's car has a turbine engine, so "Spirit of 76" still is the fastest piston engined or, if you like, "proper" automobile on land... (read "Who holds the "wheel-driven" LSR?" for more details over this matter)

After such an achievement you would expect the car to be retired and displayed in a museum. That is what usually happens. But Bonneville racers think different, they like to race year after year, and so did Al Teague and "Betsy" (that is what he calls the car himself, like she is a member of the family). They still do, to this day. Using engines of different displacement, they managed to gather over the years all the SCTA/BNI records in the "fuel" blown classes from AA down to C: that is four records, all still standing at the end of the 2000 season. The last one came in August 2000 at Speed Week, when Teague took the B Class record at 381.867. A small wing over the rear wheels, to improve traction, was tested at Speed Week 2001, but Teague's week ended early due to clutch problems.

Bonneville Salt Flats = Speed

Al Teague blasted along the Bonneville Salt Flats at half the speed of sound in a car he built in his garage. The 63-year-old racer (2006) has been on the salt since 1965 and currently owns the world land speed record for wheel-driven vehicles at almost 410 miles per hour - that's better than two football fields every second.

Teague is the Bonneville equivalent of Dale Earnhardt. But he doesn't have multimillion-dollar backing from some auto manufacturer. His Nomex suit isn't a billboard of sponsors' logos. Instead, his family and friends are the pit crew and Teague torques every bolt on his car himself. And there are many hot rodders just like him who come to the Bonneville Salt Flats each year.

The salt is as flat as a flight deck and hard as concrete. It is so barren, you can see the cars disappear over the horizon. And the sun's reflection off the salt can tear through your SPF 45 sunblock as quickly as it melts the ice in your diet Coke. But even though the air and the sun are hot, the salt isn't. And it's that cool, moist surface that keeps tires from overheating, even at 300-plus mph.

By the time Al Teague had scraped 409, one could buy a road car that genuinely did over half that speed, if it had the space, and a top fuel dragster could top 300mph in 4 seconds with a mere 440 yards of acceleration. Vesco has now run 427 mph (although this is only officially a national record) but it was a long and arduous effort to reach that figure - it's taken many years of trying and hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2000 the Burkland streamliner ran a very similar one-way pass but again, the team were unable to back it up.

That's three cars in recent years over 400mph, yet still the record hasn’t been upped by much more than 30mph in 5 decades of trying! There must be a physical law at work here,one relating speed to power,course length and track surface composition. Power should really be no problem with the gas turbines now in circulation but where is a suitable surface or a long enough unsuitable surface?

Don Vesco and Al Teague, who have nibbled away at the record in recent years by slender margins, have gone by different routes. Teaque is the classic hot rod guru with an practicly antique, piston engined car that first run in the 70's and still boasts a single big V8 under the hood. Veteran motorcycle record holder Don Vesco's creation, a 4 wheeled streamliner called "Turbinator", is much more state of the art, with gas turbine power from a helecopter, and this clocked a new wheel driven land speed record of 417mph in August 1999 to top the 409 that Teague managed in 1992. The conditions on the salt were said to be so rough that Vesco could hardly see out of the cocpit as he reached the upper 300s. In October he upped the mark to a two-way average of 427mph, but no FIA approval was sought in advance so it will not, apparently, count in the overall standings.

1960 Howards Cams GMC 6 Dragster

Museum of American Speed

320 cu. in. inline six-cylinder engine, live axle front suspension with transverse leaf spring, rigid rear suspension, two-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 106.5"

Al Teague’s rail dragster is typical of the ingenuity and competitiveness that characterized American drag racing in its formative years. Its constant evolution and variety of powerplants speaks of the drive, creativity and curiosity which characterized drag racing and the wide variety of individual expression which it encouraged.

Al was raised in the hot rod culture of Southern California. He and his brother Harvey first went racing in the late '50s. That in itself isn’t surprising, but the engine they chose to use is. The car was a classic roadster but up front, instead of the then-standard flathead Ford or modern overhead valve V8 from Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Chrysler or even Buick was a modified GMC inline six cylinder. The Jimmy six is largely forgotten today, yet good design, meticulous assembly and a surprising array of go-fast parts from talented, ingenious experimenters made it successful.

The Jimmy’s success wasn’t just in drag racing. Many enjoyed continuing success in the sprint cars, which could find a race on almost any night on short tracks throughout California. Some even challenged the mighty Offys and Novis in “Big Cars” at Indianapolis.

Many factors made the GMC six successful. Not the least of them was the strong, robust design for demanding commercial hauling that GMC incorporated in the basic engine. It owed its inherent power to its overhead valve cylinder head, pioneered in Chevy’s “Stovebolt” six from its introduction in 1928. In its stock form, however, the Jimmy had inefficient porting with three siamesed intake ports and four exhaust ports on the same side of the engine. One of the first to take advantage of the engine’s potential was Wayne Horning, who in the days just before the outbreak of war designed a 12-port cylinder head for the Chevrolet six with cross-flow breathing. Development continued after the war and eventually culminated in creation of a 12-port head for the bigger postwar Jimmy six. Most were produced by Horning’s former partner, Harry Warner, who had retained the “Wayne Manufacturing Co.” name after the two parted company.

The heads produced by Wayne Manufacturing were masterpieces of engineering and machining, typical of the high standards which prevailed throughout the Southern California speed equipment industry. Many of the pioneers, including Wayne Horning and Harry Warner, were aircraft engineers, designers, machinists and fabricators accustomed to the no-compromise standards of the aircraft industry which had flourished in the Los Angeles area during the war.

The head’s valves were vertical opening into shallow combustion chambers in the head. Compression ratios ran upwards of 12:1 using homebrew fuel and lightweight pistons made by Frank Venolia. Fuel typically was supplied by a Hilborn constant flow fuel injection system.

Running straight alcohol, a well tuned Wayne head Jimmy would deliver better than 1 horsepower per cubic inch displacement, power that tested the engine’s durability but compared favorably with the mega-expensive purpose-built 270 Offenhausers.

Al and Harvey Teague’s 320 cubic inch GMC-Wayne roadster would do mid-120 mph trap speeds in the quarter and turn low 11’s. When they put the Jimmy into an early rail dragster chassis it jumped to 137 mph and high 10’s. Turning to “rocket fuel” raised the trap speed to 152 mph, a startling accomplishment for any unblown 320 cubic inch engine and nothing short of miraculous for an ex-truck engine that was well outside the mainstream of performance development. But when they put a Hilborn injected Chevy in the same dragster chassis, times dropped into the 8’s and trap speeds climbed into the low 170’s. The handwriting was on the wall for the Jimmy, but it had shown its stuff.

Al Teague eventually turned his attention to other racing pursuits but eventually put the GMC-Wayne engine back into the rail chassis in which it had startled opponents in the late 50’s. He restored it to its present sparkling condition, a credit to the design, fabrication, casting, machining and assembly standards for which Southern California was rightfully respected. It was acquired directly from Al Teague by the present owner in 2007 along with other cars from Teague’s important history. Assembled and driven by one of the legendary backyard racers of Southern California with a rare and highly developed example of a nearly forgotten high performance engine, the GMC-Wayne, Al Teague’s rail dragster will always bring curiosity and admiration. Its story deserves to be retold over and over.