Death Ends a Dream of Speed
300 mph Crash Kills S.L. Racer
Special to The Tribune
BONNEVILLE SALT FLATS, Aug. 1—Athol Graham, a 36-year-old Salt Lake garage owner, told spectators Monday not to be alarmed if his racing car appeared to go into an early skid.
Within seconds, his handmade racer skidded and flipped end-over-end at more than 300 miles an hour. Less than two hours later Graham was dead.
THE CRASH occurred shortly after 11 a.m. as Graham was nearing the measured mile in an attempt to break the world's land speed record of 394.196 mph. His recorded speed that day was
Graham had just left the starting pit and was nearing the halfway mark to the measured mile when the rear driving wheels apparently spun loose from the salt and the machine was sent tumbling out of control for a mile and a half along the salt flats.
THE CAR flew through the air, landed top down, bounced once and then skidded upside down along the course.
First spectators to reach the red-painted "City of Salt Lake" were Tribune sports writer Marion Dunn and photographer Borge Andersen.
As soon as additional help arrived Graham was removed from the wreckage and flown to a Salt Lake hospital where he died at 12:20 p.m.
CAUSE OF death was listed as extensive injuries to head, neck and right chest.
Graham was attempting a "rags to riches" assault on the land speed record of 394.196 miles an hour set by the late Sir John Cobb of England here in 1947.
His first run Monday had been scheduled for 9 a.m., but wheel trouble and gusty winds postponed the start nearly two hours.
The wheel trouble was discovered when the tires were put on at 8 a.m. The left front tire rubbed against a tie rod and Graham held up the start while he reshaped the rod with an acetylene torch.
THEN GUSTS of wind clocked at 22 miles an hour were reported midway down the course and Graham waited again.
Finally, Graham decided to start. He told onlookers not to worry if the car appeared to skid soon after his start because he planned to test the steering mechanism.
He waved goodbye to his 29-year-old wife, Zeldine, shouted "good luck" and took off.
SECONDS LATER the car skidded and flew apart.
Observers blamed the accident on aerodynamics and the wind, estimated at 12-15 mph.
William D. Backman of the Bonneville Speedway Assn., said speedway officials were convinced that neither the wind nor the course contributed to Monday's accident.
Joe Petrali, chief steward of the United States Auto Club, an official observer near the point of the accident, said after looking at the skid marks: "It looked as if Graham was accelerating very fast and the rear wheels were beginning to spin forward throwing the car sideways before it flipped end over end."
THIS WAS Graham's third try for a record, but his first of the present season. His best previous speed was 344 miles an hour.
His wife flew with him to the hospital. The couple's four children were staying with grandparents in Tempe, Ariz.
Just Sunday night, in discussing the coming run, Graham said he was confident he would break the record but "he wished all the people would say a prayer or two for me."
MONDAY he missed his goal of becoming the first man in history to average 400 miles an hour in two runs across the measured mile and became, instead, the first driver in history to be killed in a salt flats attempt to break the world's land speed record.
Graham's run Monday was plagued with bad luck almost from the start.
The young mechanic and his crew arrived on the flats at 6 a.m. The sky was blue and Sunday's rain had left the salt firm and cool.
BUT IN preparing the car for the run things started to go wrong. The plane bringing in the special tires was late and when it arrived the front left tire was too big and the wind started to blow at an angle across the course.
Graham worked almost frantically to get the front tire to fit. Then the right front wheel needed adjusting. And then the wind—which never let up.
WHILE GRAHAM was preparing the car, Mrs. Graham talked over the coming run with newsmen.
"No," she said, she wasn't worried about the run. The tires had been checked. An expert had told them that if the car held up aerodynamically at 344 miles (as it did last summer) it would hold up at 400 miles an hour.
Just before last Christmas, Graham said that the runs at the salt flats were not a thrill. "I get more thrills out of driving my wrecker in bad weather than I do on the salt flats," he said.
SHORTLY before Graham started his fatal run, he and his pretty wife huddled secretly a few yards away from the crowd gathered at the starting pit.
Afterward Mrs. Graham smiled and said, "Not many people know this but if the car works all right today I get to drive it and try for 300 miles an hour.
"ATHOL SAID that if he gets the record, I can go for 300. I drove it 125 miles an hour here last summer. That was as fast as Athol had driven before he went 300 last summer.
"I want to do it. I know I can reach 300. After all I've worked alongside him all these years. I know as much
about the car as he does. I'm ready," she said.
Athol Graham, the Salt Lake race driver killed Monday on Bonneville Salt Flats, was born Jan. 15, 1924, in Salt Lake City, a son of Hugh B. and Lois Jarvis Graham.
HE MARRIED Zeldine Hansen Aug. 2, 1950, in the Mesa Temple, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Tuesday would have been the couple's 10th wedding anniversary.
HE WAS AN active member of the LDS Church and served a mission to New Zealand from 1947-49.
He operated Canyon Motors at 3115 E. 33rd South.
SURVIVING ARE his widow; one son and three daughters, Daryl, Loie, Lindi, Kristy; parents, Salt Lake City; a brother and four sisters, Robert H., Mrs. James G. (Marion) Lawrence, Mrs. Donald (Lucile) Watkins, all of Salt Lake City; Mrs. Edward (Margaret) Eisenzimmmer, Spokane, Wash, and Mrs. A. M. (Lois) Morrison, Dragerton, Carbon County.
Source-The Salt Lake Tribune, Tuesday, August 2, 1960
Athol Graham and his City of Salt Lake Special
Zeldine & Athol Graham