People / Speed

Gary Gabelich

blue flame gary gabelich

One of my childhood heroes was Gary Gabelich and I always wanted to know more about him.  So, I decided to finally get around to this project and to post the results of my research.

Gary Gabelich was born on August 29, 1940 in San Pedro, California although he was of Croatian descent.  He began drag racing in his father’s Pontiac in 1957 while still in high school, winning the stock eliminator drag racing class at Santa Ana, California in his first competition.  This was shortly followed by winning  the world’s first side-by-side jet dragster race, at over 250 mph.  Allegedly, at just nineteen he reached a speed of 356 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah while operating a jet car, probably a record for a teenager.

During this period of his life, Gary was a delivery driver for Vermillion’s Drug Store, driving a split window 1960s-era VW Kombi delivery van.  He lived at that time in the Bixby Knolls area of Long Beach, California with his parents.  Following the job as a delivery driver, he went to work for North American Aviation in Downey, California (later to merge with Rockwell-Standard in 1967 and become North American Rockwell), starting out in the mail room.  Gary ended up staying with North American Rockwell for 9 years in various positions from staff assistant to part-time test subject for the Apollo program—not flying the capsules, but testing their long-term liveability in a weightless condition, their tolerance to and performance under conditions of extreme yaw and, though they seldom spoke of it on televised moon shots, the toilet facilities.  Although I have been unable to verify this information, I have seen several sources mention that Gary started working his way up the ladder at North American Rockwell when he volunteered to perform the free falls from 30,000 feet needed to film some of the early Apollo space capsule landing trials – makes sense if you consider his personality as a lover of high speeds and dangerous challenges.

During his tenure at North American Rockwell, Gary Gabelich established a name for himself at drag strips across Southern California (Winning the first United Drag Racing Association in 1963 and being the first man to break into drag racing’s seven second bracket, driving a Double A Fuel dragster at 7.05 seconds, in 1967.  In 1969, he drove the Beach City Chevrolet Corvette funny car to speeds over 200 mph, a first for a Chevrolet funny car).  Many racers and race fans, in fact, worked day jobs at aerospace companies across Southern California.  However, Gary’s employers at North American Rockwell, fearing the investment of too much time and unique training in a research subject who, it seemed to them, was laying his life and the continuity of their research on the starting line every weekend, gave him the ultimatum: “Cease this foolhardy diversion or forfeit your job.” There was never really any question about the response. The choice was made for him by his dedication to the world he loved and his desire to prevail in it.

It was a crucial moment in the life of Gary Gabelich as he would move on to greater glory for which he became a household name – fastest man in the world.  A claim he was able to make by setting the land speed record with his rocket-powered vehicle “Blue Flame” on October 23, 1970, achieving an average speed of 622.287 mph (1,001.474 km/h). And a peak speed of 650 mph (1,050 km/h) was momentarily attained (record speed was 622.407 mph (1,001.667 km/h) on a dry lake bed at Bonneville Salt Flats in Wendover, Utah. This record was the first over 1,000 km/h (621 mph) and remained unbeaten until 1983, when Richard Noble broke it driving Thrust 2.

It was a rather lucky turn of events that handed this opportunity to Gary…

Reaction Dynamics, Inc., a company formed by Pete Farnsworth, Ray Dausman and Dick Keller who had developed hydrogen peroxide rocket dragsters, was looking for a driver about that time for the Blue Flame, a 37-foot-long, 4,950-pound vehicle powered by a liquid natural gas-hydrogen peroxide rocket engine.  Constructed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin the Blue Flame was sponsored by the American Gas Association, with technical assistance from the Institute of Gas Technology of Des Plaines, Illinois.  Craig Breedlove, holder of the land speed record at the time, wanted too much money. And a drag racer, named Chuck Suba, came to terms with Reaction Dynamics but was killed in a racing accident shortly thereafter. Gabelich was the third choice, and he jumped at the chance.

blue flame

The Blue Flame’s run for the land speed record at Bonneville was originally scheduled for September of 1969, but it was then postponed indefinitely. The first attempt finally took place a year later, on September 22, 1970. It was a dismal failure, reaching a speed of only 426 mph compared to Craig Breedlove’s five-year-old record of 600.601 mph. A lot of tinkering and testing was to follow.

blue flame gary gabelich

Gabelich hit 609 mph on the first of two mandatory runs on October 15, but a mechanical problem prevented the required return run. The same thing happened on October 23, when the first run reached 621 mph. Finally, on October 28, Gabelich and the Blue Flame averaged 617.602 mph on the first run and 627.207 on the second for a new land speed record of 622.407 mph.

Here’s a video of Gary’s record run:

He said afterward that he thought the Blue Flame might be able to reach 750 mph, beyond the sound barrier. But Reaction Dynamics had no more plans for the Blue Flame and Gabelich went back to drag racing.

Gary Gabelich’s right hand was severed in a racing accident ( in an experimental 4WD Funny Car) early in 1972, but it was able to be reattached.  I have seen it reported that this accident ruined his professional racing prospects, but he still was able to take second place in Mickey Thompson’s off-road race at Riverside, California in 1975; first place in the Toyota Charity Slalom at the Rose Bowl in 1979 and second place in the Toyota Pro Challenge Race at the Michigan International Speedway in July, 1980.

And, although he was best known for his land speed exploits, Gary was also into going fast on water.  Gabelich won both the American Power Boat Association Blown Fuel and Gas National Drag Boat Championship (1968) and was the first person to win them both in the same year.  He was also the first person to surpass 200 mph in a drag boat – a feat accomplished in 1969.  In 1975 at Turlock Lake in California, a drag boat piloted by Gary Gabelich disintegrated at 180 mph.

After twice narrowly escaping death in dragster and boat accidents, Gary Gabelich tragically died in a motorcycle accident in Long Beach, California on January 26th, 1984.  According to the police, Gabelich was riding his motorcycle “at a high rate of speed” when he ran into the right side of a truck. Gabelich died nearly three hours later at San Pedro Hospital of injuries suffered in the accident, the police said.

Gabelich, who was 43-years-old at the time of his death, had his land speed record mark stand for 13 years before Richard Noble hurtled his Thrust 2 up to 633.407 mph on the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada on October 4, 1983. Just two months later Gary Gabelich was fatally injured in his motorcycle accident and never had the chance to reply to Noble’s heroics.

In 1985 the Long Beach City Council named a park in his memory, Gabelich Park.

gary gabelich

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Below is a collection of some of the memories of Gary from Blue Flame crew member, Paul Stringer, as well as a profile published in Sports Illustrated.  I think they provide a great insight into the spirit and character of Gary Gabelich:

Blue Flame crew member, Paul Stringer:

“Gary was very upset when the car [Blue Flame] was sold because he wanted to attempt a sound barrier run with the car. In 1970 when they raced it, they had many mishaps. The most damning was they burned out the retro in the rocket and had to get a loaner or a gift motor to finish. As I remember the original rocket had about 40,000 pounds of thrust and the actual motor they used to set the record had about 14,000. That would lead you to believe that the car could go much faster given the space limitations of the Salt Flats, and the ground effects of going supersonic.

I can’t even describe how many hours we spent talking about where the air goes (under the car). Would the air flip the car when supersonic “splits the air?” They talked at great length about lengthening the rod on the front tip of the car to split the air farther out in front to prevent any negative effects. Craig Breedlove was a very close friend of Gary’s and he as well was always helpful in helping Gary advance his efforts. Craig and Gary where from the same town in California and I met Craig in 1966 on a water skiing trip. Most would think that they would be strange bedfellows when Gary got picked to drive the car, but Craig was one of his biggest supporters and fans.

Gary was trying to figure out how to stop the new car going supersonic also.

The problems are: no air for chutes and brakes won’t work over 400MPH. He was working on a splitting tail like the Space Shuttle and body panels that popped out. Of course, he never considered running anywhere but the flats.

Gary’s feelings about the car being sold was this: the car was owned by the Natural Gas Association as a publicity stunt. When the car got the record, they received millions of dollars in promotion which they never could have bought. They never saw it as a race car and felt that a return to the flats and the risk of an accident would become negative publicity. Hence, the car was sold.

Gary even pursued contacting the new car owner about another run. Apparently, the car had been dropped while being off loaded from a ship when it left the country and there was some tweaking of the frame and that ended his interest.

Gary then began trying to raise sponsors for a new car he’d named The American Way. While he raised some eyebrows at the time, he raised no money for the project as interest in the LSR had waned by then. This was in 1979 nine years after the last true attempt and he wasn’t breaking another guy‘s record; he would only be raising his mark and sponsors wondered how much interest this would raise. To raise the interest, he and Craig Breedlove stated they’d create some new interest by building two cars and they’d “drag race” for the record on the flats. Wow, a 700MPH drag race! Of course, Craig would have to change his thinking to a rocket as a Jet vs. Rocket race would be no race in a drag event the best I can remember is something like 0 to 500 in 10 seconds (more than a few G forces).

One of the reasons Gary was chosen to drive the car (Blue Flame) was because his full time job was he worked for Rockwell International in Downey, California as a “Test Astronaut.” He tested all the space suits for the Apollo space missions. This is a glorious title to say he was the guy going around in the centrifuge. He was used to a lot of G forces, they were always concerned that the driver would blackout during acceleration.

As far as Gary’s life being cut short, while we all miss him lots, few of us could picture him dying an old man. Gary’s life was lived on the edge from the time he was 15 years old. Gary started racing by cleaning up the grease/oil mess for some kids in his neighborhood who had a drag car. He did this for a few years on the promise that someday they‘d let him drive it at the drag strip. That day came when he was 15, on the first pass he went faster than any run ever in the car. One year later, he had his own car and became a legend in California drag racing. He was the ultimate crowd-pleaser being a lot “nuts & wild” and being easy to spot as he always wore an ostrich plume on the top of his helmet. He’d love to taunt his competitors on the starting line by shaking his fist and sometimes getting out of his car to yell something. Of course, it was all in good fun and I never met another racer who didn’t love his magnetic personality.

While setting the LSR made Gary infamous, many of his friends consider it a high point in his life that made the rest of his life chasing a dream. After the record, he didn’t know if he was a career LSR car driver or needed to return to his career in Drag Racing. Before his death, he nearly lost his life four times to my count. He flipped a drag boat @ 200MPH and as he went in the water the motor hit him in the back, nearly killing him. His kidneys were badly damaged and he was on dialysis for two years. He had two accidents in the same Funny Car (Beach City Corvette). Once, he lost the chutes and ended up on fire on a freeway and the second accident, the car caught on fire during a run and burned to the ground (he jumped out at over 100MPH). That accident burned holes clear through his goggles and helmet but he had only minor burns to his face and head. The fourth accident was a crash in his own Funny Car. It had 4 wheel drive which made it very fast off the line. On a photo shoot for a magazine, the throttle locked down during a “burn out” and he lost control. At about 160MPH it went through a guard rail twice and flipped end over end.

Gary had one of his hands cut off to the outside skin, one leg was behind his head and one was wrapped around the steering wheel. That leg became the problem. While his hand was re-attached and the leg behind him was dislocated, the surgeons wanted to remove the other leg as it was nothing but shattered bone from the ankle. Gary would not let them remove the leg, so they inserted a long rod to replace the bone. He adapted to the handicap, but spent about a year trying to get rid of gangrene.”

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Sports Illustrated Profile:

The last time anyone paid any special note to the world of absolute speed it was 1970 and Gary Gabelich was going 622.407 miles an hour across Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats in a rocket car called The Blue Flame

Gary (Rocket Man) Gabelich. You know, the world’s fastest man.

Listening to Gary Gabelich one gets the impression that asking why is what’s really absurd. “Racing is really boss, man. If you like to go fast, that’s all there is.” The idea of the danger involved in traveling 750 miles an hour bubbles up and rolls away from his mind like droplets of water off a fresh coat of Simoniz. “Driving the car is a piece of cake,” he says. “You could do it; almost anyone could. It’s putting the whole project together that’s tough, raising the $1 million we figure it will cost, and then converting it into a car and a team that we know can break the barrier.” He speaks of his team so frequently that he begins to sound like the self-effacing player of the week in a postgame interview or the blushing astronauts giving all the credit for their being on the moon to the technicians of Houston. It is as if strapping his body in a supersonic rocket were no more a commitment and courageous act than trying out the air-conditioned fossil burners in Detroit’s new fall line.

Gabelich is totally into whatever he is doing.

Gabelich’s new sound-barrier car, which is being built in Long Beach, will be 44 feet long, eight feet longer than the current Blue Flame record car, which was sponsored by The Natural Gas Industry. The tail fin will be cut down, the rear wheels set farther back and wider apart, and the underside of the body will be V-shaped. This latter touch is an engineer’s dream: when supercar breaks the sound barrier on land, the shock waves will go off the car at a 45-degree angle downward, hit the ground and bounce away from the car instead of bouncing back up to blow the thing off the ground.

On the wall of Gary’s office there is a cartoon clipped from a newspaper and presented by his girl friend Linda. It shows Hazel, the maid, casing the family’s preadolescent heir standing on a pair of water skis in the backyard plastic wading pool, holding onto a rope attached to the rear bumper of a car. “Have you thought this thing through?” Hazel asks. Gabelich has thought his project through, and his proposed new attempt at the sound barrier, like his previous record runs, is no mere display of mindless fortitude.

A year ago last spring at Orange County International Raceway, Gabelich did get into a car that had not been thoroughly thought through—and the result was a crash that almost ripped off his left forearm and broke his left leg so severely that more than a year later he still wore a cast. “We had rushed the project, and I had bad vibes about it,” he says now. The car was a four-wheel-drive experimental “funny car” (a dragster with the facsimile body of a regular Detroit car), and it careened out of control at 180 miles an hour during a quarter-mile run. “Being in the hospital gave me time to think,” Gabelich says, “and what I thought about mostly was getting back in shape to work on the sound-barrier project.”

Gabelich wants to win at whatever he does. Thus, when he began racing motorcycles he raced under the improbable pseudonym of Orval Volotch. “As holder of the land speed record I’d be expected to win, but I really didn’t know much about that kind of racing. So when I used another name it took all that pressure off and I could have fun.” Still, he finished first among the “pie plates,” the unrated amateurs, in his first desert run.

For Gary Gabelich everything is right now. He is almost totally without introspection and obsessed with doing well, whether water skiing, driving The Blue Flame at more than 600 miles an hour, talking to promoters and potential sponsors or making one of the endless public relations tours for the American Gas Association. “Sometimes I think I’d rather be somewhere else,” he says, “but since I’ve got to be wherever I am, I figure I might as well make a good job of it. I want to be a winner.”

A large part of the pleasure Gabelich takes in his work is directed at firing the enthusiasm of those around him. He frequently begins the day, particularly before a speed-record attempt, by playing Isaac Hayes music to his crew. “It gets everybody in a really good mood and sets up good vibes for what we’ve got to do,” he says.

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48 thoughts on “Gary Gabelich

  1. September ll, 2009
    I am a proud Charter Member of the “Rocket Man Team”! And always will be. Gary gave me my nick name “The Secretary Of Fun”. He would call me and ask “Does this sound like FUN to you?” and of course we would be off and running. What a Special Person. I still wear my “Rockman Team Jacket” to the Long Beach Grand Prix and many a person ask about him. He was Honored in The Walk of Fame in Downtown Long Beach and we are proud to say that our Home Town Man placed us on the Map for Style, Charm and Guts. A new car was in the design stages (just had to keep it from flying off the ground!) – we knew our Driver could “Get The Job Done”…
    I’m so glad that this article was written. Thanks for bringing back fond memories. I spent a lot of time listing to the stories and I’m so glad I got to experience first hand a few of them. I believe he is still RIDING somewhere on a nice Harley and surely without a Helmet!!! That’s just the way Gary would do IT. Best Wishes and Be Safe to other race fans – from a Classic Corvette drive’in Lady- The Secretary Of Fun

    • Gabelich was NOT the first to go seven seconds in a fuel dragster. That was Tommy Ivo and he certainly went much slower than 7.05.

  2. Great to see this page. Gary was a big hero of mine as a kid, never saw him in action because I live in Australia but his exploits in Drag Racing were known here and I had an Uncle in the States that always had news about Gary. He really was the right guy to hold the land speed record for so long, charisma and character combined. I send my respect to his memory and thanks for the excitement he gave to so many with his skill and vision.

  3. Hey there- this is some great research! I’m writing a report on Gary for school as part of a rocket project. Your research goes much more in depth than anything else on the web and even corrects some inaccuracies. It really helped me get an idea of what Gary was like and how the Blue Flame came together, even though he was before my time. Awesome work!

  4. I was one of his nurses in Tustin in the early 1970′s. He had a friend sneek his cat in the hospital and caused quite a stir. I still have the picture of the Blue Flame that he signed for me. He made all of us laugh and was a pleasure to care for.

  5. Thanks for the stories. I lived two houses away from Gary in Long Beach when I was a very young boy. Gary was kind enough to let me sit in his dragster parked in their driveway one day. He must have been in his mid to late 20s then. The family moved away before he became famous for breaking the land world speed record. I followed his career in the news but never knew how he passed away. I remember the photos in the news of the 4 wheel drive funny car after the accident. It was a miracle he survived that. As I recall it had dual engines as well, one to drive the front wheels and the other to drive the rear wheels. It would have been very difficult back then to synchronize two engines to properly drive the front and rear wheels. As I recall, it was difficult just to synchronize dual carburators back then.
    My 7 year old son a few weeks ago got to sit in his first real race car which made me think of Gary letting me sit in his dragster. Thanks for the memories.

  6. Wow!

    I was a little boy when Gary and the Blue Flame set the new LSR. Back in 1970, that was a big deal and I remember staring at the poster of the Blue Flame on my wall for hours.

    I think of Gary from time to time but until now, haven’t been able to find too much about him until I ran into your blog. There aren’t too many guys doing heroic things anymore… at least doing things that stay in the news for more than a few days.

    Thank you very much for sharing your research and the insights of those who knew this very ‘life-living’, and in my mind, very heroic man.

    RIP Gary.

  7. Thanks for sharing your “Gary” experience, Bill. It’s great to get these insights from people that actually knew him.

    Thanks for your comment too, Chris. I couldn’t agree more with you about the lack of heroics these days. Depressing, isn’t it? I wish we had more people like Gary.

  8. Oh geese, I can’t believe it, some one has finally got the story right. Good for you. I was a dear friend of Garys for years. Spent lots of time at his house and he spent lots of time at our house. I met him at tge Colorado River Foxes we were all buddys. He use to drive the cars and speed with me in them, I was never scared because it was him. Gary was 7 yrs older than me and my husband and I were just newely married when we met gary. We had a race boat at the river and Gary taught me to drive it. I won many races on the river because of him. We spent so much time together. When he hurt his back I took care of him for a time. My husband and I jst loved his personality. He in fact is my sons Godfather. I use to go to mexico with Gary on the harley. I was there when he had his accident in tustin running his funny car Robotussitian I think is what we all called it. I remember the ice chest they put his hand and part of his arm in. Oh yes I was there at the hospital for a long time. I also remember the cast he developed for his leg so he could water ski. He also taught me how to watwr ski behind the race boat. The boat hardly moved I learned at an idle. God Bless a good friend I sure miss his smile and can still remember his laugh. Both of my children loved him. My mother passed but Gary and her had a bet Ill never forget and she lost, that is all I can say about that very fun times we had. There is so much more I could tell you that is and will always be in my heart between two good friends. And his other friend we must remember Gary Scow What a fun pair. God Bless them Both. BBF Vikki

    • Thank you, Vikki, for the words of praise and the addition to the available information on the life of Gary Gabelich.

  9. gary and a good friend of his would come into the resturant i worked at called the fish tale,in long beach they were always fun to talk with.

  10. I was introduced to Gary at the Colorado River from a friend Dana. We use to pick up Gary in Dana’s boat and go sking below Parker Dam. Gary was one of the nicest guys you could know and always funny. I hung out with Gary and skied with him for a week before it dawned on me who he actually was from a picture of the Blue Flame that was hanging in his room. We were just having fun around the river and it really never came up about our lives elsewhere till then. I was deeply sadden learning of his death, I picture Gary sliding into heaven saying What A Ride !! A comment he often made when we picked him up after a great ski ride.

  11. I knew Gary before he was famous. He was a fellow member of the Long Beach Lancer’s Car Club and I remember him racing destruction derby at Ascot and coming to meetings with
    cuts and bruises from the crashes. He then moved on to drag racing at Lions in Long Beach. He was always a thrill seeker.

  12. Paul Stringer? Who in the heck is that?
    He was never involved with The Blue Flame in any way.
    Success has many fathers and failure is an orphan.
    There are so many people claiming to be crew members or builders of The Blue Flame that we couldn’t fit them all on the vast expanses of the Bonneville Salt Flats.
    Please remove his bogus comments from the website so he can go back to smoking his medical marijuana for whatever his affliction might be.

    • I am looking for a family member or good friend of Gary’s. A friend of mine passed and I was given numerous posters etc… and I came across a poster type photo in black & white of Gary, a boy, three women and another gentleman. I did meet Gary years ago at the river through my friend and would like someone close to Gary to have this.

      • If you still have it, I would contact Gary’s wife; Rae Gabelich. She is a Long Beach, California City Councilwoman, it should be easy to find her office info. Their son, Guy would probably enjoy owning it.

    • Hello Mr Keller,
      I’m currently trying to maintain and accurately update the Wikipedia article for Gary as well as the vehicle itself. I think I’ve more or less got Gary’s page accurate although I do want to add more when I can cite accurate sources and I have now moved on to the Blue Flame Page. I have been lucky in that I have discovered 3 of your forum replys and post essentially correcting misinformation and to be honest those finds where a gold mine, best refs I could ever get to satisfy the “wiki Nazis”.

      I feel very strongly that at least the Wikipedia sources should be accurate for all your amazing acheivements back then. I have managed to cite some good sources for the vehicles activities but I am stuck when it comes to citing any good sources for the somewhat technical detail they go into about the engine itself. And also some help with the parts or work Galaxy Manufacturing did, if at all (that can be challenged and removed.

      Would it be possible to provide some documentation or even an email letter that I can post to wiki commons and then reference back to ? Even a detailed forum reply here will suffice as I can reference back to this page. Although I am hoping that Justin can remove that erroneous stuff about Mr Stringer. If you do not have the time that’s ok, I understand. On the off chance you read this post that is…

      I have Yugoslav ancestry so I have always felt an affinity towards Gary and my obsession with the car and the company and the driver grew from there

      Regards
      Emir Krupic
      Newcastle, Australia

      • Emir,

        Let me know what you need.

        Also, what form of documentation will suffice.

        Best Regards,

        Dick Keller

        email signature 30p

        SPEEDQUEST – Break the Record!

      • G’day Mr Keller,
        Thanks for the reply and for kindly offering to help. I’ll try and not impose on you too much. I think the best way to start might be for you to review the wiki article about the vehicle and let me know if there is anything in the article that is way off the mark and needs correcting. So essentially a quick proof read.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_flame

        As for the documentation or references that can be cited, we can approach that in a couple of ways I suppose,

        For starters there are no real articles that I can find anywhere on the internet that have good technical details about the LFRE in the Blue Flame.

        I think the best way to tackle that one is for you to make a post on this forum that I can then refer back to after checking out the Blue Flame article and addressing the bits in the middle of the article that are about the engine. You’ll see that there are no inline citations so that’s the specifics that need addressing.

        Also what was the actual involvement of Galaxy manufacturing. Can you provide some specifics in your forum reply regarding them as well.

        Even more formally in nature if you have any articles or newspaper clippings about the engine that you could scan and upload to wiki commons., or for you to make a document such as a PDF and then upload that to wiki commons, You can do it yourself or if you are pressed for time etc than I can do all that for you.

        I give permission for Justin to pass on my email address to you (hopefully he’ll read this)

        The other thing I am having trouble with is getting access to non-copyrighted photos of Gary, and also I would like to put photos of the men who were behind Reaction Dynamics in the wiki article. If you are ok with the idea of providing a photo of yourself, and Pete and Gary, if that’s at all possible.

        Really, it’s up to you how you would like to accommodate this request. I really do not want to impose on you more than I have to Mr Keller. If you have a more appropriate idea for conveying the data so that I can reference it, then I am happy to roll with it, so to speak.

        Many Thanks :)
        Emir K

      • Hi again Mr Keller,
        I have just found a pretty cool picture of you on a webpage at http://aoghs.org/petroleum-industry-pioneers/the-blue-flame-natural-gas-rocket-car/ and the caption reads.

        “Beginning with the American Gas Association in 1968, Dick Keller of Reaction Dynamics Inc. convinces the natural gas industry to sponsor an attempt at the world land speed record. He is writing a book about the historic accomplishment”

        If this is the case, then I’m sure that the book will contain all the new information I need to complete the Blue Flame wiki article, which means you need not go to any trouble providing docs etc

        That’s actually a great pic, what are the chances of donating that one to the wiki commons foundation so I can use it directly on the Blue Flame page ?

        Cheers, Emir K

      • Emir K,
        I can send you the photo you requested as well as another with Gary. How can I send you these with permission to publish?

      • Hello Mr Keller,
        Thank you for being so accomodating and also my apologies for the rather tardy reply as I had to make sure I got this right as far as procedure goes, as wikipedia is very strict with copyright on photos etc. Essentially, after consulting with a far more experienced wiki volunteer, the best way would be to grant what is called a “free licence” rather than just permission to publish. It’s all got to do with legalities and I’m sure you’re aware of how specific the law and lawyers are with this kind of thing! To cut to the chase, if you do decide to do this and prpvide some photis there is a wiki standard called the “attribution details” and that requires that the original provider of the photos always has theor attributes associacted with every use of the photo. here are the links to the neccessarry info, but to make it easy for you I have pasted the text that is most important. I have also included the Open Source Ticket System information as this is the email evidence that we may need to provide as proof you have agreed to free licence your source materail. Also here is the dialogue from the more experienced wiki volunteer…

        “Note that (because our goal is to be a “free encyclopedia”, not just an encyclopedia, we’re really looking for freely licensed content, not just content with permission for use at Wikipedia. Ideally we’d like to have content with something like a {{CC-by-sa}} licence on it. Note that this then allows me (or anyone) to then take that uploaded image and to publish a book using it, getting as rich as Croesus in the process. The owner of the copyright should at least be aware of this possibility! 8-)
        With a free licence, images should go to Commons. Without such a licence, just with permission for WP, then that content would have to go to Wikipedia instead. A number of admins would then probably delete it anyway. If (and I hope it’s not needed) the owner doesn’t want to give the image a free licence, then I would suggest a compromise is to freely license a reduced “web-sized” copy and to place that on Commons.”

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:CC-by-sa

        To provide attribution use {{Cc-by-sa|Attribution details}}. Those who reproduce the work must attribute it in the manner specified by the author or licensor (as the parameter “Attribution details”).

        https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:OTRS

        OTRS stands for Open-source Ticket Request System. OTRS is a tool used by the Wikimedia projects, including Commons, to manage and archive e-mail conversations. The main use of OTRS in relation to Commons is to verify and archive licensing permissions.

        In some cases, sending e-mail to OTRS may be required in order to provide evidence that the copyright holder has given permission to publish a file under a free license. Such evidence should be sent to permissions-commons@wikimedia.org (or a language specific queue). OTRS is also used to handle e-mail reports of copyright violations.

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  13. From time to time I google Gary’s, Rae’s and Guy’s name, just to see what kind of new info, or misinfo, I might discover. Your article, Justin, is appropriate, but I must agree with Keller that Paul Stringer is suspect. How would I know anything about it? My name is Dan Bisher and served as Gary’s associate from 1976 until he died on Jan. 26, 1984, in San Pedro. Gary was the president of his company Rocketman Productions, Inc. His wife, Rae, was a vice-president, secretary/treasurer. Tom Daniel, of model car fame, served as a company vp. I held the board post of director of communications. Your first poster, Carol Adams, was, indeed, dubbed “The Secretary of Fun,” and with her and her late husband, Michael, we enjoyed many superb times together. I’d like to point out that Gary actually established the official FIA/USAC open-class WLSR on October 23, 1970, not the 28th as stated in the article. Following Gary’s accident, I resided at the Gabelich residence and assisted Rae with son Guy, who is challenged, and his mother, also named Rae (she’s in her 90′s as of this date), and attempted to write Gary’s story, tentatively titled “The Ragged Edge.” I discovered many things about Gary during the time we worked and played together and following his departure. While working on the book, which I wanted to do in Stud’s Terkel style, I gathered numerous quotes about him that provide unique insight. His neighbor, and friend, the late Chris Barret, told me “Gary picks up friends like wool picks up lint.” Others told me he was “bullet proof,” or at least they thought so. Today, I remember Gary, as I have for every single day that has passed since he left us. During a journalistic and public relations career spanning more than forty years, I’ve interviewed heads of state, privates and generals, CEOs and down-and-outers, and about everything in-between. I’ve yet, however, to meet a man, woman, or child who possessed the magnetic and charismatic personality equal to Gary Gabelich. Not only was he unafraid of high speed, he also had the intestinal fortitude to overcome great adversity and continue his attempts at life’s achievements. He also gave more to his fellow human beings, his community, his country and his sport than he probably will ever receive enough credit for all those things he did that nobody knows anything about. That fateful January day in San Pedro the wind blew hard, as it did all over southern California. Later, during a special memorial service for Gary attended by hundreds of people from all walks of life, one of the speakers delivering a eulogy stated, “Traditional Hawaiians believe that when a great wind blows, a great spirit passes.” One of Gary’s and Rae’s favorite places was the islands where Rae’s sister, Susan, lives. They visited as often as possible. I also delivered a eulogy and tried to recount his racing career acheivements, but I did a rather poor, emotional job. So, thank you, Justin, for remembering my best friend and business partner, and thank you for posting the wonderful remarks from mostly people whom I have never met. God bless you and God bless the Gabelich family.
    Or, as we old Marines say, “Semper Fi!” (Always faithful).

    • Thank you very much for adding to the information about Gary on here, Dan. It’s great having you guys that knew him write in.

      I checked and I did have the 23rd down instead of the 28th, but if there is any other information that is incorrect please let me know. Some of the info from Gary’s early days was hard to nail down.

      Haha, well, even if no one knows who Paul Stringer is, is his info at least accurate?

      Paul are you out there? Your integrity is being called into question!

      • Justin,
        Yes I am out here! Wow! Had no idea I was being trashed. I saw this blog for the first time tonight.
        First, let me say that I was NOT a crew member for The Blue Flame, I did not post those comments (don’t know who did) nor ever claim to be such.
        I WAS a very close friend of Gary’s from my early teens until his death. I did help Gary during many races including; top fuel, funny car (Beach City & his 4 wheel drive, drag boats, off road at Baja, motorcycle desert racing and more). We were also Harley buddies, and yes I also got some hair raising rides in his VW bug and the loaner Z28 Camero he recieved for driving the Beach City Chevrolet. I was in the Camero for his record breaking run from L.A. to the Fox’s bar in Parker (still catch’n my breath). I also worked for Gary & Rae on marketing “The American Way” LSR car which never was produced. I lived in Downey, Ca right behind North American (Rockwell) during the years he worked there and we spent many lunches at my house or we were cruising in his ’66 Buick Riviera. I spent much time in both the front and rear houses on Virginia St. I also spent lots of time with Gary on the Colorado River (in fact, I worked at Fox’s during the summer). Gary and his first wife, Cathy Foster kept their boat (green Steven’s with 427 chevy) next to my double wide so they didn’t have to tow it home. I also became friends with Craig Breedlove on the river and spent much time with him water skiing and talking LSR.
        Now, let’s talk about the comments above in question with my name posted on them; That in part (has been edited) was written by me as a personal email to Richard Nobel (Owner of Thrust LSR Cars). He and his secretary had communicated for some time with me, and he had an interest in adding more info about Gary to his website. Since there is no official Gabelich website, these spots are as good as it gets. I also own probably the largest collection of official docs, photos and business proposals from his old publicity manager “Bob” down in Huntington Beach.
        For Mr Keller, so sorry someone overstated my involvement but I cannot control what someone else says or posts. I assume he was attempting to give more weight to his post.
        I was only 19 when The Flame danced and I hovered next to the radio for any word of it success like many others. I did spend much time talking shop with Gary and Craig and even spoke with Mr Farnsworth about 4-5 years ago when he wanted to purchase some films I have of the racing. I had a chance to ask many questions about the car that I’d always wanted to know. Also to correct the record, I am not a pot smok’n imaginary friend kinda guy, I am a sober father of 5, grandfather of 2, married 30 years to the same beautiful wife. PTL
        For the rest of you, Gary’s friends were like the stars in the sky! He was to me like Elvis! Everywhere you went, he was spotted by fans and liked by everyone he met. Part of what made him a success was his magnet personality (and good looks). I was one of “many” friends and anyone who was truely his friend knew that. I think everyone in Gary’s circle says they were “Best Friends,” as that is the only kind he had! He made each of us feel that way.
        To me it was an honor to know him, I pay tribute to his life. I also remember him for the good he did without many knowing. He spent much of his free time with handicap kids in Long Beach and if he saw someone in a crowd with special needs, he made sure to seek them out and give them a few minutes and a momento. He loved kids! He would always have his trunk full of soveniers to sign just for them. He also did 3 USO tours to Viet Nam ( the brass braclet he wore was welded on his wrist over there). He loved those soldiers who defend our rights!
        I also honor his wife Rae who has raised their special needs son Guy by herself (he looks so much like Gary). He has turned out so much better than one could hope and she deserves all the credit. She also keeps Gary’s name alive! What a woman!
        Anyway, hopefully I have added to this informative blog and cleared the air (and my name).
        Paul Stringer, Draper, Utah (near the salt)

  14. Yeah, Gary was an awesome Guy, I never knew any one famous before I met Gary and I never had a clue he would do all the things he did do. I met Gary the first time when His Landlady Beatrice (Cole) Tay of Long Beach, (he later bought her home) introduced me to him explaining I would be mowing the lawn, as he was much too busy these days. Gary knew a LOT of people because he was a people person. He could speak to anyone in a manner that set you ate ease. I remember when he had his volkswagon convertable that he sped through the parking lot at the Donut shop because he didn’t want to wait for the light at 47th and Long Beach Blvd. I knew this because I was also his paperboy and had to dodge him a few times at that early morning occupation.
    After the BSF Record he enjoyed a much better life with all of the endorsements and I can remember when he got the Harley’s and the money was rollin in with a little more vigor. He was certainly more happy then.
    Gary had a deep respect for the Military and showed it one day when he met my Brother a MARINE who was on leave. I was always welcome in his home and did visit him on occasion when on leave, later when I my self entered the service. I think he preferred when I wore my uniform as he would comment that he was happy I made my decision to serve this Country.
    I knew Gary in a setting outside of the Racing World and never saw him race that I knew of although I did go to “Lions DS” a lot in those years. He might have raced under one of thjose AKA’s and I never knew it.
    I was in Seattle when I heard about Gary’s fatal accident and spoke of him with another aquaintence of his in the construction trade. Gary was, according to a lot of those guy’s one of the best “rebar” guy’s in the biz.
    Any words about Gary must report of his genuine “good guy” persona and his personable nature. I never knew any of his friends and met just a few. May the words here be only truthful and speak well of this individual.

  15. Paul, There has been some discussion about the Beach Cuty funny car that Gary drove in the1970s. I was at Orange Ocunty Internation Raceway one Saturday evening when car had a massive engine failure and the driver lost control and ended up off the track and out onto the center divider of the San Diego Freeway. I recall Gary as having been driving this car that evening. Others think it may have been someone else. Do you have any recollection of this incident? The Beach City Corvette was NOT a 4WD car by the way. Would you please connect me via Email regarding this.

  16. Robert,
    Well, these incidents cover 3 different cars. 1st; the Beach City Chevrolet, (owned by Don Kirby) funny car had two drivers Pat Foster & Gary Gabelich. That car had two accidents while Gary was at the wheel. The first accident involved a car failure and parachutes were lost trying to shut it down. OCIR drag strip was right next to the freeway and Gary entered to sand pit too fast, sailed over it, went up the embankment and ended up on the freeway. He said he landed going the right way next to a Japanese family in a small Toyota and they were quite surprised! That car was so tweaked, they built a new frame and used some parts from the old car.

    In the second accident, it was a big race (maybe Winternationals ??) semi finals or final round and when Gary went to the line the car had a small leak from a valve cover gasket leaking oil onto the headers which caught fire. It was small… so Gary decided to “go for it” and laid the hammer down. As you will remember, the body was a topless Corvette and when he nailed it, the fire became very big and coming up through the cockpit and over his head. He felt the car was straight and running good and figured he could hang on and beat the other car through the lights. He was first through the first lights, but shut down early and lost on the second lights. The fire was too hot, so he pulled the chute, braked hard, unbuckled and jumped over the side and rolled. Both his goggles and helmet had been burned through but he survived with only minor injuries. The car on the other hand was a total loss! Once the magnesium in the blower caught it was like a big sparkler…. anyway, it burned till there was no more than a frame and a few parts left. Zero doubt that these two accidents belonged to him, not sure if Pat Foster ever had a wreck.

    Now about the 4WD; BCC was before landspeed and 4WD car was after LSR. Gary built that car from funds earned in The Blue Flame and sponsorships after. It was a Chevy Vega Body, with Monocoque frame with a Ed Pink motor. The car was never raced. It was featured in the cover of Car Craft magazine in Dec ’71 (easy find on ebay) for being so unique. Gary later was asked to do some pictures with the car doing burnouts (big smoke) at OCIR on a non-race day and while doing so, the throttle locked down and he couldn’t get it back, he went sideways through the rails, rolled several times, lost the front end and went back through the rails under full power rolled multiple times and ended up on it side and on fire. Gary had one hand cut off to the skin on the back, one leg behind his head and one wrapped around the steering column. From this, the hand was re-attached but the one leg was so fractured that the bone was replaced with a steel rod.
    Hope that helps, Paul S.

    • Paul, that may have been written for the benefit of Robert, but those are great stories and so I’m glad the rest of us are able to see them as well. Thank you.

  17. Paul,

    Thank you once again for the info concerning the Beach City Corvette incident at OCIR. I was at the track that particular night racing my car and my recollection was that it was Gary driving, but others have a different recollection. I hope this helps resolve that difference of opinion.

    Let me correct a couple things you did say in your response that I do not believe are entirely accurate. When you recalled the second funny car incident you said it was at a big race – possibly the Winternationals – and the car developed an oil leak from the valve covers. One of the many things that the National Hot Rod Association, the sanctioning body for the Winternationals, would ABSOLUTELY not allow was for a car that was leaking any sort of fluid to make a run down the track. They did this for two basic reasons – the first and most siginficant was for safety of the driver and secondly to minimizeon track hazards for competitors that would being following. One of the responsibilities for the track starter was to ensure this did not occur. At the time Gary was racing the NHRA National event starter was Buster Couch and he was extremely vigilant about this and I find it extremely difficult to believe this would have occurred in the way you describe it. Buster would never let any car go down the track that had any fluid leaking and would IMMEDIATELY shut them off.

    You also stated the magnesium in the blower caught fire. I also find this difficult to believe. Having seen literally hundreds of engine / blower explosions and also experienced a couple myself I have never seen the magnesium actually catch fire. Typically what happens with a blower explosions is it is blown off the engine – that is before NHRA mandated blower restraints – and the engine oil escapes out the top of the engine. This escaping engine hot oil is ignited and throw into the face and lap of the driver of front engine cars like the top fuel dragster prior to 1973 and funny cars. It is the oil fire that creates the safety hazard for the driver and causes the resulting infernos. Almost all of the serious injuries suffered by front engine top fuel and funny car drivers are from the oil bath they get when this occurs.

    The biggest exception to the oil bath injuries where those that started to occur in the mid-1970 when the top fuel cars started transitioning to the rear engine configuration (actually this is really a mid-engine configuration for the purist since the engine is behind the driver but in front of the rear axle). These cars were a little lower and there was out quite as much protection for the driver should they lose control and hit the guards rails on the side of the track. Initially these guard rails consisted of a single Armco steel barrier that ran the length of the tracks. This was the case at Lions Drag Strip, Irwindale Raceway and OCIR until about 1973 when a number of incidents occurred where some dragster and funny cars actually pinned themselves under the bottom of this single Armco barrier. The initial remedy for this was to add another Armco barrier below the one that had already been installed. Some tracks even increased this to three rows of Armco barriers. Later the Armco barriers were replaced with even higher concrete barriers that we see at most of the NHRA sanctioned drag strips now.

    RN3

  18. Robert,
    Good stuff! I’m sure you are right about the starters not allowing a car to race while leaking however, I am giving a real account described to me by Gary right after the accident. Remember also that the BCC was powered by a Chevy engine, not a Chrysler Hemi, and not the best valve covers for the Top Fuel motors of the day. “I think” the fire and leak were so small at the line that only Gary could see it and a few drops of oil on a red hot header do not necessarily create a puddle under the car. I know that Gary was all about safety and what “I believe” is that he thought it would not develop into such a problem (obviously he was wrong). At the same time he was competitive to an obsession, my gosh you couldn’t even beat him at checkers! He wanted to “win” at everything he did and to get him to the line in a big race, it would take a lot to get him to flip the kill switch or the fuel shut off.
    Remember this was the 60′s and Drag Racing was not the safest sport for the time. As an example of that; he was also driving the Valkyrie Jet Car which was little more than a full size jet motor with the driver attached to “the front” and tires that looked like they were borrowed from the family station wagon. LOL
    About the BCC fire, first note that the motor was not blown in this accident, it was still running when he jumped out and rolled. I’m no scientist, but the car burned to the ground and the remains were little but a frame and engine block in the end, mostly only the steel parts and ashes. The blower being on fire sure looked real to all who witnessed it and I still remember Gary’s comment… “pretty trippy fire.” Most of us who saw the accident thought Gary was still inside the car as no one saw him jump. My best friend had to take down a security guy on our run to the car as we were going to see if we could get him out, just as we arrived, Gary came up behind us and put his arms around our necks. I have a pretty good pic of the car that night, I will see how much blower was left. One other additional note; I’m not sure it was the WinterNationals, I just remember it was a Very Big race night for Gary.

    On the accident with the 4WD car; the guard rail had just been replaced and we were told by track officials that it was installed wrong. It was totally replaced with lower rails right after the wreck. When Gary hit the guardrail the car went UNDER the rail and stayed under it. He severed 12 rail posts before going onto the grass. The only thing that kept him from being cut in half was the steel driver cage with a bar under the driver seat (this cars frame was aluminum). Imagine posts coming at your “package” at 100mph or more 12X?? Then, just when you think it’s over, the car rolls upright and takes you through the rail again. There is much more to this story, but to this day I don’t know how he survived either the accident or recovery. Those were dark days and I still have a hard time thinking about it! To gain some insight to what he was like, he spent much of the time working on special pedals he could use with his injured leg (with the rod replacing bone his ankle didn’t bend much).
    Anyway, Go Fast! Paul S

  19. Hey I just watched that youtube film of the setting of the land speed record. I searched for it because it was filmed by my dad, William B. Foster Jr.. I was just a little kid and don’t remember much but I remember my dad leaving for Utah and being gone and when he came back he was excited about the record being set. The film was made for the gas company, that’s why the end has that logo. If you search for my dad you will find he filmed other stuff including 1972 Beware of the Blob that was produced by his friend Larry Hagman.

  20. Great information. I loved reading it. I was related to Gary – he was my mother’s first cousin. We grew up hearing all kinds of stories about him. It was incredible to be a kid and brag to everyone that your cousin was a world record holder. I have been collecting all kinds of items from Gary and the Blue Flame since I was very young. I hope to someday hand everything over to my son so that he can continue adding on to the collection. I would like to thank everyone for all of the great stories. I think that Guy would love reading these comments.

    Dan Ramirez

  21. I was a bank teller in 1974 at the Bixby Knolls branch of F&M Bank where Gary was a customer. Safe to say I had a big crush on him and his adorable smile and was in awe of his accomplishments. He came to mind again today after watching an Anthony Hopkins Movie “The Fastest Indian.” After all these years I still remember him and am sad to hear his amazing life was cut short. Warmest regards to his family and friends.

    • Tony!!, Please Give Me A Call At 818-442-1703. This Is About One Of Your Top Fuel Cars, I Got From Frank..Thank You Bob Melville

  22. I grew up in Bixby Knolls and went to high school with Gary, the two of us graduating from Long Beach Poly Hign, class of 1959. this makes me the old fart Gary unfortunately never made, having been run down in San Pedro while on a motor cycle. The last time I saw gary was in 1979 at our 20th class reunion. We had the 50th a couple of years back and his name came up. Ironically, in those years between high school and the reunion I never crossed his path, but was into cars myself racing sports cars at Riverside. A Porsche Carrera was one of two cars I raced there, the other being a Healy LeMans, which I see from time to time at car shows.
    I am an avid historic automobile racing buff and just did Rennsport at Laguna Seca.
    It is sad i didn’t see Gary after we went our separate ways for we hung out some in high school; Poly was had strange demographics when we were there. I saw him just the one time before his untimely death, but heard about it immediately after it had happened.
    This may be a little added history, and i also opened my first bank accounty with Farmers and Merchants bank as a kid.
    A long time ago and some faded memories.

  23. I was 17 teen and was around Gary when they were building the Beach City Corvette.
    He was always nice to me, he took me for a ride in the new Z 28 that they gave him.
    I went to Lions Drag Strip the first time with him and Don Kirby the builder of the car.
    I thought he would die young , he drove everything fast.
    He was fun to be around

  24. I saw Gary in Perris 1969 go 200 mph in Climax( I believe) His googles flew off during the run and was unable to back it up. does Does anyone remember that?

    • The 1st boat to run the magic 200mph number was Gary Gabelich. The date was in Sept of 1969 @ Perris Ca driving for owners Don Noel & Ginn Boscariol. It was a Sanger hull, with a Ron White motor. The boat was named CRISIS. His speed was 200.44 @ 9.11

  25. That run in Perris was on Saturday not a lot of people there, but that boat tip-toed all the way thru the run it was unbelievable of coarse he never let off. What a run. I went to the pits to see he boat and there was Gary with very puffy eyes and I swear he had blonde hair. I heard his goggles had come off during the run and did not back it up.

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