Before there was Evel Knievel, there was Art Arfons, a superman daredevil in his own right. But whereas Knievel concentrated on leaping tall buildings, Arfons was more interested in going faster than a speeding bullet.
Though Arfons might have lacked the flash of the 1970s icon Knievel, he was just as fearless in breaking the world speed record on three separate occasions in the mid-1960s. Arfons’ top record speed on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah was 576.553 mph, and he later roared past the 600-mph mark in an attempt that did not result in an official record because it ended with a crash.
Arfons also made significant contributions throughout his lengthy career to drag racing, tractor pulling and powerboat racing before passing away on Dec. 3, 2007 at the age of 81.
His diverse accomplishments have led Arfons to being named to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame 2008 Induction Class. He is joined in the Class of 2008 by Robert “Red” Byron, Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins, Frank Kurtis, Everett “Cotton” Owens and Ralph Seagraves. The group will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame on April 24.
A native of Akron, Ohio, Arfons first gained notoriety in the 1950s with the Green Monster dragsters that he and his half-brother, Walt Arfons, built. The vehicles were largely pieced together from spare parts and equipment the duo obtained from area junkyards. Over the years, Arfons became known as the “junkyard genius.”
Their first creation, a three-wheeled dragster that was powered by a six-cylinder engine and painted with leftover green tractor paint, made its debut in 1952. That was followed shortly afterward by a six-wheeled car that had a 2,000-horsepower aircraft engine. The top speed of the car was estimated to be 270 miles per hour. It was capable of hitting the 100-mph mark in the quarter-mile, and could reach 140 mph in eight seconds from a standing start.
At the first World Series of Drag Racing, Arfons had the fastest top speed at 132.35 mph, and he eventually set a world record of 145.16 mph. He kept up the pace throughout the 1950s, posting the top speed at the National Championships three consecutive years from 1957 to ’59.
But Arfons is perhaps best known for his high-speed duel with Craig Breedlove that played out over several months in the mid-1960s, as the land speed record changed hands a total of six times in 1964 and ’65.
Arfons claimed the mark for the first time on Oct. 7, 1964 with a speed of 434.022 mph. Breedlove answered less than a week later with a speed of 468.719 mph, and then he blew past the 500-mph barrier with a run of 526.277. Arfons replied on Oct. 27, 1964 with a 536.710 mph.
A year later, in November 1965, Breedlove raised the mark to 555.485 mph. Once again, Arfons came right back with his 576.553. Breedlove finally cracked 600 mph on Nov. 15, 1965, raising the record to 600.601. Ten days later, Arfons was timed at 615 mph before losing a wheel and surviving a violent crash with only minor injuries.
After that, Arfons turned his attention to turbine-powered tractor pulling with great success, fielding a series of Green Monster pull tractors in the 1970s and ’80s. He returned to Bonneville one final time in 1990 and, at age 64, drove Green Monster No. 27 to a top speed of 338 mph.