THE HOME OF LAND SPEED RECORD MODELS
The article below, which was last revised on 22 January 2001, is now outdated, but I decided to leave it as it is, since it gives an accurate account of the complicate situation before Don Vesco's October 2001 record and contains an explanation of what the "wheel-driven record" is and what it is not.
For an update of the situation as of August 2002 read "Who holds the 'piston-engined' LSR?".
It is universally accepted that the World Land Speed Record is held by briton Andy Green, who set it on the Black Rock desert on 15 October 1997 driving the twin jet vehicle "Thrust SSC". The record was sanctioned by the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) and the official average speeds are 763.035 mph (1227.952 km/h) for the flying mile and 760.343 mph (1223.620 km/h) for the flying kilo. It was the first supersonic LSR.
That is of course the fastest any "vehicle", of any configuration and propulsion has ever traveled on land (i.e. touching the ground for the whole of the measured distance).
When it comes to "wheel-driven vehicles" though, or "automobiles", as they are called in the FIA regulations, things are not as clear and even reliable sources disagree about who exactly holds that record: you may read that it still belongs to the Summers Brothers' Goldenrod, who set their record in 1965, or that since 1991 the record holder is Al Teague; some other sources will state that Don Vesco set the current record in 1999. So, who's right?
First of all, let's make it clear that all the three records are legitimate, officially sanctioned by a recognised authority, although not all by the same authority, and that all three are standing at this time. So why the confusion?
The main problem is that... there is no such a thing called the "wheel driven Land Speed Record"!
The Summers Brothers set their record in 1965 (actually, Bob was the driver, but I prefer to give the credit to both, as the project was really an equal partnership), when the "absolute" Land Speed Record had already become a jet and rocket affair. What they set was actually the "International" flying mile and flying kilo records for category A (Special Automobiles), group I (Otto engine), class 11 (over 8.000 cc).
"International"?? not "world" records?? No, because the FIA defines "World" record the best performance over a given distance or time, irrespective of category, group or class, and "International" the best performance within each category, group and class. There can be only one "World" record for each distance or time and since 1964 that has been held by a thrust vehicle. (Had they called them "World Absolute" and "World Class" records, there would probably be no misunderstanding. They probably thought that two different words would make things more clear, but in reality PR's and non-specialized journalists find it much easier, and a lot more effective, to call every record that is not "National" a "World" record.)
And did the Goldenrod hold the "wheel-driven" record? No, because this record does not exist in the FIA rule book; but of course... yes, because at the time it had become already obvious that conventional wheel driven vehicles would never, ever reach the speeds jets and rockets could achieve, so it did make sense to keep track of which was the fastest "automobile", even if the sanctioning body did not care to do it. By the way, the Summers took this non-official record from Donald Campbell, who had set it the year before; but of course Campbell's Bluebird was powered by a turbine engine, so its record still remained in the FIA books as another International record in Group VIII (turbine) Class 3 (over 1000 kg); and still does to this day (see below).
Unfortunately, for many years after 1965, there simply was nothing to keep track of: while jets and rockets kept going faster, no wheel-driven vehicles were able to do better than Goldenrod. The fact that the conditions of the Bonneville Salt Flats deteriorated over the years was of course part of the problem.
In 1991 Al Teague was at last able to go faster, albeit just by a fraction. Although FIA sanctioning was available at Speed Week that year, many people thought his record, which was good for the SCTA/BNI rules (see below), could not be sanctioned by the FIA because of another stipulation in the FIA rule book that states that the speed must exceed the existing record by at least 1%. What nobody was aware of, possibly because such a long eventless time had elapsed, was that in the meantime the FIA classifications had changed and there were now different Groups for piston engines: supercharged and non-supercharged. Now, Teague's single Keith Black V8 was blown, while the four Chryslers on Goldenrod were not. As a result, Teague's two records (he had set new marks on both the mile and the kilo) went into the book as "International" records along the Summers' marks over the same distances, but in two different classes (and they still are to this day). And since the so-called "wheel-driven" LSR is just the best performace extracted, so to say, from the record book, not a separate officially sanctioned record, it was, and is, perfectly in order to consider Al Teague's record the new "wheel-driven LSR".
(Incidentally, in the months that followed Teague's performance, when the news at last circulated that the record was indeed a fully legitimate record, there were some funny interpretations about the new classifications, variously explaining that Teague's record was for "single engine" vehicles as opposed to multiple, or that it was for "two-wheel traction" as opposed to FWD!! So much for the accuracy of the "specialized" press! In fact, as far as I am aware, David Tremayne was the only one to put the things straight, at least in Europe, in a very good article he wrote for british magazine Motor Sport, January 1992 issue, which I strongly recommend you to read.)
There is more to it: on the kilometer, and this is something that has been overlooked by most commentators (thanks to Malcolm Pittwood for pointing that out again recently), Teague's record is 425.05 mph and that is definitely much faster that Bob Summers' 409.695 on the same distance (and certainly over 1% faster!). Like for the FIA World Land Speed Record, nobody has ever stated wether the flying mile or kilo should be considered (and indeed, they were picked up at random in WLSR lists over the years): there is no reason why we should not consider Teague's kilo figure as the so-called "wheel-driven" record!!
So, what about Vesco's record? That is simpler to explain: his record is also perfectly legitimate (and quite faster than Summers' or Teague's), but it complies with the rules set by the SCTA/BNI, not with the ones imposed by the FIA.
Both authorities in fact impose the record to be the average of two passes over the measured distance, but there are two important differences: while for the FIA the return run has to be done in the opposite direction, on the same measured base, and the two runs completed within an hour total time, SCTA/BNI just requires the record to be the average of two runs, but the runs can be in the same direction, over the same "relative" measured base (in case the course has to be moved due to salt conditions) and in two consecutive days.
At the World Finals in october 1999 FIA sanctioning was in fact available and Vesco's intention was definitely to set an FIA record; simply he could not do the return run within an hour because he broke the transmission at the end of what was planned to be the first run for the FIA record: he still got a SCTA/BNI record though, because he could average the speed with that of his best run of the day before.
We may discuss wether the 1-hour, opposite direction and fixed measured base rules make sense or not, but they do indeed make the record more difficult to achieve (what happened to Don Vesco makes it quite evident!) and all the records that are in the FIA books have complied with that rule, so as far as the International authority is concerned, Vesco's record does not exist...
Don Vesco will have to try again; and, by any means, he is most likely to succede (Teague and Burkland permitting...). If he will, he will then hold the so-called "wheel-driven LSR". But he will do more than that. Turbinator being a turbine car, unlimited class, he will cancel from the books a name that has made the history of the LSR, that of Campbell: the record he is after still belongs to Donald Campbell's Bluebird!!
© Ugo Fadini 2000/2002
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