Sixteen years ago, Sydney, Australia, native Daz Fellows tried street luge and quickly became hooked. In rapid succession, he became heavily involved in building the scene and was one of the three founders of professional street luge on the continent-country. He's built a dozen or so custom luges, organized and competed in races at national and international levels, done stunt work, and mentored young riders. Now he's set his sights on something loftier—a new world speed record of 124.27 mph (200 km/h) or better. How does he plan to set it? On a carbon-fiber one-off board with not one, but two jet engines mounted inches from his head. Did we mention his creation has no brakes and no steering wheel?
The intersection of bravado, mechanical aptitude, and outright ballsiness is pretty rare, so we had to know more. What makes a guy like this tick? What scares him? So here are 13 questions with Daz “the Cowboy” Fellows:
1) What's the rush like?
I've actually been asked this many times. The only way I could really explain it is think of your most terrifying moment, like the car that pulled out from the side street at the wrong time, or the short rush you get after looking up after checking your speed and the car in front of you has come to a complete stop and you're rushing at it. Now try to extend the length of that feeling by a couple of minutes, then allow yourself to either turn it up or shut it off. You would be getting close to the feeling. For me, it is a MASSIVE surge of adrenaline, so much that it makes me shake after a run. If I'm quivering after a run, you know I will be hitting it again.
2) Ever have a serious crash?
In my years of riding, I've only ever had two major crashes with only one putting me in hospital—and I've never broken a bone. The first was when I was training for the 2000 X Games and failed to make a hairpin turn. I shot straight across the road and under a guardrail and down about a 20-foot cliff. The only thing that stopped me was when my board wedged between two trees, and somehow I only bruised myself. I had a mate tie a rope to the car to pull me back up, and we got out of there rather fast.
The second, I was riding with friends and got a little to cocky on my first run and hit some gravel coming out of a corner at about 90 kph (55 mph) plowing me into yet another guardrail. This time I'm told I rag-dolled and cartwheeled down the length of the guardrail. I was extremely disoriented when I stopped, but I still knew it was a bad. I actually felt like I had torn my left arm off and it was just hanging in my leathers (we ride in full motorcycle leathers, armor, gloves, helmets, and boots). Turns out I was just a big sook [Ed.—translated from Australian slang, that means "big baby."] and only had major bruising and hyperextended joints. None of this is really new to me though, and I was allowed to leave the hospital the next day. All in all, I've been rather lucky. When I returned to the crash site, I saw a huge black skidmark from my leathers running about 15 to 20 meters along the guardrail and, on the other side, a massive cliff face dropping no less than 100 feet. I still have a score to settle with that mountain.
3) Australia is not known for its hills. Is this the reason for powered street luge?
[Laughs] Very true, and in part, yes. I always wanted to be the fastest street luger in the world. I still dream of that goal, but unfortunately, Australia doesn't offer too many of those sweet, sweet runs which could provide me with that opportunity. I guess you can say the idea for the jet luge was first born from this.
4) What was the configuration of the first powered luge you ever rode or built?
Actually, my first powered luge was born out of necessity. I moved north in early 2001 and was just wanting to stick to myself while riding and training, so I had nobody to give me a lift back up the hill. I built a board with a pocket bike engine mounted to the back to push me up the hills. It handled like crap around the corners, and the thing was basically so dangerous on a track it was going to kill me before I had the chance to do it myself. I scrapped that luge, but a short time later I thought, "What if I only did straight-line stuff with it?"
5) Where did this dream of setting this land speed record come from—and is it officially recognized by Guinness?
It was near the end of 2001 or start of 2002. I started to get a real feel for going faster and faster on a board and kept wondering how much I could push it and just how big an engine I could put on a street luge to make it go faster. I think it was a friend of mine I lived with at the time who actually joked about putting jet engines on one.
I started to look at turbines, but unfortunately back then, the technology had not yet advanced to being really worth the cost. I could have rolled faster than what a turbine would have pushed me up to, so the idea sat on the back burner for years. Occasionally I'd look into it again, contacting possible sponsors and looking at how to build it. What really lit a fire under me was when an Englishman established the Guinness land speed record for a powered luge in 2007. I started contacting every avenue to try getting funding to build a board, since it was a proven concept now, but not one person was interested. Years later, in 2012, the record was broken by another Englishman on a TV show. This gutted me, and I decided to go it alone. I took out two HUGE loans and just went for it.
6) What are the specifications of the luge you have designed: chassis, wheels, jets, fuel, brakes, steering, etc.?
You can see a lot of this on my website if you want more detail, but the basics are as follows:
The maximum thrust of a single engine (five-minute rating) is 202 pounds, with maximum continuous thrust of 176 pounds and approximately an extra 38 percent with the afterburner at full burn. Combined, the two engines produce approximately 537 pounds of thrust with afterburners. They run on Jet A-1 fuel.
Steering is done by leaning, just like on a skateboard. Braking is done with my feet—no mechanical braking is allowed if I want the official Guinness land speed record for a powered luge. Wheels are snowmobile drag-racing wheels, and I run 12 of them under my board. The body of the board is 9.8 feet long and 2 feet wide, and it's 100 percent carbon-fiber composite with a carbon-fiber fuel cell holding approximately 1.3 gallons of fuel. The entire board itself is basically a molded fuel tank with turbine engines, on which I lie.
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7) Did you do the design work yourself or has there been help?
My first design was much different (and safer, relatively) from what you see now. Unfortunately the Guinness guys have some rather strict rules, and not all of them are conducive to the rider’s safety. I've done everything within their requested guidelines while building a board I am very confident in.
For a long time, I had a clear picture in my head of what I wanted to build, but I have also had a lot of help getting the board to where it is. I could not have done it without my good friends at Custom Carbon Components. Their experience in the racing industry has been a huge help, and combined with my endless research and experience in luge design, we have built a great board. I have recently hooked up with an aerodynamics team that wants to help me with wind-tunnel testing and doing some computational fluid dynamics to help me reduce drag and keep me on the ground. With all this combined, I’ll have a work of art when it's fully complete.
8) When do you expect to run full-speed trials?
We are aiming to have everything up and running and setting a record by April next year. But lacking sponsors and money, I'm at the mercy of what we can do and when we can do it.
9) Where do you plan to run?
I have yet to lock in a location, but I have had an offer from a local drag strip to do some trials to allow me to get used to the board and how it reacts. I hope to take it all over the world once I break the record, but I'm happy to set the record in any country, to be honest.
10) What scares you the most about the challenge you've set for yourself?
Not being able to complete it. Every time I'm on a board, I scare myself. I live for it—it keeps me loving life and alive—but nothing scares me more than not being able to fulfill this dream.
11) How is the build going so far?
Really well! I'm really excited with how it's coming along. I enjoy that I'm making it with my own hands, and I can get a feel for the board before I'm even on it. We will be wind-tunnel testing in the next month, and I am just rebuilding the turbines to help with better bearing lubrication. We've had to rebuild them three times with the aim of producing more power, and we have a couple other tricks up our sleeves, but we want to wait to see how the board reacts to what we have done already.
12) What has been the most challenging part of the build?
Definitely the turbines. They're rather temperamental—they’re one-off custom-built engines not being used for their intended purpose, so there are no guarantees with them. We make them a little more reliable each time we run them, so by April most the bugs will be worked out. At least that's what I'm hoping. The afterburners should be producing about a 15- to 20-foot flame once I'm done.
13) Anything you want to add, seeing as you're already an inspiration to every mechanical maniac on the planet?
I would love it if you could add that I'm also trying to raise funds for a children's hospital as well. Fifty percent of all the money I make with the jet luge will go to the hospital—this includes any sponsor money. People can donate directly via the link on my website. Hint, hint! .