LOS ANGELES -- Gary Gabelich, who became the fastest man on earth when he smashed the World Land Speed Record, died Thursday of injuries suffered when his motorcycle slammed into a truck at high speed, police said. He was 43.
Gabelich's motorcycle hit with a truck in the harbor area, Officer Jack Drey said. Gabelich died at 4:22 p.m., nearly three hours after the accident. Drey said Gabelich was travelling at a high rate of speed when he hit the truck, driven by Ricky Snell, 23, of Long Beach.
In 1970, Gabelich travelled 622.407 miles per hour when he fired his missile-shaped rocket car across the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. He also clocked 630.388 mph through the flying kilometer, a speed 30 miles per hour faster than the record established in 1965 by Craig Breedlove.
Gabelich, a carpenter, is survived by a wife, Rae, and 18-month-old son, Guy.
'He's been sort of marking time until he could get sponsors together for both land speed and water records,' said Deke Holgate, a personal friend.'
Richard Noble of England eclipsed Gabelich's record last year in a jet car, going just over 642 mph at a Gerlach, Nev., dry lakebed last year.
Gabelich, of Yugoslavian-Mexican descent, was driving hot rods and racing professionally before graduating from high school in 1959. He worked for North American Rockwell for 9 years in various positions from mailboy to part-time test subject for the Apollo program.
It took Gabelich years of patience to challege Breedlove's record.
'We're not going to make any kamikaze runs,' he said during his bid. 'I want to take the record, but I want to be around to enjoy it.'
The Los Angeles native made his triumphant ride in a rocket car called 'The Blue Flame.' Gabelich revealed that the 6,500-pound car had actually coasted to the record.
'We only had enough fuel to get us about halfway through the run, so we had to coast,' he said.
The World Land Speed record is determined from the average of two runs through the mile corse.
Asked three years later, Gabelich beamed with his love of speed.
'Racing is really boss, man,' he said. 'If you like to go fast, that's all there is.
Holgate said Gabelich had barely survived two smashups -- one in a drag racing boat and another in an auto dragster -- that nearly killed him.