No one does something this crazy alone.
Like good news and bad news, it had to come in threes.
First, there had to be someone whose dream it was to break the world record for fastest mile in a street car. Then, there had to be someone to help build the car. Finally, they needed perhaps the most daring character itself, a chariot to chase windmills: the car with the pedigree to do it.
And, like anything else wacky, it doesn’t hurt if this all happens in South Florida. Dreams this big and crazy always have something to do with South Florida.
“Going 250 (mph) in a car was a bucket-list thing for me,” explains Johnny Bohmer, 52, a West Palm Beach resident who did that and much more. “I love going fast. I’m a speed junkie.”
In October, with the innovation of lead designer Matt Lundy, a 25-year-old reformed street-rod racer, and his own $170,000 Ford GT — augmented with untold dollars and countless hours in their small shop near the Palm Beach International Airport— Bohmer broke the Guinness World Record for fastest street car by going zero-to-283 mph in a mile.
Actually, they broke their own previous record of 223 mph, which they set as a baseline knowing they could go even faster.
And the Big Three aren’t done yet. The 300-mph barrier awaits as the ultimate test later this year, for driver, designer and machine.
‘Doing crazy things’
This racing dream team wasn’t built overnight.
Bohmer started riding motorcycles at 7 like his two much-older brothers, and then racing on dirt tracks at 9, near Lexington, Kentucky. As a teenager, when he wasn’t in school, working in a coal mine or working at a horseracing track, he was restoring classic muscle caras and motorcycles and flipping them for cash.
“Motorcycle racing. Jumping cars. I’ve done some crazy things,” Bohmer said.
Restoring cars became an obsession that eventually led him to buy a load of broken down forklifts. He would use them to move here and open a heavy-equipment sales and rental business in West Palm Beach, near Military Trail, that he would own for more than 20 years.
But cars were still his weakness.
With business soaring, he bought a brand new 2006 Ford GT from Wayne Akers Ford in Lake Worth for the sticker price of $170,000.
“He wanted the car in the worst way,” remembers the salesman Tom Donlin. “Johnny decided, ‘I got to have one of these.’”
But he had a bigger, secret plan. He had bought the white Ford with the blue racing stripes — a car whose heritage traces back to the Ford GT40, the first American car to win the 24 Hours of LeMans — to help it break another kind of record.
Bohmer decided he wanted to make the Ford GT the fastest street-legal car to run a standing mile. That is, racing from a standstill to reaching one mile faster than any other car, at the highest top speed on record.
So, at its height in 2007, he sold his business at its height and the surrounding real estate he’d bought over the years for millions, he said, with the goal of going faster than anyone had gone before.
“I dumped all my money into this racing stuff with a dream,” Bohmer said. “I wanted to do something nobody else was doing.”
Within a week, the brand-new GT was in pieces in his garage, as he began to work. He tore off the Ford’s original supercharger and installed a pair of twin turbos he designed and already the Ford was inching past the 200 mph mark.
Despite his self-taught mechanics, he need someone with vision to move his dream forward.
And that’s when he met a “cocky” kid less than two years out of trade school.
‘The missing piece’
Neither Matt Lundy nor the single mother who raised him was sure what he was going to grow up to be.
He was accepted to the prestigious Durham School of the Arts, which U.S. News ranked the top high school in North Carolina, where he studied set and lighting design, but preferred to spend his evenings working on his Hondas and at a local restaurant to pay for parts.
He had learned the ins and outs of engines working on a boat and the Dodge Dakota used to haul it from his grandfather, a former Naval engineer. He became well-known on street-rod message boards, and soon people were bringing him their cars for Lundy to tune into speedsters.
He learned to race, he says reluctantly, “on the roadways, running from the cops,” he said. “I got a lot of speeding tickets.”
The creativity that art school sparked in him eventually ignited in car building. He created parts when they weren’t available. He’d mold headlights out of plastic in his mother’s garage. And he’d intuit new ways to make engines produce more power.
He decided to study cars at the Universal Technical Institute in Orlando, but instead of following his passion for cars, he decided to learn to work on heavy equipment — such as forklifts — because that’s where the jobs were.
It’s tedious work. Something that might take 20 minutes to fix on a car — say, changing the starter — takes easily two hours on a forklift. But it requires a patient attention to detail.
“Working on a forklift is 10 times more difficult than working on a car,” Bohmer said.
When Lundy was a year out of school, a mutual friend told Bohmer there was a precocious kid who knew all about heavy equipment, but was also into tuning cars.
Meanwhile, Bohmer had hit a wall. Broken transmissions and smoldering, blown engines had kept him just on the other side of 200 mph.
“I was on this quest and it was just failure after failure,” Bohmer said.
The first time Bohmer and Lundy met, there was instant chemistry. Lundy — sharp, savvy and weight-lifter big with a tattoo on his inside right bicep that reads “Made in America” — was just the missing piece.
“If you’ve got two people who really want to do something, you can make it happen,” Bohmer said. “Matt brought fresh ideas and he’s been willing to work hard.”
They redesigned the Ford GT and worked in handmade parts from a protoype metal called Pandalloy, which Pratt and Whitney innovated initially for the space shuttle and have licensed to Bohmer to see if he can find uses for it in the automotive market. “He’s a very aggressive, dynamic person who has a unique skill set,” said Jeff Haynes, of Pratt and Whitney. “We follow him, we support him and we continue to work with him.”
All the while, Lundy came up with designs, from the placement of water coolants to designing an entire intercooler system, that challenged convention.
“I’ve never been close-minded to change,” Lundy said.
In April of 2010, after less than two years working with Lundy, Bohmer strapped into his Ford GT at a private airstrip in Ochopee, and unofficially ran his car, from a standstill to a mile at 252.97 mph.
The Ford engineer who designed the Ford GT, who had seen the car run, told Bohmer their design had only been able to reach 228 mph in a wind tunnel.
The YouTube video of the feat was seen more than 200,000 times.
But now Bohmer needed to make it official.
The only cure for speed
To do so, his Ford GT — which he estimated has been “90 percent” modified, but still retains the original engine block — had to fulfill certain requirements. The car has to be titled so it can be driven on roads, and all the usual components — from a stock passenger seat to indicators, air conditioning and windshield wipers — had to work.
No problem, he said, since this car was also the one he often took his son to school in or used to swoop in the drive through at McDonald’s.
Next, he invited the Guinness record-book officials — at a cost of more than $10,000 — to time and certify the attempt and the International Mile Racing Association to oversee it. And, to complete the spectacle, they did it at the space shuttle’s landing strip. Their research and development testing got them access to NASA’s Shuttle Landing Facility at Merritt Island — the smoothest 3.5 miles of asphalt in the world.
And in less than 15 seconds, history.
The car accelerated through 283.232 mph as it crossed the 1-mile mark. The YouTube video of the event — and of Bohmer and Lundy accepting the Guinness plaque — has been seen more than 360,000 times.
Bohmer’s goal was to not just establish American muscle as the owner of the “world’s fastest” record, but to show the results of what ingenuity, and new materials, could mean for the future of automobiles.
This year, he and Lundy expect to take the Ford GT past the final frontier: beyond 300 mph.
“The car has it in it,” Bohmer said.
It will be a bittersweet moment, Bohmer said, because he expects to retire from speed-record chasing afterward. Instead, he and Lundy will focus on different aspects of automotive research through his company, Power Performance Racing, that they hope will help improve the auto industry.
It seems there is only one cure for the obsession with speed.
“If you break 300,” Bohmer said, “what are you going to do after that?”