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AUTO RACING PACKAGE: Pride, sense of history drive British team to record

October 22, 1997

GERLACH, Nev. (AP) _ The talc-like desert sand coating the black Thrust SSC was too tempting, so somebody scrawled: ``We’re not doing this because it is easy, but because it is hard.″

And for six hard weeks, the team battled mechanical problems, dwindling finances and weather that ranged from 90 degrees to 30, from burning drought to snow, and the unrelenting dust that whipped into zero-visibility storms and trashed fragile car parts.

There were few days off, which was just as well, since there was little to do during any idle hours anyway. The 31-member British team was in the Black Rock Desert, thousands of miles from home and 100 miles from anywhere.

``Time after time the team has prepared for action, only to have to stand down again,″ Thrust SSC’s Jeremy Davey wrote.

His remark was published on the Thrust website on Oct. 13. That was the day the jet-powered car achieved its goal of the speed of sound, only to become an asterisk in the record books by failing to get turned around in time.

The rules require two runs within an hour on a course that stretches 13 miles across the dry lake bed. Thrust missed it by less than a minute.

The team returned Oct. 15 to accomplish its mission with runs of 759.333 mph and 766.609 mph. Under the formula used by the United States Automobile Club, which times the event, the average was set at 763.035 mph, or Mach 1.02, 2 percent faster than the speed of sound.

Timing of another sort was part of the record run. Green, an RAF fighter pilot who routinely flies through the sound barrier, drove through it officially 50 years and one day after Chuck Yeager became the first pilot to trigger a sonic boom.

Project leader Richard Noble didn’t hear Thrust’s sonic boom that he had longed to experience. It was muffled by the desert floor. But it rocked the tiny town of Gerlach, 15 miles away.

And Noble got what he came for.

``We have a world first and the best land speed record of all time,″ he said.

Noble held the record himself for almost 14 years, setting it Oct. 4, 1983 at 633.46 mph in this same desert 125 miles north of Reno.

His protege, Thrust driver Andy Green, shattered that by nearly 81 mph on Sept. 25 with an average of 714.144 mph for the two runs.

That was the day the reminder appeared in the dust on the side of the car. Jeremy Davey also wrote: ``Everybody is getting down to it _ this is no time to be sitting on our laurels.″

Despite an almost relaxed air among the team, even during a run, the graffiti and Davey’s urging underscored the dedication to achieve a nearly impossible goal.

``The first team that ever climbed Mount Everest didn’t get up there just to see what the view was like,″ Green said. ``They could have flown over it in an airplane. They learned a lot about themselves and showed a lot of people that it could be done in doing so.″

Noble was a bit more nationalistic.

``We have created and marked a world first, a record that will stand as a tribute to British engineering,″ he said.

Thrust operations manager Adam Northcote-Wright was even more direct.

``You can make a record any day,″ he said, ``but you can only make history once.″

End Adv for Thursday Oct. 23

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