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Exclusive interview with Robin Read
Robin Read comes from one of the First Families of UK drag racing. Father Jim was a legendary Pro Comp racer and club official, brother Steve raced Top Alcohol in the UK and now races Top Fuel Dragster in Australia, brother Tim is on Santa Pod Raceway's Tech Crew, brother Glenn took a turn in Jim's car, and Robin himself set every record going firstly in a Volvo-powered rail and then in his six-second Daimler V8-powered rail, before racing a Top Fuel Dragster in 1999, winning at the FIA European Finals.
It was announced on 13th March 2002 that Robin was to drive one of Knut Söderquist's Carbon By Design Top Fuellers in the Pro Fuel Shootout at the forthcoming Easter Thunderball at Santa Pod Raceway. We spoke to Robin that evening and asked him about his return to Top Fuel racing and his thoughts on the Thunderball.
Eurodragster: Did the call come out of the blue?
Robin Read: Knut called me yesterday. He asked how I was and then asked if I wanted to drive the car. I thought about it for a microsecond and said yes! It was good to get the call, and there was no question of doubt. So then I had to organise a last-minute medical and a stress ECG for my licence. People often ask me if I have retired from racing; I never retired but to race you need a plan, the money, and the opportunity. Every time I get together with Knut and Alan Jackson it all comes together. It's changed my plans for Easter!
Eurodragster: It sounds like you are relishing the thought of the reunion.
Robin Read: There's always been a lot of camaraderie and goodwill around Knut and Alan. I consider that Alan is one of Europe's top tuners. He is an original thinker - he ploughs his own furrow. He has his own tune-up rather than modifying anyone else's, which is a strong point. And he is one of the nicest guys you could hope to meet. And as for Knut - well, let me tell you a story about Knut.
In 1999 I blew an engine in the semi-finals and whilst we were towing back to the pits I was thinking "That's it, we won't be out in the next round". When we got back to the pits Knut stood there rubbing his chin and looking at the damage, and I put my arm round him and said "Sorry about the engine" and he replied "Get changed, we have a lot of work to do!". My girlfriend and I went into the trailer and she found some burn cream and was putting it on my face, and Knut came into the trailer and threw us out! "You have to pack the chutes, mix the fuel and do the clutch!", he said. So we got the car back together and when I did the burnout in the final something didn't feel right. As Knut was backing me up I was looking at his body language and I was convinced that he was going to back me up then shut me down. But he waved me forward into stage - and when he did that I knew we were going to win. It was all down to Knut that we made that final and won. Not many teams would have done that in the circumstances.
So we have an unstoppable team owner, one of the best tuners in Europe, and me just waiting to put my foot all the way down on the pedal. I'd say it's a winning combination!
Eurodragster: Although you've not competed in it before you must be familiar with the idea of the Pro Fuel Shootout. How does it strike you as a race?
Robin Read: With the likely conditions I would say it's very much a tuners' and drivers' race. Whoever can pedal it best might win - it's not going to be down to massive horsepower. I drove my Daimler against Top Fuellers and Top Alcohol cars so I know about relative power. I feel confident in the people involved, they're all very professional. Knut has no doubt that I'll get the car down the track and I have no doubt that the car will be fine. And I enjoy being the spoiler in the pack!
Eurodragster: How do you view the opposition?
Robin Read: They're all heavy hitters. I was pleased to hear that Gary Page was driving. You can't chip it off him because he will hunt you down! All eight rods could be hanging out, the thing could be on fire, but as long as Gary has his hands on the helm then he will hunt you down! Gordon Smith's more of an unknown quantity for me but John Spuffard's record speaks for itself. It's going to be a lot of fun!
Eurodragster: If you make it to the final then how do you think you'll manage with the handicap?
Robin Read: I'm not worried about it. I ran handicapped with the Daimler in Super Pro so I am pretty used to it. I won't hit the throttle the moment I hear the Funny Car. It's just getting past the thought that the second car to leave loses! I want to go to the track, drive intelligently, win, and give the promoter and crowd the best show I can.
Eurodragster: You must be one of the longest-standing racers in the UK now.
Robin Read: I got my first licence in 1972, and I've had a great time in the sport. I've rubbed shoulders with and raced a lot of big names, people who were my heroes, and I feel very privileged. There are, relatively, a handful of people who have driven Top Fuel Dragsters. Sometimes I've won, and sometimes I've lost, but I don't mind losing because it makes winning sweeter! It's been very pleasurable all the way through.
Eurodragster: What does your partner think about your getting back into a Top Fueller?
Robin Read: Ella loves it. She is part of the team. She packs the chutes, mixes the fuel, cleans parts, cleans the car. You can throw her a filthy sump and it will come back minutes later sparkling with not a word of complaint. Ella never gives me a hard time. It makes the experience even better!
Eurodragster: That's great to hear. Thank you for your time Robin, and we look forward to seeing you at Santa Pod at Easter.
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