For decades, successful businessmen like Fossett have challenged and broken speed records in the air, on land and in water, and they’ve done so in a host of different vehicles. The accomplishments of these figures may have been spurred by their bold entrepreneurial spirits, and in some cases, the individuals’ own innovation has helped power their unprecedented success. Read on to find out about ten entrepreneurs who broke world speed records.
10. Clessie Cummins
With Irwin’s early backing, Cummins developed his company and used his innovations to break both speed and endurance records in racecars, buses and trucks. These included a 13,535-mile, 168-hour endurance run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1931. He also established a new land speed record – clocking over 100 mph – driving to Daytona Beach that same year.
9. Sky Christopherson
Still, seemingly craving the thrill of the racetrack again, Christopherson then made an attempt to return to cycling in time for the 2012 London Olympics. During training – taking cues from the work of Dr. Eric Topol – Christopherson used the “digital health” model, which included, amongst other things, the use of extensive genetic reports and the collection of sleep data. In 2011, Christopherson’s digitally optimized health technique helped him break the world record in the velodrome sprint. What’s more, this achievement seems to have spurred him on to co-found company Optimized Athlete, which used a similar digital health program to help push the U.S. women’s cycling team to their silver medal placing at London 2012.
8. Paul Drayson
Prior to this, up until the 2010 general election, Lord Drayson was U.K. Minister of Science in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. The entrepreneur and innovator – who has a degree in production engineering and a Ph.D. in robotics – is now fully occupied as CEO of Drayson Racing Technologies.
The former politician’s passion for cars and need for speed was also evident when he competed in the 2009 24 Hours of Le Mans race, despite having been born blind in one eye. After an FIA rule change, and taking into account his performances in the 2008 American Le Mans Series, Lord Drayson was allowed to take to the track, where he finished in 37th place.
7. Garfield Wood
Wood would go on to hold the world water speed record on a handful of other occasions as well. He also achieved five powerboat Gold Cup race wins from the years 1917 through 1921. In 1933, however, he retired to focus on his business, Gar Wood Industries, which specialized in luxury speedboats and truck bodies, among other products. Aside from his startling range of activities on water, Wood remains well known as an inventor. At one point, there was no other living American who held more U.S. patents.
6. Brooke Knapp
Amazingly, she has established or broken no less than 100 world speed records in aircraft – perhaps the most notable of these being the fastest around-the-world journey in a civilian jet aircraft, which she undertook in a Gulfstream III. Her records are all the more impressive considering the fact that – prior to taking flying lessons to conquer her fear – Knapp was frightened of flying. She told People magazine that it had been a “challenge to go from total fear to being totally accepted by my peers.”
5. Richard Noble
Adding to his impressive resume, Noble has also fulfilled the role of project director for ThrustSSC, the jet-propelled vehicle that has held the absolute land speed record since October 15, 1997, when it was piloted by Andy Green and became the first vehicle to break through the sound barrier, reaching 763 mph.
4. Chip Yates
In 2009, after a number of years in business, Yates entered the AMA Pro Daytona Sportbike Championship – but his season was curtailed when he suffered a broken pelvis in a crash. Still, seemingly undeterred by his accident, he then worked to develop an electric racing bike that he hoped would compete in terms of speed with its gas-powered counterparts. In 2011, reaching speeds of over 200 mph, Yates went on to set eight FIM world speed records with the vehicle, which also claimed the Guinness World Records title of “World’s Fastest Electric Motorcycle.”
3. Steve Fossett
Perhaps more unusually, at one time Fossett was one of only 17 zeppelin captains worldwide, and in 2004 he registered an airship absolute world speed record, reaching 71.5 mph in his craft. What’s more, the following year he made the first solo, unrefueled, uninterrupted circumnavigation of the globe in an airplane, accomplishing the feat in just 67 hours. Sadly, it was on a solo single-engine plane journey that Fossett disappeared in 2007. On February 15, 2008, he was pronounced legally dead.
2. Per Lindstrand
This advocate of developing lighter-than-air technology has held every single hot air balloon flight absolute world record. In 1991, he and Branson set new records when their Virgin Otsuka Pacific Flyer traveled from Japan to northwestern Canada, making it the first Pacific crossing in a hot air balloon and the longest-distance lighter-than-air flight in history. The trip also saw the pair break a speed record, as at one point the balloon traveled at 218 mph, the fastest such a craft has ever been able to fly.
1. Richard Branson
Branson later became known for breaking hot air balloon records, including one with fellow entrepreneurs Fossett and Per Lindstrand in 1998. His recent efforts, however, have been perhaps a little less orthodox. In 2004, he set a new record: the quickest journey across the English Channel in an amphibious vehicle, which he completed in just one hour, 40 minutes and six seconds in a Gibbs Aquada.