Fastest Piston-Powered Land Speed Record Broken At Bonneville: 470 MPH
A 470.016 mph average speed for the five-mile run broke the land speed record by George Poteet and his Speed Demon streamliner. Running various engine combinations the record came from a 555 ci supercharged Chevy big-block. Wednesday of Speed Week he ran a 469.298 mph speed. To qualify for a record you need to back it up within 24 hours. Today, the second run netted a 470.733 mph run for an average of 470.016 for the record in the AA/BFS class. “BF” is for supercharged (nitromethane fuel) engines, and “S” is for streamliners. So the AA/BFS is for the fastest piston-powered class at Bonneville in this case running nitro.
The land speed record runs were not without drama
The runs were not without drama. Severely shredded tires were common throughout the runs from the high speeds attained. Speed Demon’s runs were done in the mornings with cooler, denser air. This helped make more horsepower. It also kept tire temperatures down which can contribute to their deterioration.
In a somewhat eerie coincidence, the record was previously set by Danny Thompson two years to the day. He recorded an average of 448.75 mph. Thompson broke the previous record set by an earlier iteration of the Poteet’s Speed Demon. That car ran a small-block Chevy engine but was virtually totaled in a crash that year. All of these cars ran in the same class which is reserved for the mightiest of the land speed record cars.
There have been faster runs, just not with piston power
However, there have been faster runs, just not with piston power. Jet engines are the powerplant of choice for ultimate land speed record runs. That record is held by the Thrust SSC which averaged 760.343 back in 1997. It broke the sound barrier running two Rolls-Royce jet engines.
In more recent years the Bloodhound SSC land speed car began runs in 2008 to break the 1,000 mph barrier. Unfortunately, financial problems have sidelined that attempt. You need deep pockets to go for these all-out records.
As an aside Danny Thompson’s attempt was extensively covered by the media due to the circumstances. The son of Mickey Thompson, Danny pulled the Challenger II car out of mothballs since being sidelined back in 1968. His father was killed in 1988 over a money dispute with a former partner.
Danny Thompson marched back to grab the land speed record in 2018
Thompson spent more than two years and an enormous amount of money to realize the dream he and his father had for a record. Changes were made to the car to update it for both safety and speed. Two Chrysler Hemi engines built by Richard Catton powered the incredible effort. Through hardship and poor weather that postponed Speed Week for a year Thompson marched back to achieve the land speed record in 2018.
Back to Poteet, he’s spent years chasing and then keeping the record. But the crash in 2018 put off any challenge to Thompson’s record until this year. Now he’s got it back. But, there have to be other teams out there to break Poteet’s string of Speed Week victories. We’ll be waiting anxiously for that day-hopefully at Speed Week 2021.