Arfons began on the road to the land speed record by accident--almost literally. An avid pilot, he drove to the Akron airport one Sunday to discover that the road was blocked and lined with people. He thought there had been a plane crash, but it turned out to be a drag race on the runway. He was instantly converted to the sport.
He and his older brother Walter put together a dragster that they called the Green Monster because they painted it with left-over green tractor paint. It could do only 85 mph. But the brothers kept working at it, building one Green Monster after another, culminating in a jet dragster that Art drove 342 mph at the Bonneville, UT, Salt Flats in the fall of 1960.
That was still more than 50 mph short of the 1947 record set by John Cobb. The brothers broke apart for unexplained reasons and Walter prepared a car for Tom Green, who raised the land speed record to 413.2 mph on Oct. 2, 1964. Three days later Art did 434 mph in the latest Green Monster.
Craig Breedlove raised the mark to 526.28 mph on Oct. 16, and Art regained the record with 536.71 mph on Oct. 27. Breedlove came back a little more than a year later, averaging 555.127 mph on Nov. 3, 1965.
Art was ready to re-take the record four days later, but a right tire exploded on his second run when he was averaging more than 577 mph. He survived, and made his last try on Nov. 17, 1966. By then, Breedlove's record was 600.6 mph.
Arfons was doing more than 600 mph when a wheel came off his car. Again, he survived without serious injury, but he never made another run at the land speed record.
He did occasionally do drag racing exhibitions, but after his car went out of control and killed three spectators in 1971, he quit entirely.