Art Arfons

(February 3, 1926 - December 3, 2007)


Arthur Eugene "Art" Arfons was the world land speed record holder three times in 1964 – 1965 with his Green Monster series of jet-powered cars, after a series of Green Monster piston-engine and jet-engined dragsters. He subsequently went on to field a succession of Green Monster turbine-engined pulling tractors, before returning to land speed record racing. He was announced as a 2008 inductee in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame three days after his death.[1] Arfons was also known for trying to make drag racing as safe as possible with the development of two important safety devices that have since been made mandatory for drag racers: the overhead roll cage and the parachute.

Date Location Driver Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile
October 7, 1964 Bonneville Salt Flats, USA Art Arfons USA The Green Monster
J-79 Jet Engine
434.356 mph (665.231 km/h) 434.022 mph (664.694 km/h) October 1964 FIA (Federation Internationale de L'Automobile) took over for the AIACR finally made two classes one for cars with at least two driven wheels and the other for cars powered by jet engines

See also Green Monster, Green Monster 1, Green Monster II, Green Monster 3, Green Monster 4, Green Monster 5, Green Monster 6, Green Monster 11, Anteater, Cyclops, Wingfoot Express 1, Wingfoot Express 2


Art Arfons' father, Tom, was born in Greece and came to the United States at age 14. He settled in Akron, Ohio, where Art was born. Tom died in 1950, at age 52. His mother, Bessie, was half Cherokee, and died in 1984 at age 84. Arfons had two half brothers by his mother — Walt Arfons, ten years older, who was to become his partner and later competitor in autosports, and Dale, eight years older, as well as one sister Lou, eighteen months older.

Early life

Arfons' family operated a feed mill in rural Ohio, where the Arfons brothers exercised their mechanical skills and ingenuity. After his junior year of high school, at just under 17 years of age, Art joined the United States Navy. He was sent to diesel mechanic school, then assigned as a mechanic to a landing craft in the Pacific Theater. This was a very good job for Arfons to utilize his mechanical talents. He participated in two battles including the invasion of Okinawa, and then was discharged after three years, as a Petty Officer Second Class. He returned to Ohio, was married, and had two sons and a daughter. In 1952, he and his half-brother Walt became fascinated with drag racing and built their first Green Monster. In this endeavor, they were supported by their mother, who was also fascinated by the sport. Art and Walt continued their drag racing partnership with a series of Green Monster cars until the late 1950s, parting amicably but competing against each other.

Land speed record

Arfons' path led almost inevitably to land speed record racing at Bonneville, first in 1960 with the "Anteater", a car modeled after John Cobb's "Railton Special" and powered by an Allison V-1710 aircraft engine. In 1961 he reached a top speed of 313.78 mph (504.98 km/h) before burning out the clutch. Arfons sold the car to Bob Motz.

In 1962, Arfons began experimenting with jet-powered cars, where his innate mechanical skills proved tremendously useful. Art's first car, the 8,000 hp (6 MW) Cyclops, remains the fastest open cockpit vehicle, recording 330.113 miles per hour (531.265 km/h) in the measured mile in 1962. Unfortunately, his design had the driver sitting directly in the air intake to the engine, so that there was no way to enclose the cockpit and still supply air to the engine; this limited top speed severely. In deference to the car's less than excellent aerodynamics, Arfons introduced another innovation: It was the first land speed record car to utilize a wing to produce downforce to prevent the car from becoming airborne.

Arfons returned to Bonneville in 1964 with another Green Monster. He held the world land speed record three times during the closely fought competition of 1964 and 1965, but after a bad crash in 1966 turned his attention to jet turbine powered tractor pulling competition where he was, as usual, successful. In 1989, however, he attempted to return to land speed record competition, but was never competitive.

Art's son, Tim Arfons, has continued the tradition by competing in jet-powered dragsters as well as in turbine-powered pulling "funny cars", and has been a stunt and exhibition driver in a series of jet-powered ATVs and even a jet-powered personal watercraft. His daughter Dusty Arfons also competed in tractor pulling with her father.


On October 16, 1971, while making an exhibition run at the Dallas International Motor Speedway in Lewisville, Texas, Arfons lost control of his radical jet-powered vehicle, resulting in the death of three people. IHRA staff members Robert John Kelsey (age 20) and Sean Panse (age 17) were struck and killed, along with WFAA (Dallas, Texas) news reporter, Gene Thomas (age 31), who was a passenger in the vehicle.

Arfons’ "Super Cyclops" was making its first run of the day in an attempt to pass the 300 mph (480 km/h) mark. Towards the end of the run, a tire burst as the chutes deployed; it veered into a guardrail and crashed beyond the finish line. Thomas, a popular Dallas television reporter, was apparently thrown out of the vehicle when it rolled over.

The vehicle was configured with the driver and passenger sitting on each side of a huge engine. Arfons sustained minor injuries. He was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas and released shortly afterward. The Dallas event was to be his last race.[2][3]


He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame (Prior to 2005)[4] "Hall of Fame Inductees", International Motorsports Hall of Fame, National Tractor Puller Association Hall of Fame, and the Summit County Sports Hall of Fame. He is a three time World Land Speed record holder. He held the Unlimited Drag Racing Record and was a champion Tractor Puller.

Death and interment

Arfons died on December 3, 2007, in Springfield Township, Ohio, at the age of 81. He was interred at Mt. Peace Cemetery.

Obituary from the Akron Beacon Journal:
Akron native and international drag racing icon Art Arfons died Monday at age 81. Mr. Arfons, famous for building cars called ''Green Monsters'' with his brother, Walt, was a three-time world land-speed record holder. He also held the Unlimited Drag Racing Record and was a champion tractor puller. ''They built everything themselves,'' Mr. Arfons' nephew, Walter Arfons, said. ''They were sort of self-made guys. They didn't buy anything. They were just notorious for that around Ohio. ''He liked to live life dangerously.''

The brothers began drag racing at a track near the Rubber Bowl, but soon moved on to bigger stages and became stars in the mid-1950s.

Art went on to race his ''Green Monsters'' at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. It was there he broke the
world record three times in the mid-1960s. He engaged in some famous battles with Craig Breedlove, and the world record passed between the rivals six times in two years. Mr. Arfons was clocked at 576.553 mph the last time he held the record.

''He was just a remarkable man,'' said Tom Melody, a retired Beacon Journal sports editor and writer. ''I think it's really, really strange that Evel Knievel and Arfons are going in virtually the same week. They had some similarities. Arfons did some things that were as fearless as anything Knievel did.''

SPEED DUEL: The Inside Story of the Land Speed Record in the Sixties

Art Alfons "The Green Monster"

Art Arfons and His Green Monster

Bonneville Salt Flats Vintage Art Arfons Breedlove Race Car Footage 1

Eyewitness-1971 Jet Car Crash Dallas International Motor Speedway

Art Arfons and Green Monster, Nov. 1966


External links

Art Arfons
Art Arfons
In 1964, Craig Breedlove and Art Arfons in jet engined record breakers attacked the Land Speed Record, with Breedlove’s three wheeled Spirit of America breaking the 500 mph barrier first with 526 mph, to be quickly eclipsed by Art Arfons in the aptly named “Green Monster” at 536 mph. Neither of these cars were wheel driven, but were rather planes that didn’t fly!
Art Arfons
Art Arfons Jet 1969 at Bristol Tennessee.
Art Arfons
Art Arfons Jet 1969 at Bristol Tennessee.
Art Arfons
Art Arfons Cyclops Jet Car at Minnesota Dragways.
Art Arfons
Art Arfons J-79 powered Green Monster.
Art Arfons
Art Arfons Green Monster "Dud".
Art Arfons
Art Arfons Green Monster at Bristol Tennessee track.
Art Arfons
Art Arfons in 1979 Homemade/Lycoming T-55 Turbine.
Art Arfons
Art Arfons
Art Arfons
Art Arfons
Art Arfons
Art Arfons

The Junkyard Genius
Submitted by on October 31, 2010

Before I was even out of middle school, each and every weekend, I would sit next to my father in his pickup truck and we would drive – hauling a Chevy Nova with a 427 Cubic Inch powered Pro Gas car on a trailer -  to Thompson Drag Raceway in Ohio. As a kid, I saw incredible things at this drag strip. I watched the greatest Top Fuel drivers of the era, including “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and his Swamp Rat dragster go 200 miles per hour along the quarter mile. I saw the superstar Funny Car drivers of the time – including my idol – Don “The Snake” Prudhomme (my mom still has a photo of me, at age 5, standing next to nitro burning Funny Car. I’m wearing striped pants, brown Buster Brown shoes and a Winnie the Pooh shirt.)

The biggest race of the year at Thompson was the annual Fourth of July Pro Stock Meet where the nation’s top Pro Stock drivers gathered every Independence Day weekend to try and win one of biggest drag race meets of that period. Perhaps the strongest Pro Stock car of them all was the Gapp & Roush Ford Pinto. Owned and masterminded by Jack Roush, little did I know at the time that I was looking on at a greasy mechanic who would, years later, go onto create one of today’s elite NASCAR Sprint Cup teams. (In fact, three years ago, while working with NASCAR driver Boris Said, I sat in a hauler during a rain delay at Daytona International Speedway and asked Jack if he remembered Thompson and the Fourth of July meet. Roush seemed astonished that I even knew the race existed. When I explained that I had watched his team race there as an 8 year old, Jack was pretty lit up by it all).

But I digress…

The craziest, most insane, radical, mind boggling thing I ever saw at Thompson was the Green Monster. A man named from nearby Akron, Ohio named Art Arfons built and drove the F-104 Starfighter General Electric J79 17,500 lbf static thrust jet engine-powered machine. Art was something of a legend in his own time in Ohio as he was world renowned for setting land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. From time to time, he would show up at Thompson and shake down one of his Green Monster contraptions before heading west to Bonneville.

One Saturday afternoon, when I was 10, I walked through the rocks and dirt that served as the pit area at Thompson. I was eating a hot dog when I saw it – the Green Monster – being wrenched on by Arfons and his crew. When I asked one of the mechanics if the car was to run later that night, he said yes and showed me around the monstrosity. Even now, at age 42, I can remember just how larger than life the car appeared to me.

Then, about nine hours later, the car was rolled out to the starting line and prepared to make a pass. When the time came and with the crowd – most members of it drunk on beer – gazing on in a collective stupor, the jet engine was started. It took a few minutes, but it slowly wound itself up into a high pitch whine, built thrust, and a few seconds later -  and  in an afterburner flash of fire and burnt JP4 jet fuel – the car lit up the entire sky and simply vanished. I can still remember the heat coming off of the car and my hair blowing back. My mind was blown.

Art’s was about to be, too, as the car burned off its parachutes and couldn’t be stopped. The Green Monster shot off the end of the drag strip, through all the run off area, a pasture full of cows (seriously – that’s how far off the track the car shot, but I guess that can happen when you’re going 300 miles per hour with no brakes) and into the side of a white house. In what seemed like an eternity, an announcer over the public address system informed the crowd that Art was okay, but the Green Monster was completely destroyed. An hour later I watched on in both horror and amazement as the car, on a flatbed truck, was driven back up the drag strip and before the grandstands for the crowd to see. The Green Monster was no longer green. It wasn’t even a piece of machinery. It was so fucked up there was nothing left to even sell.

Art smiled and waved to the crowd. He looked happy. He looked like he was okay. He looked like he was insane.

The legend of Art Arfons…

Art Arfons came from a family that operated a mill in Ohio. And it was in the Buckeye State where he initially honed his mechanical skills and strengthened his whacked-out ingenuity. After his junior year of high school, Art joined the United States Navy and fought in some gnarly ass battles at Guadalcanal. But he lived through it and duly came back home to Ohio where he and his brother Walt built the VERY first Green Monster.

The Green Monster was the name of several vehicles built by Art Arfons who was often described as a “junk yard genius”. They were initially Dragsters and motivated by clapped out automobile engines, then by war surplus piston aircraft engines (Ranger and Allison V-1710), which were plentiful, durable, and cheap, then by jet aircraft engines. The jet powered dragsters developed into jet powered vehicles built to break the land speed record, finally a series of turbine powered pulling tractors.

The first “Green Monster” came in 1952. Several years and several iterations later came the most famous “Green Monster”. It was powered by an F-104 Starfighter General Electric J79 17,500 lbf static thrust jet engine with four-stage afterburner, which Arfons purchased from a scrap dealer for $600 and rebuilt himself, over the objections of General Electric and the government, and despite all manuals for the engine being classified top secret.

In 1963, the meanest “Green Monster” of all, a beast with the most powerful powerplant of its day – a General Electric J-79 jet engine boasting 17,500 horsepower with four-stage afterburner – was born. The J79 engine was supposedly classified by the military, and yet Art Arfons drove to a Florida scrap dealer, paid $600 in cash and hauled away the damaged engine. “I didn’t try to chisel down the price,” said Arfons. “I never said nothing, just gave him the money and we put it in the bus. Of course, I didn’t even know at that point whether or not the engine would run.

“There was no sense in trying to straighten out the blades, so I just pulled them out. I figured the engine had more than enough power without them. A few days after I called General Electric, told them I had a J79 and asked them to send a manual. The guy said, ‘you don’t have that engine. You can’t have that engine.’ And I said, ‘well, I sure do.’

“The next day or the day after that a Colonel from Washington showed up at the shop and said that’s a classified engine and I can’t have it. I said I bought it; and showed him my sales receipt. The Colonel stomped out. Then I got a legal letter from GE, a real nasty letter, informing me the J79 was made for Marine and Air Force use and it should never be put in a race car.”

Art Arfons never received the letter…

“The concept wasn’t terribly sophisticated, but it worked,” he furthered. “I hung the engine up and built the car around it.” That “Green Monster” set land speed records of 434, 536 and 576 miles an hour in 1964 in the blistering battle of jets.”

In 1966 Arfons returned once again to Bonneville, but reached an average speed of only 554.017 miles per hour. (891.604 km/h) On run number seven at 8:03 AM on November 17, Arfons crashed his vehicle travelling 610 miles per hour (982 km/h) when a wheel bearing froze. He subsequently built another Green Monster land speed record car, but for the first time in his life, common sense set in. As soon as he had completed the car, he sold it.

Good for Art.

By Eric Johnson


Art and his designs

When it came to setting Land Speed Records, no one did it quite like the late Art Arfons
By Richard Heseltine
Motorsport Magazine March 2008

He’d faced down danger before but this was different: not only Plan A but Plans B, C, and D had been exhausted. The right rear rubber had detonated just past the final Bonneville speed trap. Art Arfons was scorching the salt at over 500mph, strapped into a home-built car in which his total investment was just $10,000. Remarkably the Green Monster stayed true, but drainage ditches and telegraph poles lay past the end of the course. The junkyard genius deployed the parachute – only for a dragline to snap. Killing the jet engine until he could safely scrub off enough speed to release the back-up, he was still travelling at over 400mph when his reserve ’chute disintegrated within moments of being popped. He tried the brakes but the hydraulic lines were shot. There was no choice but to ride it out. Coming to a halt some half a mile later, the ever-modest speed freak was unruffled, elated even. It was October 1964 and he’d just taken back the Land Speed Record with a two-way average of 536.71mph.

Arthur Eugene Arfons epitomised the right stuff. Preternaturally brave and endlessly self-reliant, this son of a Greek immigrant father and half-Cherokee mother survived countless crashes that by rights should have claimed him. Improbably, he lived life at full tilt comfortably into his seventh decade and only eased off the gas relatively recently. He died on December 3, 2007, aged 81, and was buried in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, along with a jar of Bonneville salt, a manual for a J79 jet engine and a spanner in each hand. His is a story that defies convention and perfectly illustrates how lateral thinking and a lot of willpower can go a long way.

They had to. Growing up during the Depression, Arfons worked alongside his two half-brothers in the family mill after school was over. At 17 he enlisted in the US Navy, training as a diesel mechanic and seeing action in the invasion of Okinawa, returning home after a three-year stretch. By 1952 he was married and a father but that year would prove a watershed: he and his half-brother – and future rival – Walt discovered drag racing. While serving his country, Art had learned to fly and bought a training plane for $500. One weekend he and Walt turned up at the local airfield to make a flight only to find the landing strip blocked by cars racing each other.

They were hooked by what they saw that day, swiftly cobbling together a contraption powered by an ancient Oldsmobile V8 and hand-painted with a coat of green tractor paint. Mocked by a track announcer at their first meeting only weeks after discovering the sport, the tag ‘Green Monster’ became a constant for virtually all of Art’s subsequent creations. Even those that weren’t green.

A year on, the duo lashed together an altogether more extreme dragster with six wheels and a monstrous 450bhp Continental radial engine housed out back: it would do until a blown Allison V12 – all 27 litres of it – became available. “I traded a $50 electric motor against it,” Art recalled in 2002. Ever more elaborate machines followed, Arfons winning the 1954 World Series of Drag Racing and becoming one of the first drivers to reach 150mph in the quarter mile with his four-wheel-drive Green Monster 6, the half-siblings having by now parted ways. Art famously beat the hitherto dominant Floridian Don ‘Big Daddy’ Garlits on his home turf in 1959, and aeroplane engines were subsequently outlawed from frontline competition. Match-racing Walt Arfons’ creations in exhibition events paid the bills but ended in mutual enmity – a situation not helped by the fact that their workshops were situated side-by-side.

No matter, Art had bigger fish to fry, his Allison-powered Anteater chasing the Land Speed Record in 1960. Intended to resemble his idol John Cobb’s Railton Special, this distinctive creation was unsuccessful in several attempts, making a best of 313.78mph in ’61 with a burnt-out clutch.

That year Arfons and his fellow hot rodders were given a wake-up call by the arrival of Dr Nathan Ostich’s jet-propelled Flying Caduceus. While it didn’t claim the ultimate prize, this contrivance clearly represented the future. Arfons used his connections in army surplus to land an engine out of a B-47 bomber for his next challenger, the resultant Cyclops making 338.791mph at Bonneville in 1962 – on remoulds. And with an open cockpit.

Four jet cars had turned up in Utah that year, Craig Breedlove’s among them. In 1963, the charismatic Californian smashed the 400mph barrier. Knowing that he couldn’t match his rival’s budget, Arfons did what he did best: he started scavenging. After locating a J79 jet engine that produced 17,500lb of thrust (compared to the J47 in Breedlove’s Spirit of America that made 5200), he handed over just $700 and dragged it home. It had failed after a shard of metal had been sucked into the intake and damaged 60 turbine blades and should have been scrapped – a point not lost on the government after Arfons contacted General Electric for a manual. A day later a senior Air Force colonel arrived in Akron demanding the engine be returned: it wasn’t intended for civilians. “I showed him my receipt and said it was junk and you guys threw it away,” Arfons later recalled.

Predictably, GE refused to help so Arfons stripped the engine and made repairs himself. Then, needing to test it, he strapped the jet to a chassis chained to two trees behind his workshop – and lit her up. The engine was eventually found 50ft away after it had incinerated a chicken coop and mowed a path through woodland. The fuzz weren’t impressed. Nor his neighbours whose foundations had been rattled.

Suitably emboldened, Green Monster 11 was cobbled together with a ’37 Lincoln front axle, a ’55 Packard steering rack and a ’47 Ford truck rear end. The 6500lb device may have looked ungainly but it recorded 434.02mph at Bonneville in ’64 to take the three-day-old Land Speed Record set by Tom Green – who’d been driving Walt Arfons’ Wingfoot Express. Eight days later Breedlove raised the bar to 526.28mph before crashing out. The salt crust was damaged and bad weather was on its way but Arfons didn’t want to wait another year to drive again. Part-way though the following bid, he was forced to abort after the passenger canopy flew off. His next outing saw an average of 515mph. With time running out, he took his wild ride with a flailing tyre on that remarkable 536.71mph run.

Not to be outdone, Breedlove returned to Bonneville a year on with Spirit of America: Sonic 1 and on November 2 reclaimed the prize at 555.127mph. After an interminable wait while Breedlove’s team went after countless other records, Arfons took to the salt later that month. He’d exceeded 600mph when a tyre exploded. His cockpit filled with smoke and, unable to see, he punched out the canopy: with his face seared by the air stream, Arfons broke the record at 576.553mph. Within a week, Breedlove reached 600mph and the race was over.

There would be other attempts and equally hairy rides, including a crash at over 600mph in 1966 where a tyre was apparently found four miles away from the wreck, but Arfons would never hold the title again. Unbowed, he changed tack and had a stab at the Water Speed Record instead, typically without much in the way of sponsorship. After only one aborted attempt, our hero wryly concluded that he “didn’t much like water”.

But he did still like jets, helping launch the sport of tractor pulling and building a raft of turbine-powered mud pluggers, campaigned late into the last century. He even returned to the hallowed salt in 1989 – at the age of 65 and a decade after triple heart bypass surgery – with a leftfield two-wheeled device, but vibration issues hobbled his bid. Another attempt a year on ended in a sickening accident at over 400mph, and came just two weeks after his nephew Craig had perished after crashing his jet-powered hydrofoil. Arfons would likely have kept on returning, but as he commented at the time, “my wife would likely divorce me”.

Nobody before or since has gone faster for less money than Art Arfons. His ‘can do’ spirit and lack of guile endeared him to millions, even those of us who weren’t alive to witness the ‘summer of speed’ as he battled ‘Brave Speedlove’ to be the fastest man on earth – but wished we had been.