Behind The Scenes with the Record-Setting Speed Demon
It takes a lot to go from 0 to 470mph: guts, determination, planning, skill, teamwork, and a little bit of luck, to name just a few things. The Speed Demon team needed all of that and more to accomplish their number-one goal for 2020 Speed Week: setting the AA/Blown Fuel Streamliner record with a two-way average over 450mph (the record to break being 417.020mph set by Tom Burkland in 2004). They were also after the AA/Fuel Streamliner record of 448.757mph held by Danny Thompson. Both Burkland and Thompson used a pair of Hemis to set their records, whereas the Speed Demon opted for one 555c.i. twin-turbocharged Chevy big block.
The man behind the wheel of the Speed Demon is 72-year-old George Poteet. He’s been a fixture on the hot rodding scene for the last couple of decades and owns cars that have won both The Ridler Award and America’s Most Beautiful Roadster, plus many Goodguys Top 12 honors. He’s been over 400mph more times than all of the other drivers combined and has won the Hot Rod Magazine trophy eight times. Let’s take a look back at 2020 Speed Week through the eyes of the Speed Demon race team and their five-day thrash on the salt that led up to their 470.015mph record.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 8
The Speed Demon made three runs on the first day; a 377mph check-out run followed by a 411mph pass, and finally a 447mph blast. An oil fire in the engine compartment on the third run caused severe damage and completely burned the wiring harness off the car. The crew spent the rest of the afternoon analyzing the data, took most of the car apart, and pulled out the wounded big block.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 9
The Speed Demon team continued with repairs all day Sunday. The original plan was to replace the big block and install the smaller 442c.i. LS engine. With the big block out of the car, the team was able to better assess the damage. At this time, they changed their minds; they had seen the potential and decided to repair the big block. By Sunday evening the repairs were complete, the engine was back in, and the Speed Demon was ready for its fourth run early the next morning.
MONDAY, AUGUST 10
Monday morning’s first run was aborted when the streamliner stopped pulling between the first and second mile. Once back in the pits, the team discovered the pinion shaft in the rearend had given out. The team spent a couple hours replacing the rearend and headed back to the line for a fifth run. This time, the car dropped several cylinders, resulting in a 390mph effort. The problem was diagnosed and the Speed Demon returned to the starting line for a sixth run. Finally it made a solid run of 428mph, which was faster than the existing record, so the Speed Demon was off to impound for the night and would have a shot at the record the next morning.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 11
450mph! That’s a two-way average record of 439.246mph. The team was proud of their accomplishment, but they still had work to do. After analyzing the data and making their calculated adjustments, it was back to the starting line to try and better their new record. On their eighth run, Poteet stopped the clocks at 445mph (faster than their new record), so the Speed Demon was back in impound until the following morning.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 12
The car made a solid run of 433mph, but it was not fast enough to back up the record. When the car returned to the pits the team discovered a problem with the regulator that controls the CO2. Once it was fixed, it was back to the starting line for another try. The Speed Demon crossed the 5-mile mark at 469.298mph (with an exit speed of 477.050), its fastest run ever. With the first leg of the 450mph record complete, it was back to impound once again. While the team completed their basic maintenance, a crewman realized the car was missing seventh gear. After some tense moments, the crew thought they had it fixed but would have to wait until the morning to find out.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 13
Poteet is strapped into the car; the record is so close he can taste it. He attempts to start the car and the dash flashes red. Steve Watt, the crew chief, recalls, “He has no dash! He doesn’t know what gear he is in and he doesn’t know when to shift.” Engine builder Ken Duttweiler leaned in and told him, “Just wait until you feel it on the rev-limiter and shift.”
Poteet’s experience was now more valuable than ever. The man who has more 400mph runs than everyone else combined would have to travel the 5-mile course at over 400mph with no telemetry. The Speed Demon was pushed off the line and the crew hoped for the best. Poteet grabbed the gears as he flew past each mile marker, stopping the clocks at 470.733mph (with an exit speed of 481.576mph) resulting in a two-way average speed of 470.015mph.
The team came to Bonneville to set a record over 450mph, and in the end, the Speed Demon lived up to its name, crushing the record and earning the title of world’s fastest piston-powered wheel-driven car. “It was a goal we all had, to go over 450mph, but we never had a clue we were going to go 470,” Watt said.
Photos by Marc Gewertz