Gary Gabelich

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Gary Gabelich (Croatian Gabelić; August 29, 1940 – January 26, 1984) was an American motorsport driver who set the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) Land Speed Record (LSR) with the rocket car Blue Flame on October 23, 1970,[1] on a dry lake bed at Bonneville Salt Flats near Wendover, Utah.[2][3]

Personal life[edit]

Gary Gabelich was born 29 August 1940 and was raised in southern California and attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School. He grew up during the height of the Southern California race scene and became friends with many famous racers of the era like drag racer Tom McEwen. The nearby Lions Drag Strip was adjacent to Long Beach and he was influenced by the NHRA drag racing legend Big Joe Reath of the Reath Automotive Speed Shop in Long Beach.[4][5] Gabelich married Rae Marie Ramsey (born 1946). She graduated Palo Alto High School Palo Alto, CA in 1964 and moved to Long Beach in 1968. Guy Michael Gabelich was born in the early 1980s. She was a flight attendant for United Airlines.[6][7] Gabelich's father was of Croatian American descent and his mother was Mexican American.[8][9]

Gabelich died in January 1984 in a motorcycle crash. After his widow Rae Marie retired from United Airlines in 2003, she was elected to the Long Beach City Council in 2004, where she served for eight years.


Gabelich drove a split window 1960 era Volkswagen delivery van for Vermillion's Drug store in his younger days. He lived with his parents in the Bixby Knolls area of Long Beach, California during this time. He later went to work for North American Aviation which became North American Rockwell after a 1967 merger with Rockwell-Standard. Gabelich started in the mail room and stayed for nine years in various positions from staff assistant before becoming a part-time test subject for Project Apollo in the years 1968 and 1969. Gabelich served as an Apollo test astronaut in 1968-1969 as stated on the plaque his family dedicated to him in 2001.[10]

Unlike the actual astronauts, he was not flying the capsules, but testing their long-term viability in weightless conditions, their tolerance and performance under conditions of extreme lateral forces and, though they seldom spoke of it on televised moon shots, the toilet facilities.[11] Gabelich was Mercury Seven astronaut Wally Schirra's exact size and he did a lot of space checkout for him and testing of capsules and equipment before they were man-rated for operational use.[12] Project Mercury ended in the early 1960s and Wally Schirra went on to become commander of Apollo 7.

Land speed record[edit]

The Blue Flame LSR car in a historical vehicle event.

Gabelich broke the LSR by achieving average speeds of 622.407 mph (1,001.667 km/h) over a flying mile and 630.388 mph (1,014.511 km/h) over a flying kilometer.[13] The thrust used during this attempt was between 13,000 pounds (58,000 newtons) and 15,000 pounds (67,000 newtons).[14] A top speed of approximately 650 mph (1,050 km/h) was momentarily attained during one run.

The FIA rules dictate that a land speed mark is recognized only after two runs through the FIA measured kilometer and mile courses. The two corresponding speeds are then averaged for the official time and speed. Additionally both runs must be made within one hour.[15]

Gabelich averaged 629.412 mph (1,013 km/h) on his first run and 631.367 mph (1,016 km/h) on his second run for an average speed of 630.388 mph (1,015 km/h) establishing a new kilometer FIA LSR.[16] The mile FIA LSR was the first exceeding 1,000 km/h (621 mph) and remained unbeaten until 1983, when Richard Noble broke it driving Thrust 2. The faster kilometer FIA LSR remained unbroken for 27 years when ThrustSSC went supersonic in 1997.[17][18][19]

Racing career[edit]

In 1969 Gabelich established a quarter mile Drag boat record of 200.44 mph (323 km/h) [20][21] This is not the same as the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) Water Speed Record (WSR) in which Donald Campbell broke 200 mph (322 km/h) on 23 July 1955 in the Bluebird K7.

Gabelich was seriously injured in the crash of an experimental 4 wheel drive Funny Car in 1972[22] that careened out of control at 180 mph (290 km/h) during a quarter mile run almost severing his left forearm and broke his left leg so severely that more than a year later he still wore a cast.[23] This incident ended his racing career and he never raced again, concentrating instead on a new supersonic vehicle.

After racing[edit]

In the early 1980s he established the "Rocketman Corporation" with Tom Daniel.[24] The objective was to design and build a vehicle capable of reaching speeds in the 800 mph (1,287 km/h) range. This conceptual vehicle was named "American Way"[25] but the project was cut short by his untimely death in January 1984 in a motorcycle crash.[26]

Gabelich was part of the cast in the 1977 movie Joyride to Nowhere and he made a documentary, One Second from Eternity: The History of the Land Speed Record in 1971.[27] Gabelich and his family appeared on Family Feud with Richard Dawson, where he presented the key to the city of Long Beach, California to Dawson.

In 2008 Gabelich was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame[28] in front of the Convention Center on Pine Avenue. He was represented at the ceremony by his wife Rae,[29] a Long Beach City Councilwoman who retired in 2012 after eight years of service.[30][31]

He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2016.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "THE LAND SPEED RECORD A Brief History". The Splendid Whizzer Association.
  2. ^ "World Land Speed Record". Unique Cars and Parts.
  3. ^ Ferguson, George. "The Run Was A Natural Gas". Sports Illustrated November 09, 1970.
  4. ^ Rasner, Bud. "Gary Gabelich, The Early Days".
  5. ^ "Say Goodby to Joe Reath June 27, 2013 | Hotrod Hotline".
  6. ^ "15 Minutes with ... Outgoing 8th District Councilwoman Rae Gabelich". Archived from the original on 2014-04-23. Retrieved 2014-04-21.
  7. ^ "Hollywood & Vine Forum".
  8. ^ "Gary Gabelich, who traveled a record-setting 622.407 mph in..." United Press International.
  9. ^ "Councilmember Gabelich's mother-in-law was 'lady of style and grace, strength and wisdom'". Signal Tribune Newspaper.
  10. ^ "Gary Gabelich Plaque".
  11. ^ Ames, Justin. "Gary Gabelich | The Velvet Rocket". Blog at June 27th, 2009. Archived from the original on 2013-10-05.
  12. ^ Coonce, Cole. "Transcript of interview with Pete & Leah Farnsworth". INFINITY OVER ZERO Blog at November 3, 2008.
  13. ^ "Sir Malcolm Campbell". Archived from the original on 2013-10-19.
  14. ^ "The Blue Flame Record Car". Text: Charles Armstrong-Wilson Photos: Richard Keller/American gas association.
  15. ^ Ferguson, George. "The Run Was A Natural Gas". Sports Illustrated November 09, 1970.
  16. ^ Matt Stone; Preston Lerner (2012). History's Greatest Automotive Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed. MotorBooks International. ISBN 978-1610586597.
  17. ^ "Set the record; The story of the Blue Flame LSR car - Absolutely awesome historic LSR video"., August 28, 2012. 2 September 2021.
  18. ^ "The Blue Flame Record Car". Text: Charles Armstrong-Wilson Photos: Richard Keller/American gas association.
  19. ^ Wells, Bruce A. (19 October 2020). "The Blue Flame – Natural Gas Rocket Car". American Oil & Gas Historical Society Copyright © 2014.
  20. ^ Speed, John. "GARY GABELICH -BIOGRAPHY". Staff Writer, Archived from the original on 2013-10-04.
  21. ^ "Bangor Daily News".
  22. ^ "Pacififc Ocean Blue | Tales of LA's Past / Tales of LA Today". talasofla blog.
  23. ^ Gerber, Dan. "Fastest Foot In The West". Sports Illustrated December 17, 1973.
  24. ^ "GARY GABELICH and TOM DANIEL". Copyright © 2013 Bluebird Marine Systems Limited.
  25. ^ Daniel, Tom. "American Way Land Speed Record Vehicle". 2007.
  26. ^ "Gabelich, 43, Dies After Accident". The New York Times. 27 January 1984.
  27. ^ "Gary Gabelich - IMDb". Copyright © 1990-2014, Inc.
  28. ^ "Photo of Walk of Fame". Blogspot.
  29. ^ ZumMallen, Ryan. "What Thursday's Racing Inductions Mean For Long Beach". Long Beach Post April 18, 2008 01:24. Archived from the original on June 10, 2015. Retrieved October 6, 2013.
  30. ^ "Rae Gabelich Will Not Run For Re-Election - Endorses Al Austin". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12.
  31. ^ Saltzgaver, Harry. "Gabelich To Step Down; Supports Austin". © Copyright 2014, Long Beach Grunion Gazette Newspapers - Tuesday, February 7, 2012 12:39 pm.
  32. ^ Gary Gabelich at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America

External links[edit]