Jet Driver Dies in Flaming Crash
By Marion Dunn
Tribune Sports Writer
BONNEVILLE SALT FLATS—Young Glenn Leasher wanted to set a world's land speed record in his jet car "Infinity" here Monday morning so he could hurry back to Burlingame, Calif., where he planned to announce for the first time his secret marriage to Lynn Bostic. Instead he kept a rendezvous with death.
LEASHER, 26, was killed when his car exploded and disintegrated at a speed estimated in the high 300s in what was to be a leisurely trial run shortly after 9 a.m. Monday.
The drag race driver had made one run Monday morning and was to try a slow run, going for the first time from the north end of the track to the south.
HE FIRED up the car five-eighths of a mile from the measured mile, then released the brakes and roared into the mile at what must have been a fantastic speed. Suddenly the car disintegrated.
Two explosions, a small one and a louder one, were heard. There was a sheet of flame, then smoke, silence and death.
The tragic accident ended a story that promised to be of rags-to-riches tale unparalleled in land speed record history.
Leasher was driver of an assault team headed by Romeo Palamides, Harry Burdg and Victor Elischer, all of Oakland.
The team was low on money. But the early runs Saturday and Sunday were so impressive that everyone got behind them. Even such salt flats veterans as Bill Backman, Earl Heath, Ted Gillette, Frank Erickson and Joe Petrali believed this was the car that would break John Cobb's 15-year-old record of 394.2 mph.
LEASHER was anxious to get it over with. The team stayed up Sunday night working on the car to get it ready for an early Monday run. It was the 12th consecutive day they had put in working on the car. The team wanted to get the record, get off the flats and celebrate.
Leasher particularly wanted to get it over with. He and Lynn, married in secret last January, planned to announce their marriage the day he returned with the record.
The team, short on financing, but high on the "Infinity" and their own ability, arrived on the salt flats last Saturday night.
They drove right through nearby Wendover and onto the salt flats for a trial run.
It was after sunset but they wanted a run at 150 mph and they accomplished this.
In this first run they set a pattern they had perfected on the drag strips of California.
Instead of going to the far end of the land speed track, which would give them a run of five miles after the measured mile, they put the "Infinity" a bare five-eighths of a mile from the measured mile.
THEY FIRED up the engine, Leasher kept his feet on the brakes until he built up the power, then released the brakes and the car leaped forward into the measured mile.
Saturday morning the team made another run and this time Leasher was clocked at 247 mph.
Here death issued an ever-so-slight warning that it was waiting for the proper moment to embrace Leasher.
Leasher popped his parachute brake just after coming out of the measured mile. It was too soon.
The chute jerked the car off the salt, actually pulling it into the air for a few seconds. But it rolled to a clean easy stop a half mile off the track.
Ambulance drivers Ted Gillette and Frank Erickson raced to the car. When they arrived Leasher was outside appearing calm and collected. "You look calm enough," Erickson said.
"I'm not, that aged me 10 years," Leasher answered.
LATER Sunday Leasher made another run from south to north and this time was clocked at 330 mph, but crew members and Leasher felt he hit around 375 mph at his peak speed.
Buoyed by this run, the team announced it would try for the record of 394.2 mph Monday morning.
But the team changed, parachutes, going to lighter ones and wanted one run to test the chutes.
On the run he was clocked at 278 mph, but jokingly told United States Auto Club timer Joe Petrali, "Heck, I read 290."
At first the crew planned to tow the "Infinity" back to the south end of the measured mile, inflate the tires to high speed pressure and make two runs for the record.
But Leasher had made all his runs from south to north and the team felt he should make one slow run from north to south to get the "feel" of the track from that direction.
HE SAID HE would at low speed and not even use his chute to stop.
But, apparently, sitting alone in the cockpit, he changed his mind and death climbed in as co-pilot.
Because this was no slow ride. It was a fast ride—a terribly fast ride—to Infinity,
After the car was started, he sat on the brakes for what seemed to team members an extra long time letting the power build up.
Then he released the brakes and shot forward into the measured mile.
David Petrali, Joe's son who was on the phone at the start of the mile, was closest to him at this time and said: "He moved into the mile and turned the afterburner on full. Then he shut off the burner and suddenly the car just seemed to disintegrate and scatter over the salt flats, way off the track."
The Salt Lake Tribune, Tuesday, September 11, 1962
BONNEVILLE SALT FLATS—The jinx that has made John Cobb's land speed record of 394.6 mph untouchable for 15 years still hung over the track here Monday and for the second time in two years death marred a bid to better that mark.
TWO YEARS AGO, on Aug. 1, 1960, Salt Laker Athol Graham crashed his car in a record attempt Athol died in a Salt Lake hospital about two hours after the accident. Monday, another young driver, Glenn Leasher, originally from Wichita, Kan., but recently living in Burlingame, Calif., was killed instantly when his jet car, "Infinity," exploded and scattered across the flats.
Excerpt - The Salt Lake Tribune, Tuesday, September 11, 1962, Whodunnit by Marion Dunn
Alma O. Buckler Chambers