October 11

This Day in History

Automotive

Oct 11, 2008:

Blind driver breaks land-speed record

On this day in 2008, a man from Belgium named Luc Costermans sets a new world speed record for blind drivers: 192 mph. Costermans set the record in a borrowed Lamborghini Gallardo on a long, straight stretch of airstrip near Marseilles, France. He was accompanied by a carload of sophisticated navigational equipment as well as a human co-pilot, who gave directions from the Lamborghini's passenger seat.

The record Costermans broke had been set exactly three years before by the British driver Mike Newman. On that day, Newman had coaxed his 507-horsepower BMW M5 to a top speed of 178.5 mph. (Over a measured mile, Newman's speed averaged 167.32 mph.)  For his part, Newman had smashed a 2-year-old record—144.7 mph—that he had set himself in a borrowed Jaguar, just three days after he learned to drive. Unlike Costermans, Newman did not race with a co-pilot or a navigator. Instead, he got his father-in-law to zoom around the track behind him, shouting directions over the radio.

Both of these blind record-setters were all-around daredevils who raced all sorts of vehicles. In 2001, for example, Newman became the fastest blind motorcycle driver in the world (his record speed was 89 mph) just four days after learning to ride; five years later, Costermans flew a small airplane all around France. (He was joined by an instructor and a navigator.)  Another record-setter, an Englishman named Steve Cunningham, had set the land-speed record himself in 1999 (147 mph, while driving a £70,000 Chrysler Viper) at the same time that he held the sea-speed record for a blind sailor. In 2004, guided by sophisticated talking navigational software, Cunningham became the first blind pilot to circumnavigate the United Kingdom by air.

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