Thrust: Through the Sound Barrier by Richard Noble and David Tremayne

Thrust: Through the Sound Barrier by Richard Noble and David Tremayne
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Book Review by Richard Parks, Photographic Consultant Roger Rohrdanz

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Sir Richard Noble has produced a book that belongs in every hot rodder and racing enthusiast’s library. It is a detailed and fact filled book that will educate even the most knowledgeable automobile racing expert. Thrust; Through the Sound Barrier tells the story of how men and women took on the challenge of designing, building, funding and then making their dreams come true. It tells the story in a no-nonsense and factual way, of how the landspeed record went supersonic. The photos are exceptional, but in no way crowd out the text. The writing style is quick and interesting. The material is written in an easy to understand manner and yet conveys all the technical aspects that you need to know. The index is far superior to anything that I’ve ever reviewed. But it is the honesty and openness of the writers and their enthusiasm for what they are doing that is contagious. Richard Noble is one of the most likable characters you will ever meet in racing, and his style in person or in the book is infectious. Yet this man has dominated landspeed racing since the 1980’s in ways that no one ever has.

Thrust; Through the Sound Barrier, was written by Richard Noble and David Tremayne, and is an eight by ten-inch, hard cover book, published by Partridge Press, in 1998. The book is 320 pages on glossy paper and is suitable as a standard text or coffee table book. It has a distinctive purple book jacket that portrays the car and Richard Noble. There are approximately 171 photos, almost all them in color, with an additional 23 sketches, maps, diagrams and charts. In addition there are 8 pages of appendices showing all sorts of records, dates of events, logs of speeds and a complete record of every landspeed record setter since 1898. Finally, there are 7 pages of index so that the reader can track down any statistic or fact in an instant. The book is divided into 22 easy chapters, each about 14 pages long. The price was listed at 20 pounds, which is roughly $35, and is truly worth every penny, for you will pick this book up to read and refer to often. Andy Green, the driver of the car and several others who worked on the car, assisted in the preparation of the book. Both Richard Noble and Andy Green have been awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) for their achievements in landspeed racing. This entitles them to use Sir as a title out of the respect the British people have for these eminent men of speed who represent their country with such dignity. David Tremayne is a freelance writer who covers motorsport racing and has written several books. 

Noble begins with his childhood in Scotland and how his father inspired him with a love for speed. Noble’s life is always brought back to the life of speed. He takes part in an expedition through Africa, and then returned to England with plans to build a landspeed car to reclaim the record for Great Britain. Thrust1 was a car that looked more like a formula car with a huge front wing on a dragster body, but Noble was on his way to fulfilling his dreams. Richard Noble has succeeded where many have failed and part of the reason is his ability to get talented people to help him. Probably his most valuable assistant is his wife Sally, who has been a constant source of support and encouragement from the very beginning. But Noble has the ability to charm the devil and he uses his talents to the maximum. He is simply a man that doesn’t have any enemies. To talk to Noble is to fall under his spell and come to believe that the impossible is simply an idea that doesn’t exist. Noble sold the idea to his friends George Myers, Mark Rasmussen and Simon Chapman. Then he found a designer of genius in John Ackroyd and Thrust2 came into existence, propelling Noble to the World Land Speed Record in 1983. Noble comes in at the end of an era that began in the 1960’s when the Americans had taken over the World Land Speed Record in both jet and piston technology. Men such as Art Arfons and Craig Breedlove rushed to breathtaking records daily at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Western Utah. The excitement and temper of the times would dwindle away and Gary Gabelich’s record of 622.407 mph would languish for 13 years before Richard Noble finally had a car that could snatch away the record.

Noble set the new record and increased it to 633 mph, and though the Americans thought about taking it back, no one seriously challenged the record until 1997, when Craig Breedlove and his Spirit of America went to Black Rock Desert in Northern Nevada to face Noble’s new Thrust SST. John Ackroyd was now helping Breedlove, and Noble had Ron Ayer and Glynne Bowsher. The story isn’t only about the landspeed record but the sacrifices of literally thousands of people to put these two cars on the playa in the attempt at the record. The Mach One Club would raise money for Noble’s expenses, and many of the members would take their savings and vacations from work by helping to staff the event, work on the car or provide security. Wives would cook and bring food to the workers on the course. Men, women and even children would walk down the 13-mile long course fodding and removing the rocks and debris off the track. The work was endless and the conditions harsh. Noble estimated that the work and materials donated came to over $30 million dollars, including the donated labor of all involved. No estimate was ever known by Craig Breedlove’s group, though it was substantial. Some days the cars wouldn’t run. Some days the conditions were windy and too dangerous to run. There would be severe ups and downs before one group would be ultimately successful and the other team would go home without the record. Landspeed racing isn’t packed with a lot of thrills and chills, but the excitement is just as real and exhilarating.

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The ThrustSSC

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This aerial photo shows ThrustSSC’s shock wave is clearly visible, fanning out from the front wheels.

Thrust Through the Sound Barrier ....Richard Noble's book with contributions from Andy Green and others, in hardback, signed by Richard Noble can be found at www.amazon.com or at www.bookfinder.com