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On Space Shuttle runway, Utah track director hits 270 mph in street-legal sports car

Published March 1, 2014 8:24 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Brian Smith spent Valentine's Day cherishing the love of his life: speed.

On a runway built for landing Space Shuttles, the single Miller Motorsports Park director drove a two-seat sports car at an unseen-on-this-Earth speed of 270.49 mph. And he was still accelerating when he had to begin braking.

"When you're running 270, you're basically covering about one-and-a-half football fields a second," Smith said. "You can run out of room pretty quick."

Smith was chosen for the Hennessey Venom GT's record-setting drive at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., because of his experience as a race car driver and, in particular, as a Michelin tire tester. Not only can Smith drive fast, he said, but he knows how to collaborate with engineers to make a vehicle go faster.

Obviously 270 mph is well short of the land-speed record of 761 mph, but Smith's achievement is noteworthy because he approached the speed of a dragster in a vehicle that you could conceivably drive — if you were willing to risk a pricey fender-bender — to the grocery store.

"You can't go in and utilize special tires or modify the body work," Smith says of the production car record. A news release says GPS was used to verify that the Venom GT broke a record for a production car set by Bugatti's Veyron Grand Sport.

The Kennedy Space Center's 3.2-mile runway is one of the few places on the planet even and spacious enough to push the limits of street-legal sports cars, but at the 2.4-mile point, Smith had to take his foot off the gas or court disaster.

The Venom features a 7.0-liter twin turbo V8 engine and only 11 have yet been produced, costing over a million for each custom build. A news release says the Venom is also the world's fastest sports car to accelerate from 0 to 200 mph, at 14.51 seconds.

But as you'll see in the video, the car begins to accelerate more slowly, particularly when it hits 260 mph. Smith says this is because the drag on the car increases exponentially as speeds increase, and also because they're stuck in top gear.

"I'd say it could probably go 275 or 280 if we had enough room," he said.

Matthew Piper