Engineers Win When Cars Break Land Speed Records

Superior automotive engineering can be traced to speed record attempts.

1885 Benz Patent-Motorwagen 1

Since the birth of the automobile back in 1885 man has constantly pushed the boundaries of how fast he can travel. Even today, that fact rings true and on April 21st and 22nd the Edison 2 team will make a trial run at a land speed record for the sub-250cc class at the Daytona speedway.  I’ll be there with a camera crew to bring you the results.

While Edison2 might be one of the most recent teams to try and reset the land speed record, within 15 years of the automobile’s invention, engineers were already proving that a carriage powered by chemical energy could leave even the fleetest horse-drawn carriage in the dust.

Since that time, single engine cars with puny displacements have given way to rocket powered behemoths that are more plane than auto. Today’s records are still driven by man’s ambition to explore the boundaries of engineering, a fact that’s certainly true for Edison2’s Very Light Car.

Over the past few decades, engineers and designers at Edison2 have accumulated quite a racing pedigree, including multiple wins at Daytona. In particular, The Edison2 team believes one racing story serves as a touchstone for their ambition.

Frank Lockhart’s Stutz Black Hawk 1

Back in 1928 a number of teams were vying for land speed records along the Florida coast. In the early spring, vehicles raced up and down sandy Daytona Beach pushing the limits of man and machine. On April 25, Frank Lockhart climbed inside his Stutz Black Hawk racer hoping to add his name to land speed history. Only three days earlier, Ray Keech had driven his Triplex Special, powered by three airplane engines, across the same stretch of beach. During that run Ray had notched a top speed of 207.55mph to mark a new world land speed record. With the sand still settling from Keech’s run, Lockhart floored the gas in his Indianapolis-built auto and raced down the Atlantic shore.

After the first run, Lockhart had come just shy of meeting Keech’s record. Turning the car around, Frank mashed his accelerator and pushed the aerodynamic Black Hawk to its limits. Unfortunately, somewhere along that stretch of beach Frank’s car blew a tire. It spun out of control at 225mph and Lockhart died instantly.

Though Lockhart’s death was certainly a tragedy, the Edison2 team is preserving his and the Stutz Black Hawk’s legacies.

Keech’s automotive leviathan may be the car in the record books, but the Stutz Black Hawk is remembered not only for its top speed, but also for its engineering prowess. Sporting an engine that was a mere 4% the size of Keech’s racer, Lockhart’s vehicle wasn’t a brute force machine; it was an advancement in the state of the art.

The Edison VLC 1

Similar to the Edison2’s VLC, the Black Hawk was light, efficient and remarkably streamlined. Taking a few cues from Lockhart’s racer, Edison2’s engineers have furthered the idea that a lightweight, hyper-efficient car can set records.

“We think the absolute virtues of light weight and low aerodynamic drag are as valid today as at Daytona Beach in 1928.” said Ron Mathis, Edison2’s Design Chief. “We have made the conscious decision to take efficiency as seriously as we possibly can and we’ve built a car that both pays proper homage to history and incorporates the best of the new.”

By investing in advanced aerodynamics and a weight of less than 1,000 lbs, the Very Light Car team has taken efficiency to the extreme.  They are on course to advance automotive design and possibly set a land speed record themselves.

Although ambition and engineering know-how are the crux of any land speed record attempt, tools play an important role in turning a record-breaking idea into a machine that can outperform. For Edison2, one of the most important tools was their design software, Siemens’ Solid Edge monthly subscription software.

With Solid Edge, Edison2’s engineers could be confident that everything – from components being sent to the machine shop to larger assemblies – would work just as well in reality as they did in their CAD models. The subscription-based software also allowed Edison2 to bring in the design savvy of experts from across the globe by simply adding a license whenever extra expertise was needed on a monthly basis.

Frank Lockhart 1

In the end, the land speed record is a perfect encapsulation of what it means to explore and push the limits of human ability. When we engineer complex systems we reach outside of ourselves and harness physical phenomena to extraordinary results.  At the same time we also gain a better understanding of the world that surrounds us.

Whether for commercial promotion, unbridled ambition or pure scientific discovery, every attempt at a land speed record is both an exploration into the unknown and a rediscovery of what it means to be human. I think Frank Lockhart would have agreed.

To learn more about Solid Edge monthly subscription

To learn more about Solid Edge 45 day free trial

Solid Edge University – Atlanta – May 12-14, 2014


Read More About Edison2’s VLC:

Edison2’s VLC History

Designing an X-Prize Winning Car

The VLC’s Breakthrough Aerodynamics

Lighter is Safer: A New Paradigm in Automotive Design


Note: Siemens has sponsored promotion of their design software solutions on They have no editorial input to this post – all opinions are mine.

Kyle Maxey

Images Courtesy of Edison2