WALT ARFONS / WINGFOOT
EXPRESS: TERRY ARFONS
Terry Arfons is
Walt Arfons' eldest and only surviving son. He was a racing tire
engineer with Goodyear back in the 1960s and was involved with the
"Wingfoot Express" LSR bid. I interviewed him over the
phone at his home in Uniontown, Ohio on Ju;y 7, 2009.
were born in 1942, so you’d have been a grown-up back when Art and Walt
were going for the record.
I was working for Goodyear as a racing tire engineer. I worked for them
years. I was also in on the design of Breedlove’s tires and my dad’s
you living at home with your parents in
I was married. I had already been in the service.
you living on Pickle Road?
was close. I was on another street in Akron, the same part of town. I
on Pickle Road.
you help your dad build the two Wingfoot
really, because I was at the time working for Goodyear. Of course, I
there on the weekends and stuff, when I wasn’t traveling. But no, he
couple guys working for him who helped him.
were these guys?
Taylor and Rich Edelbrock. It’s not spelled like the manifold. It’s
little different. It’s “Edelbrock” or something like that.
these two guys go with your dad to
Did you go yourself?
I went out with Goodyear. I went out when the rocket car was run.
about in 1964, when Tom Green set the
didn’t go out then. See, I got out of the service in ’63 and I worked
Goodyear as a test driver for a while, until I went into the racing
but it was only for like six months. But it had to be in that interim
was doing that. So no, I didn’t go out then.
branch of the service were you in?
was in the air force.
became of those two Wingfoot cars?
they used them as parts and stuff for other vehicles, like the first
they used most of the stuff to make a dragsters out of that they used
exhibition races with. As far as the rocket car, he just cut it up and
for different things. I mean it was a shame because the museum in
DC, the Smithsonian, wanted the thing, but he never saved it. You just
think of that stuff, you know.
ask about Walt’s tattoos.]
got one on his chest of an eagle and he’s got a couple on his arms, a
girl or something. I’d have to go over and look at them to tell you
were. But the one on his chest is a big eagle. It goes all the way
chest. He got it in the 1930s when he was in the navy.
he leave the navy before the start of
He got out in ’39. Arthur was in the war.
memories of that 1964 record set by your
dad and Tom Green?
yeah. It was an exciting time. And then...Now why did I say I wasn’t
I wasn’t out there for my dad’s attempts, but I was out for Breedlove.
Breedlove ran Goodyear tires too. And when Breedlove was trying to set
record I know we took a car out there, a Daytona Cobra from Carroll
they set a bunch of records on a ten-mile oval with my dad’s driver,
Tatroe, who has passed away. He was driving the rocket car. He and
were making records on this ten-mile circle.
you there when Craig had the big crash
and went in the pond?
that was before my time. I was there when Breedlove had the other car,
See, ’65 was when I went to work for Goodyear in the racing division.
know your mom Gertrude went out to
Bonneville with Walt. Did she enjoy all that?
my mom did not enjoy any part of racing at all. She was always very
scared. She was a basket case when he was gone. She’s still living too,
They just celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary on the first of
ironic, really, what with your dad
having had that heart trouble so far back.
he did not. He insists that he had heart trouble, but he’s never had
trouble with his heart.
didn’t have a heart attack?
No. He didn’t have a heart attack. The reason he didn’t drive the car
record attempts, why Tom Green got a chance to do it—Tom Green was
simply a man
who worked for P. H. [garbled] tool company, which made torque
simply helped dad when dad needed some help; of course later on he
he built the car and everything; he had very little to do with
car. But the reason dad didn’t drive it was because...dad drove all of
dragsters, he at one time had six cars on the road, and whenever we
finish a car he would drive it to make sure it was safe. I say “we”
one time I helped him build a car. We had several appearances. In seven
him and I built a whole jet dragster. Day and night. Mom brought food
anyhow, to make a long story short, the reason my dad didn’t drive that
because he was building a trailer to haul that Wingfoot in. It had a
cable-operated rear hatch, and he jumped down off of that and caught
on the cable and it pulled the tendon out of one finger on his one
hand. If you
see any pictures of when they broke that record you can see that his
in a cast. That’s the reason he didn’t drive the car. He had full
doing it himself but couldn’t because of that. He drove the car several
times when they were trying it out different places. On the way out to
salt...no, I think it happened out on the salt flats, when he jumped
the trailer and his hand caught that cable and the cable was frayed and
gash in one finger. As a matter of fact that finger now is still stiff.
happened to be there and he said he’d do it [drive the car]. Actually,
pretty simple to do. It could go much faster than it went.
your dad happy with Tom as the driver?
And for a long time, in the later part of Tom’s life, he seemed to
think he did
more than he really did. And you know, he did drive it and he broke the
But dad built the car.
and Tom broke it and held it for only
three days. That must have been a huge disappointment.
it was a big disappointment to him. But then again, it was his brother
broke it. Him and my dad were feuding because of competition and
wives and so forth. But when Arthur did crash out there dad got on an
right away and flew out there. He took a night flight out because he
see him before...because nobody had ever lived through anything over
so dad and him became good friends after that. And they were very, very
when they were working together.
they made up after Art had that big
It was because my dad flew out there that gave them an excuse to make
And they did. But then, you know, in 1960, dad put a jet engine in a
Arthur was still working with the Allisons and stuff like that. But
didn’t really want to go to jets. In ’59 dad built that jet, and
running it in late ’59 and early ’60, and was doing quite well with it.
of people wanted to see it run on a track so he was making good money
And then dad built several more of them. Then Art started, I don’t know
finally built a jet car, but it was ’62 or so. But dad started it. Down
Columbus there was an old navy fighter, of course it was obsolete, an
with two J-46s in it. And they went down and got that. They gave it to
taking it away. Dad ended up using the engines out of that for drag
’59 he built one with a jet engine but didn’t have an afterburner.
was a drag strip car, right? Not a land
an exhibition car.
mention Romeo Palamides et. al. having a jet car
on the West Coast.]
had one before Palamides did. He had the first one. I guarantee you
wasn’t a real streamlined thing.
no, it was an open cockpit, rear-engine dragster. They put the engine
in at a
two-degree angle so the nose would want to stay on the ground.
mention seeing an article from around 1956
in which Art and Walt speak of wanting to go after the LSR.]
yeah. When they were kids they had an infatuation with Malcolm Campbell
kind of guy was Bobby Tatroe?
would drive anything dad built. One time they built a car powered by
mean you talk about something that was fast, this thing was fast. The
car, loaded with water and everything in it, it had a tank, converted
steam, it was just a needle valve and a big tank and when you stepped
throttle it would pull the needle valve out of the hole a little bit,
was unbelievable. You heated the water to a certain temperature and you
car. But as the car ran down the strip it got lighter and lighter
the [declining] water weight. Well, Bobby drove that the first time,
and one of
our Goodyear photographers, Bob Stamm, he has been taking pictures of
for years, he didn’t even get the thing on the camera except for a
of the rear end of it because it accelerated so fast. But anyhow, that
crashed. Bobby was driving it. He didn’t get hurt. As a matter of fact
him to the hospital that day, and he said he was more scared of the
ride I gave
him that he was of that car. Bobby was a good guy. He got along with
He was personable, very friendly.
was this steam dragster run?
1960s. I have some documentation of that and some pictures of it.
it have come after the rocket car?
No. It was before the Bonneville car. It was to be an exhibition drag
the rocket car] dad put four wheels on it. The ones in the front only
two inches between them. But they were worried about tires blowing out.
course they always did because nobody had ever run that fast. Well, dad
two-inch steel plate between the driver and the tires, so if anything
wouldn’t have gotten to the driver. That car was tremendously
hit the wrong button. And those JATO bottles didn’t have any way of
them off. So dad put retro-fires on all of them. What it did was it
blew a hole
through the front of them. Well, there were so many buttons and levers
thing that—there were two different sets of rockets, a row of ten and
another row of five. But anyhow, that’s what happened out there. Bobby
wrong switch just as he was about to go into the second stage of the
thing was going five hundred and some miles an hour. I’ve never seen
in my life like that. The car was flat on the back. Well, the exhaust
at Mach five, so you could see the rings in the exhaust when that
pictures of it. You can see the top five, exhaust rings there, on an
afterburner car that’s the exhaust coming out at the speed of sound or
Each ring was.
anyway, dad and I were running a little Mustang, we were out probably
miles from where Bobby was starting, and he ignited all the rockets. It
big green puff, because those things were solid fuel assist bottles.
And all of
a sudden there was a hole—you couldn’t hear any noise—all of a sudden
a hole in this green stuff, which was the car which blew that away
green stuff came out and it was accelerating. But it was accelerating
fast—there’s just no doubt in my mind that it would have went over six
because the exhaust was coming out like five times the speed of sound,
that exhaust quit the wind wrapped right around the back of that thing
could hear it, whoooo, you could hear
it slowing down. It was very flat in the back so the wind tried to stop
was a really good design, way ahead of its time. But unfortunately,
had the retro-fires, it did quite a bit of damage on the inside, where
engines were mounted. We knew it was going to but we never thought we
have to use it.
guess with fifteen JATO bottles, making a
run must have been expensive.
were 25 of them. They used to cost about a thousand dollars. They were
They had a 15 second duration, or 30 second, I don’t remember exactly
they had no way of shutting them off. They had to be able to shut them
I understand it the bottles didn’t all
blow at once, but came on in stages.
is all from memory, but what there were 15 bottles in the back, which
15,000 pounds thrust, and there were 5 on each side of the car. So
there was a
total of 25,000 pounds of thrust.
if Bobby hadn’t made a mistake hitting those buttons, it might
have worked out differently.
it definitely would have worked out differently. We had made other
runs using five bottles or this or that, just so we knew what we were
But we had to change all those 25 bottles in less than an hour. So we
all down pat, there was one bolt that held them in, it went into a
had to take the bolt out and light the bottle out of the slot. We had
down pat. Everything was “go.” It was just that the retro-fires went
seems to me that only the ones in the two side compartments went off.
newspaper clipping from Salt Lake City that shows, I believe, an aerial
it, of the retro-fire going off. [see Deseret
News, Oct. 20, 1965, p. D1.] They said it was the fastest
the quarter mile they had ever recorded. It was just unbelievable. See,
was just sheer power. There were no fuel tanks or nothing else.
a Goodyear guy, could you tell me a
little about security? Were you given warnings about keeping things
absolutely. We were in competition with Firestone at that time. As a
fact the reason they hired me was for the drag racing end of it. That’s
got started. But I worked at Indianapolis later on, like when Bobby
the record in ’68, I was there. It was several years that I was in
the Indianapolis racing, I was in charge of that section at particular
we would divide it up. Competition was fun down there. We’d go down and
them and they’d come down and spy on us. We had a tent set up where
couldn’t see us taking tire temperatures and so forth, and whether
any different design looking tires.
you have binoculars?
They had a grandstand at one end and they let people in. Well, me or
Firestone engineer could go in there and sit and use binoculars and
and clock ‘em with stopwatches and so forth. On gasoline alley we would
three tents on pit road, with half the tent over the wall and half over
lane. What we’d do, the cars would come off the track and come in hot
right into the tent and we’d take the tire temperatures, and we had the
in there too so they couldn’t see anything other than when the car went
onto the track.
that kind of thing go on at Bonneville
but not nearly as—Bonneville was more of an open plain. Usually the
be the ones who would be telling each thing that was happening. I know
was down there with Breedlove it took him forever to do anything. He
some runs and then he’d—one time the thing exploded, the engine stalled
then relit and exploded most of the inside of it and we had to rebuild
gave a hand doing that stuff too, because that was part of the deal.
uncle Art and Craig Breedlove were very
different. Art would just get in his car and go for the record, whereas
Breedlove would take a week or two.
was different. He was different. Arthur just went up there and did it.
course, that’s what they did their whole life. [Mentions Art’s
J-79.] What happened was, a B-58 Hustler crashes in Dayton, and Arthur
down and bought the scrap and was able to make an engine run. GE heard
and came up and said, “You can’t have this engine. It’s classified.” He
“Bullshit. It’s my engine. I made it run.” And he did. And they
also, he made the thing so it would run inverted. Because the crank
case was on
the bottom, which didn’t get the engine close enough to the ground. GE
did that. They said it couldn’t be done. Well, Arthur did it.
about your dad? Was he like Art, just
get in the car and get it over, or was he closer to Breedlove?
have to classify him as not as extreme as Breedlove and not as extreme
Arthur. I’d put him in the middle. He was more cautious with the people
were driving. There was never any intention of my dad driving the
the rocket car. Bobby from the start was there and he usually drove
exhibition cars for dad. Bobby was a good friend of dad’s. Dad like him.
you were at Bonneville with the rocket
car, was there a Firestone guy or two hanging around there, watching?
that I was aware of.
think my brother would have probably picked up most of this stuff and
running it if he hadn’t been killed. The two people in this racing, and
mean this to offend my father at all, because he’s a genius, but my
[Craig] and Art were just alike. They were so smart when it came to
Arthur could make anything run, put anything together. He was just
sharp. Dad was too, but I think Arthur and Craig [Arfons] stood out
rest of them. Craig could rebuild the fuel control on a J-85, which GE
did. They said it was too hard to do, so they charged $45,000 for a
control. And Craig would rebuild them. He was just good.
he involved in the Wingfoots at all, or
was he too young?
he was involved. But you know, as a kid would have been. He was seven
younger than I was.
was born in 1949?
He was 39 when he got killed.
he go out to Bonneville with your dad?
he was out there. He pretty much went wherever my dad was. Him and my
real close. You know how they are with the youngest kid.
Craig able to help out on the crew?
know, I don’t—yeah, he was there when they were practicing changing the
and packing the chutes, so I know he had a responsibility, but right
can’t remember what it was. [Craig would have been about 16 when Walt
Tatroe were running the rocket car.] But he did have something to do.
always kept him busy.
you by any chance there when Art test
fired that J-79 for the first time?
was there. I don’t know if I was there the first time, but he used to
do it so
much. They both did. They both would take them out behind the mill
strap them—Arthur buried some big scrap iron under the ground and put a
cable up and he would pull against that. One time it actually pulled
right out of the ground. They never had any trouble with hurting
were lucky enough to catch it in time. But those things—and when they
stalls, that’s when the fire goes out in the middle of the engine and
relights, it’s quite noisy and it’ll lift the car off the ground. That
a lot when they were bleeding the fuel lines and stuff. There was a lot
interest around. All the neighbors would complain about the windows
broken in their houses. But pretty much Art and dad knew what they were
had a very successful feed mill business, but they let it go to pot
with the mill, it wasn’t just that the
business dried up. They neglected it.
absolutely. They had somebody running it. Of course, the farms were
changed over to housing projects, but there are still a lot of farms
here. No, but the feed mill business, it was feed and hardware and they
poultry [garbled] and stuff like that. It was quite profitable when
But then it went downhill from there, which is understandable, they
attention, they were not there very much.
about Art and Walt first starting out in drag racing.] Arthur had
purchased an Allison engine from Winers. They bought salvage stuff from
As a matter of fact they could have bought P-51 Mustangs for $1200 in a
you can believe that or not. And they used to buy BT-13s, which were
They taxi them in the corn fields, between the telephone poles because
wings were too wide. They’d bring them to the shop and chop the tail
wings off. Oh they got in a lot of trouble. They used to play
with airplanes and motorcycles, they used to do some really different
ask about Terry's uncle Dale.]
was a black sheep. He was different. He wanted to be involved in it
racing] because they were getting some notoriety. At one time he drove
the cars at a roundy-round speedway here in Barberton and flipped it
brought his collar bone. But he never was—he was just a different kind
person. He was Art’s half brother and my dad’s full brother. He finally
up killing himself. He lost both of his legs, from sugar I guess. And
was exploding—he was a demolitions expert I guess.
heard that some dynamite went off in
he blew his hand off, and one eye and one ear. He wasn’t able to use
Yeah, he was different, he was a black sheep. He was definitely not
or my dad. As a matter of fact, when Tom Arfons died he left the
third to my dad, a third to Arthur and a third to Bessie.
didn’t he leave any to Dale?
Dale was the black sheep. Tom adopted him and tried to do everything
but Dale would steal stuff form him—it was just, he was the black sheep.
Dale work for the Bureau of Land
Management or something like that?
he was a constable.
does that mean?
like a sheriff for animals and stuff like that. He would be responsible
clocking people in cars. They did animals and people.
of like a park ranger?
Well, kind of like that, but at that time I don’t think they had park
He didn’t work at it all that long. To be truthful, I think most of his
experience was with one of the rubber companies. So did my dad, before
the mill. But Dale, he was different.