x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Vokins plans to be a cut above the rest on his speeding lawnmower

Ever since Briton Edwin Budding came up with the idea of a lawnmower in 1827, the yard-work contraptions have been getting more elaborate and hi-tech.

Ever since Briton Edwin Budding came up with the idea of a lawnmower in 1827, the yard-work contraptions have been getting more elaborate and hi-tech. Today, most have starter motors, headlights and cup holders. But Budding may not have expected what Stephen Vokins would do with his creation. Vokins is set to take to the wheel of the quickest and possibly most elaborate mower yet as he bids to be the first man to travel over the 100mph (160kph) mark on board one.

The current world record stands at 80.79mph (129kph) - set by American Bob Cleveland at Bonneville Salt Flats in the US in 2006 - but Vokins, a motoring journalist and archivist at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, England, plans to add on at least another 20mph when he attempts the record next February. The 49-year-old admits that his record attempt has been met with laughter but he is deadly serious.

"When I first mentioned it to people, I suspect they thought I'd had too much [to drink]," he said, "but people are beginning to realise how serious we are. Of course we're going to make it a lot of fun and as British and eccentric as possible, but we're also extremely focused and serious about getting the record." Carrying on the British theme, Vokins and his Project Running-blade team will not travel to Bonneville - the home to virtually every land-speed record of late - but head to the traditional home of land-speed records, Pendine Sands in Wales.

It was at Pendine where Donald Campbell first made a name for himself with Bluebird, a car that is now housed where Vokins works in Beaulieu, by clocking 150mph (240kph) over the seven-mile stretch of sand. But the history is only part of Vokins' decision to hold the record there. "History is one of the keys for us and [Lord] Montagu of Beaulieu [owner of the museum] has already said he plans to put our lawnmower next to Bluebird in the museum after the record, which will be great," he said. "But that's not the sole reason for doing it at Pendine.

"We're aiming to wrest the record away from the Americans and want to make it as British as possible, which means a British driver, a British team and a British venue. And we're even planning to have butlers serving tea at the start and finish as well. "Also, the mower lends itself to colder temperatures so February in Wales should do the job nicely." A serious heart condition gave Vokins the inspiration for this record run. He had successful surgery last year to treat a congenital heart defect.

"But that second lease of life has given me a desire to go for the record, and why not?" says Vokins. "I never thought of myself as a land-speed record man but it's just happened that way." An as-yet unnamed manufacturer is already in the early stages of building the mower. The identity of the builder will be revealed at the official launch in October. The mower will boast up to 50hp but tellingly will also be able to cut grass, a key factor in the project leader's mind.

"I didn't want to just get on board a Ferrari with shears on the front," he said. "I wanted to make sure it was a proper mower that can cut grass and we'll cut some grass on it before the record attempt. The only difference from a conventional mower is that it just travels a lot faster." He has yet to swap tips with Cleveland, the current record holder, and is not even sure if Cleveland knows about his record attempt.

"I'm sure I'll get in contact with Bob nearer the time to talk about the record," he said. "But we're confident we'll comfortably beat his record, although that's not the sole aim. "We don't want to just travel at 83mph. If we did that, it'd be a failure. We want to crack the 100mph mark and only then will it be a success." There are plans for children's books to stem from the record, a big bit of which is aimed at raising money for charity.

Vokins hopes to be able to give both charities a big "thank you" in February through his fundraising efforts, although faces one other stumbling block, his own health. He has currently been diagnosed with ME, a debilitating illness that leaves him bereft of any energy. "It can be bad," he explained, "but I'm learning to deal with it. It won't be a problem ? for starters I'm not running, I'm just driving. It's just I don't feel as full as beans as I'd like."

The irony that Vokins looks set for his own place in history alongside the likes of Donald Campbell are not lost on him and have undeniably left him a bit giddy. "I never thought I'd get my own slice of land-speed history but it's looking that way," he added. motoring@thenational.ae