WHEN IT ALL GOES WRONG

Automobile - - Ethos -

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

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