Art Arfons(February 3, 1926 - December 3, 2007)
Arthur Eugene "Art" Arfons was the world land speed record holder three times in 1964 – 1965 with his Green Monster series of jet-powered cars, after a series of Green Monster piston-engine and jet-engined dragsters. He subsequently went on to field a succession of Green Monster turbine-engined pulling tractors, before returning to land speed record racing. He was announced as a 2008 inductee in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame three days after his death. Arfons was also known for trying to make drag racing as safe as possible with the development of two important safety devices that have since been made mandatory for drag racers: the overhead roll cage and the parachute.
Art Arfons' father, Tom, was born in Greece and came to the United States at age 14. He settled in Akron, Ohio, where Art was born. Tom died in 1950, at age 52. His mother, Bessie, was half Cherokee, and died in 1984 at age 84. Arfons had two half brothers by his mother — Walt Arfons, ten years older, who was to become his partner and later competitor in autosports, and Dale, eight years older, as well as one sister Lou, eighteen months older.
Arfons' family operated a feed mill in rural Ohio, where the Arfons brothers exercised their mechanical skills and ingenuity. After his junior year of high school, at just under 17 years of age, Art joined the United States Navy. He was sent to diesel mechanic school, then assigned as a mechanic to a landing craft in the Pacific Theater. This was a very good job for Arfons to utilize his mechanical talents. He participated in two battles including the invasion of Okinawa, and then was discharged after three years, as a Petty Officer Second Class. He returned to Ohio, was married, and had two sons and a daughter. In 1952, he and his half-brother Walt became fascinated with drag racing and built their first Green Monster. In this endeavor, they were supported by their mother, who was also fascinated by the sport. Art and Walt continued their drag racing partnership with a series of Green Monster cars until the late 1950s, parting amicably but competing against each other.
Land speed record
Arfons' path led almost inevitably to land speed record racing at Bonneville, first in 1960 with the "Anteater", a car modeled after John Cobb's "Railton Special" and powered by an Allison V-1710 aircraft engine. In 1961 he reached a top speed of 313.78 mph (504.98 km/h) before burning out the clutch. Arfons sold the car to Bob Motz.
In 1962, Arfons began experimenting with jet-powered cars, where his innate mechanical skills proved tremendously useful. Art's first car, the 8,000 hp (6 MW) Cyclops, remains the fastest open cockpit vehicle, recording 330.113 miles per hour (531.265 km/h) in the measured mile in 1962. Unfortunately, his design had the driver sitting directly in the air intake to the engine, so that there was no way to enclose the cockpit and still supply air to the engine; this limited top speed severely. In deference to the car's less than excellent aerodynamics, Arfons introduced another innovation: It was the first land speed record car to utilize a wing to produce downforce to prevent the car from becoming airborne.
Arfons returned to Bonneville in 1964 with another Green Monster. He held the world land speed record three times during the closely fought competition of 1964 and 1965, but after a bad crash in 1966 turned his attention to jet turbine powered tractor pulling competition where he was, as usual, successful. In 1989, however, he attempted to return to land speed record competition, but was never competitive.
Art's son, Tim Arfons, has continued the tradition by competing in jet-powered dragsters as well as in turbine-powered pulling "funny cars", and has been a stunt and exhibition driver in a series of jet-powered ATVs and even a jet-powered personal watercraft. His daughter Dusty Arfons also competed in tractor pulling with her father.
On October 16, 1971, while making an exhibition run at the Dallas International Motor Speedway in Lewisville, Texas, Arfons lost control of his radical jet-powered vehicle, resulting in the death of three people. IHRA staff members Robert John Kelsey (age 20) and Sean Panse (age 17) were struck and killed, along with WFAA (Dallas, Texas) news reporter, Gene Thomas (age 31), who was a passenger in the vehicle.
Arfons’ "Super Cyclops" was making its first run of the day in an attempt to pass the 300 mph (480 km/h) mark. Towards the end of the run, a tire burst as the chutes deployed; it veered into a guardrail and crashed beyond the finish line. Thomas, a popular Dallas television reporter, was apparently thrown out of the vehicle when it rolled over.
The vehicle was configured with the driver and passenger sitting on each side of a huge engine. Arfons sustained minor injuries. He was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas and released shortly afterward. The Dallas event was to be his last race.
He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame (Prior to 2005) "Hall of Fame Inductees", International Motorsports Hall of Fame, National Tractor Puller Association Hall of Fame, and the Summit County Sports Hall of Fame. He is a three time World Land Speed record holder. He held the Unlimited Drag Racing Record and was a champion Tractor Puller.
Death and interment
Obituary from the Akron Beacon Journal:
The brothers began drag racing at a track near the Rubber Bowl, but soon moved on to bigger stages and became stars in the mid-1950s.
Art went on to race his ''Green Monsters'' at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. It was there he broke the
''He was just a remarkable man,'' said Tom Melody, a retired Beacon Journal sports editor and writer. ''I think it's really, really strange that Evel Knievel and Arfons are going in virtually the same week. They had some similarities. Arfons did some things that were as fearless as anything Knievel did.''
SPEED DUEL: The Inside Story of the Land Speed Record in the Sixties
Art Alfons "The Green Monster"
Art Arfons and His Green Monster
Bonneville Salt Flats Vintage Art Arfons Breedlove Race Car Footage 1
Eyewitness-1971 Jet Car Crash Dallas International Motor Speedway
The Junkyard Genius
Submitted by Eric Johnson on October 31, 2010
Before I was even out of middle school, each and every weekend, I would sit next to my father in his pickup truck and we would drive – hauling a Chevy Nova with a 427 Cubic Inch powered Pro Gas car on a trailer - to Thompson Drag Raceway in Ohio. As a kid, I saw incredible things at this drag strip. I watched the greatest Top Fuel drivers of the era, including “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and his Swamp Rat dragster go 200 miles per hour along the quarter mile. I saw the superstar Funny Car drivers of the time – including my idol – Don “The Snake” Prudhomme (my mom still has a photo of me, at age 5, standing next to nitro burning Funny Car. I’m wearing striped pants, brown Buster Brown shoes and a Winnie the Pooh shirt.)
The biggest race of the year at Thompson was the annual Fourth of July Pro Stock Meet where the nation’s top Pro Stock drivers gathered every Independence Day weekend to try and win one of biggest drag race meets of that period. Perhaps the strongest Pro Stock car of them all was the Gapp & Roush Ford Pinto. Owned and masterminded by Jack Roush, little did I know at the time that I was looking on at a greasy mechanic who would, years later, go onto create one of today’s elite NASCAR Sprint Cup teams. (In fact, three years ago, while working with NASCAR driver Boris Said, I sat in a hauler during a rain delay at Daytona International Speedway and asked Jack if he remembered Thompson and the Fourth of July meet. Roush seemed astonished that I even knew the race existed. When I explained that I had watched his team race there as an 8 year old, Jack was pretty lit up by it all).
But I digress…
The craziest, most insane, radical, mind boggling thing I ever saw at Thompson was the Green Monster. A man named from nearby Akron, Ohio named Art Arfons built and drove the F-104 Starfighter General Electric J79 17,500 lbf static thrust jet engine-powered machine. Art was something of a legend in his own time in Ohio as he was world renowned for setting land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. From time to time, he would show up at Thompson and shake down one of his Green Monster contraptions before heading west to Bonneville.
One Saturday afternoon, when I was 10, I walked through the rocks and dirt that served as the pit area at Thompson. I was eating a hot dog when I saw it – the Green Monster – being wrenched on by Arfons and his crew. When I asked one of the mechanics if the car was to run later that night, he said yes and showed me around the monstrosity. Even now, at age 42, I can remember just how larger than life the car appeared to me.
Then, about nine hours later, the car was rolled out to the starting line and prepared to make a pass. When the time came and with the crowd – most members of it drunk on beer – gazing on in a collective stupor, the jet engine was started. It took a few minutes, but it slowly wound itself up into a high pitch whine, built thrust, and a few seconds later - and in an afterburner flash of fire and burnt JP4 jet fuel – the car lit up the entire sky and simply vanished. I can still remember the heat coming off of the car and my hair blowing back. My mind was blown.
Art’s was about to be, too, as the car burned off its parachutes and couldn’t be stopped. The Green Monster shot off the end of the drag strip, through all the run off area, a pasture full of cows (seriously – that’s how far off the track the car shot, but I guess that can happen when you’re going 300 miles per hour with no brakes) and into the side of a white house. In what seemed like an eternity, an announcer over the public address system informed the crowd that Art was okay, but the Green Monster was completely destroyed. An hour later I watched on in both horror and amazement as the car, on a flatbed truck, was driven back up the drag strip and before the grandstands for the crowd to see. The Green Monster was no longer green. It wasn’t even a piece of machinery. It was so fucked up there was nothing left to even sell.
Art smiled and waved to the crowd. He looked happy. He looked like he was okay. He looked like he was insane.
The legend of Art Arfons…
Art Arfons came from a family that operated a mill in Ohio. And it was in the Buckeye State where he initially honed his mechanical skills and strengthened his whacked-out ingenuity. After his junior year of high school, Art joined the United States Navy and fought in some gnarly ass battles at Guadalcanal. But he lived through it and duly came back home to Ohio where he and his brother Walt built the VERY first Green Monster.
The Green Monster was the name of several vehicles built by Art Arfons who was often described as a “junk yard genius”. They were initially Dragsters and motivated by clapped out automobile engines, then by war surplus piston aircraft engines (Ranger and Allison V-1710), which were plentiful, durable, and cheap, then by jet aircraft engines. The jet powered dragsters developed into jet powered vehicles built to break the land speed record, finally a series of turbine powered pulling tractors.
The first “Green Monster” came in 1952. Several years and several iterations later came the most famous “Green Monster”. It was powered by an F-104 Starfighter General Electric J79 17,500 lbf static thrust jet engine with four-stage afterburner, which Arfons purchased from a scrap dealer for $600 and rebuilt himself, over the objections of General Electric and the government, and despite all manuals for the engine being classified top secret.
In 1963, the meanest “Green Monster” of all, a beast with the most powerful powerplant of its day – a General Electric J-79 jet engine boasting 17,500 horsepower with four-stage afterburner – was born. The J79 engine was supposedly classified by the military, and yet Art Arfons drove to a Florida scrap dealer, paid $600 in cash and hauled away the damaged engine. “I didn’t try to chisel down the price,” said Arfons. “I never said nothing, just gave him the money and we put it in the bus. Of course, I didn’t even know at that point whether or not the engine would run.
“There was no sense in trying to straighten out the blades, so I just pulled them out. I figured the engine had more than enough power without them. A few days after I called General Electric, told them I had a J79 and asked them to send a manual. The guy said, ‘you don’t have that engine. You can’t have that engine.’ And I said, ‘well, I sure do.’
“The next day or the day after that a Colonel from Washington showed up at the shop and said that’s a classified engine and I can’t have it. I said I bought it; and showed him my sales receipt. The Colonel stomped out. Then I got a legal letter from GE, a real nasty letter, informing me the J79 was made for Marine and Air Force use and it should never be put in a race car.”
Art Arfons never received the letter…
“The concept wasn’t terribly sophisticated, but it worked,” he furthered. “I hung the engine up and built the car around it.” That “Green Monster” set land speed records of 434, 536 and 576 miles an hour in 1964 in the blistering battle of jets.”
In 1966 Arfons returned once again to Bonneville, but reached an average speed of only 554.017 miles per hour. (891.604 km/h) On run number seven at 8:03 AM on November 17, Arfons crashed his vehicle travelling 610 miles per hour (982 km/h) when a wheel bearing froze. He subsequently built another Green Monster land speed record car, but for the first time in his life, common sense set in. As soon as he had completed the car, he sold it.
Good for Art.
By Eric Johnson