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Fiennes Performance are delighted to be working for
Drag Racing legend Robin Read

Article by: Hannah in General - 16 April

It was a pleasant surprise just before Easter to welcome Robin Read with his longstanding toolmaker and engineer Bertie Hopkinson to our Broughton Poggs base. They met with our Lead Engineer Matthew Radburn and have entrusted him to carry out some crankshaft work for them.

Matthew was formerly at Rob Walker Engineering, who Robin had used before, that is now Fiennes Performance part of the broader automotive engineering Fiennes Group. We’re delighted to be able to re-establish that relationship and will update on the job another day but thought it would be interesting to delve back into Robin’s history and learn how he became a legend of the sport.

Robin came from a racing family and his father Jim set up Team Readspeed in 1972 and all four sons have gone on to be involved in drag racing in some way. Robin, Steve and Glenn as drivers and Tim as part of Santa Pod Raceway’s tech crew. From Jim in his most famous car “Le Patron” to each of the driver brothers they have all established great racing reputations in the sport achieving many wins and setting many records between them.

1972 was also the year that Robin got his first competition licence to ride a 500cc Triumph bike before moving into dragsters in 1974. But it was a move into a Daimler 2.5 Litre rear engine car named “Bad Habit” in the early 80s that really helped Robin to make his drag racing mark.

Having finished second in the 10 round European Championship in 1988 Robin won the 1989 Euro Series with a new series record time of 7.04 seconds at 184 mph in the last race to win not only the meeting but the Series ahead of Russ Carpenter. Going on to the finals meeting at Santa Pod he then achieved the World’s first 6 in a car with a British engine – clocking 6.97 seconds at 187 mph. – a record that wasn’t broken until Robin bettered it himself 3 years later in 1992 with 6.81 seconds at 189 mph.

In 1999, after a couple of years out, Robin was invited to drive a car for the Top Fuel team of Knut Söderqvist and, as second car after the first had been destroyed in an earlier round at Hockenheim, won the Finals Meeting at Santa Pod with a run of 5.08 seconds at 299 mph. – a performance that took Robin to a Top 50 World ranking. And all this after blowing an engine in the semi-finals and having it put back together thanks to the determination of Knut, Robin and the team.

Robin raced again for Knut between 2000 and 2002 and then retired – or so he thought! Whilst “retired” the Read family were inducted into the British drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2008 – a great honour recognising the achievements of his father who had raced until his death in 1989 and those of Robin and his brothers.

This Hall of Fame recognition was subsequently responsible for Robin coming out of retirement. They invited him to exhibit the Daimler car at Santa Pod Dragstalia in 2011 that in turn prompted its recommissioning to run at the event in 2012.

The car went on to make several demonstration runs between 2013 and 2017 and in 2017 ran two new World firsts. 6.69 seconds at 199.89 mph. From 1989 to date no other British engined car has run sub 7 seconds or over 180 mph – only Robin’s!

Although that speed of 199.89 was fantastic it wasn’t the magic 200 mph. and in 2016 construction began on a new Daimler dragster with the aim of breaking that barrier. Named “Spirit of Le Patron” in honour of Robin’s father, on its debut in 2020, and on only its 4th run, it achieved the objective as captured here.  Some “retirement”!

What is especially remarkable and testament to the skills of Bertie and Robin’s team is the in-house technical evolution, development and manufacture of the engine components to achieve this with an engine size that is still only 2.5 Litres as it was 40 years ago. Robin’s core team of Mark Evans, Bertie Hopkinson, Bill Mears, Ella Chapman and Damian Burke have been together for over 30 years and still counting. Fiennes Performance look forward to welcoming any or all of them back when we’ve finished the current job and if we can help with anything more in future.