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Nolan White, 71; Hot-Rod Driver Set Speed Records

October 22, 2002|From a Times Staff Writer

Hot-rodder Nolan White of San Diego, who last August set a land-speed record for piston-engine cars, died Sunday at the University of Utah Medical Center in Salt Lake City of injuries suffered in a crash Thursday on the Bonneville Salt Flats. He was 71.

White, driving Spirit of Autopower, a streamliner powered by twin supercharged Chevrolet engines, averaged 413.156 mph for two runs on the salt Aug. 12 in the Southern California Timing Assn. speed trials. That meet was not sanctioned by the Federation International de Automobile and White was attempting to match or better that speed for that organization's recognition when he crashed last week.

He had just gone through the speed traps at the end of the measured mile, at 422 mph, on the first of the required two runs. His three braking parachutes were all on the same tether, which broke. White's car veered off the course as he tried to slow it for four miles with on-board brakes and engine compression, then, nearing Interstate 80 at the south end of the course, he tried to turn the vehicle in wet salt. Instead, the car rolled several times and White suffered multiple injuries. He died without regaining consciousness.

A longtime competitor on the Salt Flats, White and his son and partner Rick were leaders in the quest for speed in piston-driven cars, although the much faster jet-powered cars draw most of the attention. The world land-speed record is 763.035 mph, set in 1997 at Black Rock Desert, Nev., by Englishman Andy Green, a Royal Air Force pilot who broke the sound barrier in a car powered by twin jet engines.

White's record-setting run in August also was not without incident. Traveling at more than 400 mph, with half a mile to go on the second run, a tire blew.

"I was not about to shut the car down and was adamant that I would get through the [timing] lights," he said at the time. "I've had a half-dozen flat tires at 400 mph. It's a real comfortable car. I've been doing this for 45 years. Once you are comfortable in your car, it doesn't bother you. If it bothered me, I'd quit."

White also lost his braking parachutes when the tether broke in that incident, but managed to stop the car in slushy salt.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete Monday.

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