When Art Arfons or his brother Walt or their rival Craig Breedlove go streaking across the Utah desert at speeds that hover around 10 miles a minute (page 80) they are pursuing a goal that is probably as ancient as sport itself.
The business of getting somewhere faster than somebody else has long been the elemental form of athletic competition. It may be that the first sporting event in prehistory took place one balmy afternoon a couple of hundred thousand years ago when Joe Pleistocene met a saber-toothed tiger during a pleasant stroll in the sun and was suddenly forced into a race to determine whether he or the tiger could make it back to Joe's cave first.
Had the tiger won, it would simply have been dinner time again and this magazine, if it ever had appeared, probably would have been a cookbook. But because of a magnificent burst of speed only a few feet from the cave entrance, it was Joe who won—and ever since that first great athletic triumph, practically every game that man has devised to test his mettle has involved getting there first in one way or another. The baseball must get to the baseman's glove before the base runner reaches the base; the bird shot must reach a spot in the sky before the pheasant has left it; the hockey puck must move faster than the goalie's glove if there is to be a score.
Since winning or losing thus depends so often on how fast things move, it is not surprising that sportsmen have become intrigued with the notion of speed as something separate and distinct from the game. How fast does a hockey puck go as it whirs past the goalie? Somebody has gauged it at 188 miles per hour off the stick of a shooter like Bobby Hull. And how fast does Bobby himself go? About 28.
Jack Dempsey's jab has been clocked at 135 mph; Bill Tilden's serve at 120; and the head of Bobby Jones' driver at 112 mph as it swung through the air to launch a drive which traveled at 150. In most kinds of racing, split-second measurement is the stuff of which reputations are made and the beaten clock, not the bested opponent, is what makes a man famous. This magazine itself was born just in time to link Roger Bannister's name forever with the first four-minute mile.
What, you may say, is so great about running a mile in less than four minutes or even driving a car at 600 mph in an age when an astronaut can take a walk in space at 17,500 mph and not even feel he is moving? The answer is that the kind of speed a sportsman thrills to is never pursued in the isolation of empty space. It is, in every case, a contest with an immediate environment and thrilling to the exact degree that the handicap of the environment is overcome.
"Constellation was smashing through the seas, throwing spray and exuding power. We were up to eight knots as Eagle crossed," wrote America's Cup racer Bob Bavier in this magazine last summer, and the sensation of driving speed is in every word. Yet Connie's speed wasn't even a walk compared to the speeds that are attained over the Bonneville Flats.
The main point about speed is, you have to feel it. "I can write you pages of that lustfulness of moving swiftly," wrote that inward man, Lawrence of Arabia, sometime before he died on his fast motorbike. And Sir Malcolm Campbell took the joy of speed right back to Joe Pleistocene when he said, "I get the same thrill out of it that some men do hunting tigers."
We get a kick out of both.