22/9/1896 - 13/6/1930
Henry Segrave was famous for setting three land speed records and the water speed record. He was the first person to hold both the land and water speed records simultaneously and was the first person to travel at over 200 mph (320 km/h). Henry Segrave died 92 years ago, he was 34
A British national, Henry O’Neal de Hane Segrave was born in Baltimore, Maryland of an American mother and an Irish father. He was raised in Ireland and attended Eton College in England.
He left Eton when the War broke out, went to Sandhurst. There he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in the infantry and sent to fight on the front in France. There on May 17, 1915 he was shot during hand to hand combat in what was thought to be an abandoned German trench. Segrave was rescued and taken to a field hospital. Near death for days, he was eventually well enough to be sent back to England where he convalesced.
Once recovered he joined the British Air Service and returned to action on April 14, 1916. In less than two months he was promoted to captain and flight commander. He shot down four enemy planes before he himself was downed. He was found late that same day battered and bruised in the remains of his plane stuck in a tree.
He survived and became a technical advisor to the British Air Council with the rank of Major. His ambition was to drive a car at over 200 miles per hour (320 km/h) and, after the War, he joined the Sunbeam company.
He became the first Briton to win a Grand Prix in a British car when he won the 1923 French Grand Prix (Grand Prix de l'ACF) and the Grand Prix de Boulogne for Sunbeam. He went on to win the 1924 San Sebastian Grand Prix at Circuito Lasarte (Spain). In 1925 he won the Grand Prix de Provence at Miramas in France and the fifth Junior Car Club 200 at Brooklands.
He had more good results in 1926 including taking wins in the Grand Prix de Provence and the Junior Car Club 200 again before retiring from racing to concentrate on speed records.
On 21 March 1926, he set his first land speed record in his 4 litre Sunbeam Ladybird at the Southport sands at Lancashire, United Kingdom at 174.22 mph (280.38 km/h).
He regained the land speed record in 29 March 1927 in his Mystery Sunbeam 1000 hp at the Daytona Beach Road Course at 203.79 mph (327.97 km/h), fulfilling his ambition and becoming the first person to travel at over 200 mph (320 km/h).
Segrave set his final land speed record at 231.36 mph (372.34 km/h) in the Irving-Napier Golden Arrow at Daytona Beach on 11 March 1929. This car had only travelled 18.74 miles (30.16 km) before it set the record, which made it the least used car ever to set the record. The car has never been used since. Two days later, still at Daytona to watch the Americans attempt to re-take the record, he watched as Lee Bible crashed the mightly Triplex. The Triplex weighed seven tons and was powered by three 12 cyclinder Liberty aircraft engines. Bible died in the accident along with a camera man, Charles Traub, who was filming from the sand dunes.
Segrave was one of the first to reach the scene and subsequently began concentrating on the water speed record. He had shipped his boat, Miss England, out to America at the same time and, after a test in the waters off Daytona Beach, Garfield Wood, asked to see the boat. Wood saw immediately that the propeller was too large and the bow rudder was poorly designed. Wood, a true sportsman, volunteered to send his crew of mechanics to Daytona Beach to put on a proper rudder and to furnish Segrave with suitable propellers.
Then, after a successful trial Segrave shipped the boat to Miami Beach for the Harmsworth Trophy, the America's Cop of power boating. Segrave knew that if he could make a decent showing he would be able to get proper financial backing from Lord Wakefield for a future entry.
Raced over two legs, Segrave asked for pole position for the first race. Garfield obliged but soon passed Miss England. However the salt water had eaten away the steering cable on Wood's boat and at the first turn he was unable to continue, handing the win to Segrave. In the second leg due to the points system, Segrave only had to finish to pick up the one point neccessary to take the trophy. Gar Wood won the second race with ease, lapping Segrave three times, but Segrave took the title by crossing the line. It was Wood's first defeat in nine years. On his return to Great Britain, Segrave was knighted for his accomplishments.
In 1930 Segrave had a new boat Miss England II, powered by two 2,000 horsepower Rolls-Royce engines that spun a tiny two bladed propeller at 12,000 revolutions a minute. He took the boat to Lake Windermere for an attempt on the world record set by Gar Wood in Miss America VII on the Detroit River in 1928 at 92.838 miles an hour. He made the first timed run at 96.41 miles per hour and made a return run at 101.11 miles an hour. The average was 98.76, a new world record. Unaware that the record had been broken and unsatisfied he turned for another run. A fateful decision.On the run the boat turned and shot out of the water, presumably having hit a log. Segrave and his two crew, Willcocks and Hallwell, were thrown from the boat.
Ten boats rushed to the rescue and Segrave and Willcocks were pulled from the water. Hallwell's body was found later, a pencil clutched in one hand, a pad of paper in the other. He'd evidently been taking tachometer readings. Segrave and Willcocks were taken hospital. Segrave suffered a broken arm, a broken rib and a fractured thigh. He regained consciousness for a moment, and was informed that he had indeed broken the record. He died a few moments later of lung hemorrhages. Willcocks recovered.
He was cremated and his ashes scattered from a plane over the playing fields of Eton College.
The Segrave Trophy was established in 1930 to commemorate his life.