Some people are prepared to sit around and wait for opportunities to arrive, but I am not one of them. All my life I have thought about doing something, and then gone and done it, even if it was not a total success. This attitude brought about my biggest life change, when I lay in a hospital bed on a life-support machine in the Isle Of Man in 1991, having crashed at 130mph in the Senior Manx Grand Prix and broken nine bones (amongst all the other injuries like a punctured lung)! After this, I decided to live for the day. After I finished my degree at 33, I bought a small wooden yacht to live on. In 1994 I decided that I needed to learn how to sail properly, so I sailed round Britain in my summer holidays (it is a good life being a teacher!).
My positive attitude of living for each day seemed to pay dividends in my teaching, as I was able to inspire the children to improve themselves. In 1996 one of my A level students wanted to do something exciting for his major project. We discussed all sorts of ideas like cars and motorcycles. I said, why don’t you put a Cosworth engine in a bike? Some quick research showed that this was not feasible within the time scale available, so we ended up buying a drag bike, and the student designed the aerodynamics for us to attempt the British Land Speed Record. We persuaded MIRA to let us wind tunnel test the bike, and after some drastic modifications we achieved a theoretical top speed of 238mph; not bad for a bunch of school kids!
The image above is the first run at RAF Sculthorpe in Norfolk in 1997 after the team had spent time in the wind tunnel at MIRA. The aerodynamics were designed by Richard O’Leary for his major ‘A’ Level Design and Technology project. After these tests the lower front was reshaped to improve stability on advice from MIRA, and the bike achieved 190mph in the wet soon after.
The Spike image was drawn by Stephanie Wand, from Wickford, when she was 14 years old, as part of a Graphics project to produce an iconic image for the team. Her design was picked from over 100 students.
After several years of frustrations, which I will not go into, I ended up shipping the Suzuki and a Kawasaki ZX12R out to Los Angeles, and my brother and I took five school children out with us to Bonneville Salt Flats in 2000.
I returned to Bonneville in 2003 and 2004, qualifying both times for a record, and then not being able to back it up, with my R1 Yamaha. My best speed was 195+mph.
During this time I still had the ambition to attempt the outright record, and was regularly promised help, which never materialised. My brother and I travelled out to South Africa in 2003 to try the Vernuek Pan with a training streamliner bike and the effects of solid wheels. For more information about the Vernuek Pan and South African land speed record visit the Speed Record SA website.
Later I also tried another streamliner on a runway near Berlin. After my father died, I decided to try harder, and eventually I hit gold when we sourced an engine manufacturer in the Midlands (subsequently we had to source another engine and decided to design and build our own – read the story in in NGK Torque). My friend Stu Rogers was keen to be involved, and the rest is happening now!