On December 1, the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu played host to the official launch of Project Runningblade, an all British attempt to capture the world land speed record for lawnmowers which currently stands at 80.792mph, set in 2006 by American Bob Cleveland on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Stephen Vokins, who has worked at the museum for over 25 years in the film department, dreamt up the idea while recovering from major heart surgery in hospital and is spearheading the project as Team Principal. He aims to push the record to 100 mph and not at Bonneville but at Pendine Sands on the south coast of Wales early next year. His enthusiasm has won the support of Countax Ltd, the country’s leading manufacturer of ride on mowers, employing more than 250 people in the UK. Managing director, Harry Handkammer is himself a keen racing driver and many of the firm’s staff actively participate in lawnmower racing.
Also on-board as driver is Don Wales, fresh from his return from the US where he set a new World Land Speed Record for steam cars. Don is the grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell, who set a new World Land Speed Record of 146.16mph in Bluebird on Pendine Sands in 1924. Don is also familiar with the Sands as this is the venue where in 2002 he set the UK record of 137 mph for electric cars.
The bright red Countax machine, unveiled from underneath a Union Jack flag by Ralph Montagu, son of Lord Montagu, has to remain a fully functioning lawn mower and under the rules, has to mow grass immediately prior to the record attempt, although for safety reasons, the blades are removed for the actual runs.
Don said: 'This appeals to me because it is a quirky, eccentric British project. It’s a lighthearted record attempt on the outside but on the inside, it is serious. To do 100 mph on a lawnmower will be quite an achievement and requires some very good engineering from Countax. The benefactors at the end of the project will be the Great Ormond Street Hospital for children and Wessex Heartbeat. They helped save Steve Vokins life and I had a daughter with a congenital heart problem who died. So anything that highlights heart conditions and helps with research is important to me and my family.'
Vokins added: 'This is no collection of blokes standing around in a shed wondering what to do until the pub opens. Taking Bob Cleveland’s record for Britain is mad, bad and slightly dangerous, in other words, perfect!'
For more details visit www.projectrunningblade.co.uk.