WHEN IT ALL GOES WRONG
was a chilly day in Lewisville, Texas. It rained that morning at Dallas International Motor Speedway, but the pavement had dried enough to make what was expected to be a historic run at the state-of-theart quarter-mile dragstrip. And it was historic. For all the wrong reasons.
Television newsman Gene Thomas— real name Eugene T. Alred—started out as a disc jockey in his home state of Oklahoma, eventually moving to a co-hosting job at a then-innovative morning show for WFAA Channel 8 in Dallas, long the market’s top station.
The station’s “News 8 Etc.” show was a mix of hard news, soft features, and celebrity interviews. Thomas might report on a bank robbery, interview “Hee Haw” stooge Junior Samples, or wrestle a 750-pound tiger. The tiger won, by the way.
Thomas, a dedicated fan of high-performance cars, raised his hand when the offer came to ride in a jet-powered dragster, built and driven by Art Arfons, who, with his older brother Walt, helped pioneer the idea of strapping a military-surplus jet engine to four wheels.
Art Arfons, who’d held the land speed record three times—the last with a pass of 576 mph in the legendary Green Monster in 1965—had redesigned his dragster, Cyclops, into the Super Cyclops. Arfons built unconnected pods on either side of the huge 17,500-horsepower General Electric J79 jet engine, with Arfons, the driver, on the left side, a passenger on the other. This straight-through design allowed for unrestricted airflow into and out of the engine.
Arfons and Thomas climbed aboard for a practice run as Arfons prepared for what he expected to be a 300-mph pass down the quarter mile before the weekend was complete. Arfons lit the fuse, and the Super Cyclops blasted off. Arfons and Thomas shot through the traps at 286 mph in 6.01 seconds.
A split-second later, the Super Cyclops crashed. “The dragster had