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Author Topic: Last American team to hold the official ALSR Blue Flame Oct 23 1970 622.407mph  (Read 91400 times)

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Offline MAYOMAN

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Reaction Dynamics, designer and builder of The Blue Flame, was three guys in their mid-20s with engineering educations and innovative ideas on the land speed record. Ray and Dick worked at the IIT Research Institute, where they worked in an environment that encouraged thinking outside the box. Pete had been designing and building competitive dragsters for several years. In the timelines from post #98 above, the March 1965 IITRI Spectra newsletter was an indicator of the sort of encouragement that would drive these young men forward to the land speed record.
The road is long - Life is short - Drive fast

Offline MAYOMAN

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Also, in the post #98 timelines there are two items that were significant in the progression of the land speed record project.

After discussing the LSR with Dr. Henry Linden, director of the Institute of Gas Technology, I needed to convince him of the publicity value of the project. If he was to bring the American Gas Association on board as project sponsors, they needed assurance that the media would cover a land speed record. This would also be a learning experience for me. I called the motor sports editor, Robert Markus, at the Chicago Tribune to fill him in on the project. The February 1968 Tribune article had that effect in helping to land the sponsor. However, I also learned that when you talk with a reporter, the story begins with the first contact. It gave me too much individual publicity (as the story source) versus Reaction Dynamics - our partnership. Lesson learned.

Later in the timeline, after IGT had moved The Blue Flame to Chicago following our losing ownership of the car, a highly publicized accident on the Chicago freeway brought The Blue Flame back to our Milwaukee shop. The photo appeared in the news and the sponsor immediately reacted in our (Pete and) favor. So we were able to complete the car and get that elusive LSR.
The road is long - Life is short - Drive fast

Offline kiwi belly tank

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Can you tell us the details on your loss of the car & the accident?
  Sid.

Offline MAYOMAN

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Sid,
Again, in the timelines document, on July 30, 1968 we submitted a project budget ($147,000) and a proposed schedule for September-October 1969 record attempts. Both were mildly optimistic. While we were able to recruit engineering graduate students to assist in the vehicle design, they worked on a school semester schedule. While this is perfectly reasonable, it took a lot more time to get the design work completed than we had estimated. As a result, in December 1969 IGT assumed ownership of The Blue Flame (we actually had a DMV title) since we had defaulted on our contract schedule.

In January 1970 we towed The Blue Flame to IGT in Chicago. While the chassis was complete (less the tail fin), the rocket system plumbing and controls had not been installed. I was concerned at that time that IGT thought they could take over the whole project and run it themselves.

In February 1970, IGT was towing the car to a meeting with the primary gas industry sponsors in Rockford, Illinois, lost control of the trailer and rolled it over on its side.

After that negative experience (and my calls to the gas industry execs), Pete and I took The Blue Flame back to Milwaukee to finish the car and make the record attempts in September 1970. While we didn't actually own the car anymore, we had designed and built it, and ran the record attempts at Bonneville. Then, we returned the car to IGT for a world tour publicizing the liquefied natural gas fuel. So, the whole project was completed in less than two years. First attempt to set a LSR and we did it!
The road is long - Life is short - Drive fast

Offline N72727

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Very interesting and rare document with the accident. Thanks for sharing.
Here is TBF at the Chicago Auto Show in 1971.

Offline MAYOMAN

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We never had a team photo in this thread. These were the guys that worked full time, part time, overtime, weekends, holidays at our little shop in Milwaukee. They continued to work our exhausting schedule on the salt.
Ken McCarthy was our first full time employee. Gerard Brennan was the second and also the reserve driver for The Blue Flame. He did most of the aluminum welding on the chassis. Larry Henkel was the electronics expert as well as a fabricator. I guess we were all fabricators at some point. Dave Bykowski was a fire fighter and his schedule allowed considerable time on the car as well. The fire department gave him extended time off to stay at Bonneville for the six weeks. Mark Neubauer was an automobile salesman and also fabricated.
There were several others that worked temporarily in our shop who did not make the trip. Most notable was Dix Erickson, who would have come with us to Bonneville but was hired by American Honda in California before we left.
Aluminum body work was by Ray Besasie - a remarkable older gentleman and outstanding metal craftsman. He was also an aviation pioneer in Wisconsin among other notable activities.
The road is long - Life is short - Drive fast

Offline Stan Back

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Thanx for recognizing them.
Member of the San Berdoo Roadsters -- "California's Most-Exclusive Roadster Club".
Celebrating 67th anniversary of racing on the salt.

Offline N72727

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We never had a team photo in this thread. These were the guys that worked full time, part time, overtime, weekends, holidays at our little shop in Milwaukee. They continued to work our exhausting schedule on the salt.
Are you still in contact with some of those people today ?
Interesting article here:
https://magazine.iit.edu/fall-2015/blue-flame

Offline MAYOMAN

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Larry Henkel and Mark Neubauer passed away several years ago, way too young.
Larry Henkel lived nearby in Pewaukee and was partner in a golf course before he passed.

We had a 40th anniversary reunion in Wendover, in September  2010, at the USFRA Bonneville World of Speed race event. A good turnout there from Reaction Dynamics members, IIT, IGT, and various supporting suppliers.

Other than Gerard Brennan, everyone else was from Milwaukee and friends of Pete. This was an “ad hoc” event, so to speak, so I didn’t see most of them afterward.
Gerard toured The Blue Flame in the U.S. and Europe for a few years and we have stayed in touch since. Gerard also drove The Pollution Packer Bonneville Dragster the last time it ran, in 1975.

Pete, Ken McCarthy, and I did the Honda Hawk streamliner in 1971, then we closed the shop in 1972.
Gary Gabelich was a hired hand, only drove The Blue Flame, and then he went on to other projects on the West Coast.
The road is long - Life is short - Drive fast

Offline MAYOMAN

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While the photo above shows our crew on the Bonneville Salt Flats, The Blue Flame project was successful only because of the enthusiastic support of a large number of contributors. It would take a book to really describe these individuals and businesses in the manner they deserve. Actually, I am writing that book. Don't hold your breath waiting for it, but I promise to get it done this year.

The attached document is the most comprehensive list that I had prepared in 1970. Pete and I never made any money setting the record - just satisfaction. But we did send everyone we had identified a certificate thanking them at that time.

If we had known at the beginning what resources the land speed record project would take to be successful, we might have been overwhelmed.

Thanks, again, to all those on the lists - and any we might have missed - who were a part of the last successful American world land speed record project.
The road is long - Life is short - Drive fast

Offline N72727

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Always interesting documents and information here. Thank you for that. And I'm in for your book.

Offline MAYOMAN

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Ray Besasie Senior (in his mid-60s) was probably the most interesting character on our Milwaukee fabricating team. He single-handedly fabricated all of the formed aluminum panels for The Blue Flame and, later, the Honda Hawk streamliner. Ray built the patterns and formed the panels in his Milwaukee garage behind his home the old-fashioned way, with a hammer and sand bag. He did the final panel fitting in our Reaction Dynamics shop. The most impressive piece was the single nose cone. This was a Von Karman ogive profile with a non-circular (modified triangular) cross-section. Amazing work.

Ray could have been the prototype for the mad scientist in “Back to the Future”, Dr. Emmett Brown. With only a 10th grade formal education, he was an aviation pioneer in his early 20s, an inventor of automotive turbo-charging, and a creator of several innovative and eccentric automotive designs. We were honored that he devoted his time and effort to make The Blue Flame a success.

Due to size restrictions, I’ll follow up with additional posts.
The road is long - Life is short - Drive fast

Offline MAYOMAN

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Here is a photo of the young and handsome daredevil, Ray Besasie, behind the wheel of his racing car - and some not too professional photos of his homebuilt airplane - Sonny Boy.
The primer-painted panels on The Blue Flame were fabricated in his home shop in Milwaukee.
The road is long - Life is short - Drive fast

Offline MAYOMAN

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It's hard to believe that I had no photos of Ray with The Blue Flame. He also drove out to Bonneville in his X3 automobile and watched the early runs of The Blue Flame. His enthusiasm for our project was boundless. I did find a photo of Ray working on fitting the Honda Hawk body panels. Again, the panels he fabricated are in primer. Ray is the mature gentleman at the far left in the photo.
The road is long - Life is short - Drive fast

Offline Dynoroom

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Those photos are FABULOUS!

Thank you for your information & insight. Love the history...

Michael LeFevers
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