The day the 300mph barrier fell in Europe!

Barry Sheavills posts another first!

(c) 2003 Topnitro.co.uk.  Report and pictures by Richard I. Stirling

   

The Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend in June 2002 proved to be an exciting time indeed, to be around European drag racing.  At the FIA Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway the weather, particularly on Saturday 2nd June, was superb and all the ingredients seemed to be in place for 'something special'. It was also special in September 1998 when the 4 second barrier was breached in England by Barry Sheavills. When Barry's car owner and crew chief Rune Fjeld had finally found his 4 second combination and dialled that into the car, Barry repeated the job twice more to lock down the FIA European Top Fuel championship title for 1998. In the process, he got tantalisingly close to the last real European barrier - 300mph -  with a best speed of 297 mph. However, in the intervening months and years, further attempts by Barry and other hungry European Top Fuel racers were frustrated by failure. It was as if 300mph was 'not to be' in Europe. How wrong that notion was going to be! The Main Event meeting in June 2002 at Santa Pod started with excellent qualifying performances. Team owner Rune Fjeld's second car, driven by Andy Carter and tuned by the affable Eddie Corr, made a real statement and surprised everyone with a superb pass of 5.071 seconds at a galactic terminal speed 297.09mph on his Saturday night qualifying run. Not to be outdone by his team mate, Barry Sheavills sat up, took notice, and got to work with crew chief Rune and the rest of his team . Barry so dearly wanted to be the first to break the 300mph barrier in Europe in order to match the feat which Kenny Bernstein achieved at Gainesville, Florida on March 20, 1992. Barry was there to witness that first 300mph pass in history which was at startling 301.70mph. Kenny Bernstein and his Crew Chief Dale Armstrong will forever be in the history books for breaking that barrier. Barry was determined to etch his name in history, once again and after much labouring and careful tuning, the Triple R dragster was ready to run Saturday morning and the atmosphere was electric. Down at the starting line, both dragsters were started at pretty much the same time but Barry rolled forward and started his burnout whilst still running through the water box. The dragster spun up its tyres and Barry kept his big slicks boiling all the way past the lights, a terrific burnout indeed. Andy Carter then rolled forward into the water a little later and hit the throttle. He instantly lit up the tyres in a short but sizzling high-rev burnout that was most impressive. The motors were sounding great and were both cackling noisily as we waited with baited breath as the cars pulled into stage. They paused a moment and both drivers set the fuel levers to the 'high' side and Andy Carter rolled in first and staged fully. A moment or two later and Barry Sheavills rolled in, too. At the hit of the throttle, Barry got away first and Andy Carter chased after him down track. It was a valiant effort by Andy to run Barry down, but it was not to be. Barry got to the finish line first in just 4.970 seconds and crossed the line at the supreme speed of 304.71mph. Andy arrived at the finishing line in a 'blink of an eye' later on a breath-taking and European record-smashing  pass of  4.897 seconds. Andy also ran past that wonderful 300mph marker at a terrific 303.07mph. In the USA, Doug Herbert was the second driver to break the 300mph barrier and that was nearly 18 months after Kenny Bernstein had done the original deed. At Santa Pod, we had to wait just 0.211 of a second! Side by side 300mph runs! That feat wasn't achieved in the USA until years later. It was absolutely fantastic - the atmosphere was truly electric and the buzz around Santa Pod was simply unbelievable. Folks were cheering, mobile phones were being pressed into service, to inform those silly people who weren't at Santa Pod, the good news and the bar had a sudden influx of new business, too. There was a little confusion momentarily as to who's name should be attached to the 'first to 300' award but this was soon cleared up by Santa Pod promoter and FIA Supremo Keith Bartlett on the PA system. Later on, it was explained on http://eurodragster.com : "Barry was officially the first to run 300 mph in Europe as he got to the finish line first, by 0.211 seconds, although he redlit by 0.002 seconds - but of course that doesn't matter in qualifying". Needless to say, the Barry Sheavills pit was a little busy (to say the least) after that historic run. Barry was excitedly signing autographs and there was much hand shaking, back slapping, hugging and general 'pressing the flesh'. A little later, when the flash guns and clicking shutters quietened down, thoughts turned to the notion of preparing  the car for the later session in the day. However, the need for celebration overtook that and Barry and the crew all had a deserved beer and relaxed. The following day turned out to be a cooler and periodically wet day, which was a little disappointing. However, in the first round of eliminations Barry made another superb run with a terminal speed of 301.65mph which was (frustratingly) just a hundredth of a mile an hour short of the speed necessary to back up the previous best of 304.71. 301.65mph remains to this day the European speed record. Congratulations to Barry, Rune Fjeld and the team for the record land marks and good luck to Barry in his efforts to secure a competitive drive for this season and the years to come.

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