Meet Drag Racing’s Mr Nice Guy
Standing some 6ft 3″ in his nomex boots, Andy “Gus” Robinson is the kind of guy you don’t tend to miss. And if by chance you did, someone will tell you where to find him.
That’s because everybody seems to know – and respect – “Gus” Robinson. No doubt part of that reputation comes from him being one of the UK’s most successful drag racers with several titles to his name. The other part is the high regard he’s held in by his competitors, many of whom are also, somewhat unusually, his best customers.
On race days, Mr. Nice Guy becomes mister guy to beat
But on race days, Mr. Nice Guy becomes mister guy to beat. Andy is not only the current British Champion in his class, he’s also the first British driver ever to break the six second barrier driving a “Pro Mod”. An achievement that needs some context.
Pro Mods, or door slammers as they are nicknamed, are dragsters loosely based on production cars. Yet, beyond the general shape of their carbon fibre bodies and the fact that the doors open, there’s little in common with what you’ll find at your local dealership.
Andy’s vehicle of choice is the ’69 Chevrolet Camaro. Underneath the blistering orange paint job lies what can only be described as a monster: a petrol-guzzler capable of generating up to 3000 horsepower. That’s over 20 times more punch than your average coupe.
On the days when Andy and his crew (headed by his son Luke) successfully dial in the optimum set up, he and his car are capable of devouring 1,320ft of rubber coated tarmac in less than six thunderous seconds. Achieving a speed of almost 240mph and still accelerating hard as they cross the finish. Hopefully still going in a straight line…
People think that driving a dragster is simple. If only.
That’s not nearly as straightforward as it sounds.
Andy explains, “People think that driving a dragster is simple. Just put the pedal to the floor and away you go. If only. There are so many forces at work on a car that getting them handling well takes a massive amount of work. And believe me you need a car that handles well, particularly when it gets out of shape at 150mph plus. You simply can’t afford not to have a car with good chassis, suspension and steering.”
Which brings us neatly to the other reason for Andy’s renown, his day job, Andy Robinson Race Cars.
It’s like a cathedral for the cult of petrolheads
Step off the strip and into his workshop outside Basingstoke and you’ll find yourself surrounded by an eclectic mix of road and track cars in various states of repair and rebuild. Andy’s particular speciality is fabrication. Complete chassis for race cars and dragsters (including several of his competitors’ motors), OE roll cages for Morgan and Noble, and classic car restorations all jostle for space in the bustling garage.
It’s like a cathedral for the cult of petrolheads.
Whilst traditional pipe bending forms part and parcel of what’s on offer, Andy’s workshop also boasts more space age tech, like full CAD (Computer-aided Design) facilities enabling them to design more complex projects, such as chassis replacements and bespoke suspension components, which they then test them using Finite Element Analysis – an advanced mathematical method used to understand the physics and limits of complex structures.
The roll call of illustrious customers say more about his company’s reputation than anything the modest Mr. Robinson would ever claim. Names like Adrian Newey, Chief Technical Officer of the Red Bull Racing Formula One team.
One ‘experiment’ ended with him pinwheeling off the strip at a recorded 210mph
Yet, despite the obvious success enjoyed by his business, it’s hard to say whether the tech or the track matters most to Andy, or even if the workshop can be separated from the racing at all.
As an example of this, in many cases, Andy tries and tests components on his own vehicles before fitting them onto those of his customers. One such ‘experiment’ ended with him pinwheeling off the strip having just blasted through the traps at a recorded 210mph.
Fortunately, Andy bounced back from that ‘mishap’ and has continued to go from strength to strength.
Now the drag racing season is finished, his thoughts are turning to how he can make his car go even faster. He’s got a few ideas he’ll be experimenting with and quite likely will share with his customers and fellow competitors. Because, when it comes to his motors, Andy’s passion knows no rivalry. That’s just the type of guy he is and perhaps the most important thing he’s ever built is his reputation.