Sheldon Bissessar: the Trinidad Rocket races ahead

Rodney Granado follows record-breaking dragster driver Sheldon Bissessar as he roars down the track

Bissessar performs a burnout in his 2011 Ironman chassis top fuel dragster. Photograph by Narend Sooknarine – ZORCE MagazineSheldon Bissessar. Photograph by Narend Sooknarine – ZORCE Magazine

Sheldon Bissessar is known as the Trinidad Rocket, and no wonder – he drives cars that roar down the drag strip at over 200 miles an hour.

As a boy, growing up in Marabella, Trinidad, he loved the roar of the engines and would beg his parents to take him to any motorsport event that he heard about. Drag racing has been Bissessar’s life for 23 years now. “I just love the atmosphere at drag racing,” he says. “It is incomparable.”

On January 25 this year, driving a 2011 Ironman chassis top fuel dragster, Bissessar shattered the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) top dragster world record. At Palm Beach International Raceway, Florida, Bissessar ran 5.68 seconds at 244 mph, before a packed crowd. Jennifer Carroll, the Trinidad & Tobago-born Lieutenant Governor of Florida, sent him a letter congratulating him on achieving the world record in the state.

Bissessar has owned and driven at least 14 cars, he estimates. His parents, Stella and the late Carlton Bissessar, supported his enthusiasm for drag racing, and when he was 25 they gave him his first car, a Ford Escort that cost TT$12,000. As well as racing in Trinidad, before the only local racetrack, at the old Wallerfield airstrip, was closed down, he often travelled to racing events in other islands, among them Puerto Rico, Aruba, Curaçao and Grenada. But he had bigger – and faster – ambitions.

“Legends like Joe Amato, Don ‘The Snake’ Prudhomme and Eddie Hill became my inspiration,” Bissessar remembers. “It was then that I decided I wanted to drive a dragster.”

Bissessar knew nothing about supercharged engines, so in 2005 he went to the US to look for a crew chief, and met Aaron Sipple, son of legendary top fuel driver “Doc” Sipple. Aaron Sipple built the car in which Bissessar broke the world record this year.

In 2008, racing a methanol-powered supercharged top dragster, Bissessar turned professional, as this was necessary to become more competitive in the top dragster class. He had no formal training, and most of his knowledge had come from hands-on mechanical and racing experience, and reading car magazines and books. He still has a job in Trinidad, too, managing a small corrosion-control company. His racing career is made possible by his sponsors, who include Trinidad & Tobago’s Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs, Methanex, Total Lubricants, VP racing fuels, and Performance Services Technology Ltd.

In 2010 he won five IHRA events at various venues across the US, and as a result, he’s rapidly becoming known in US pro racing circles. Bissessar is hoping to go further and faster still, with the help of Sipple and the rest of the Party Time racing team, who are aiming to produce the best dragster ever built. Sipple, the chief crewman from Ironman Chassis and ASE Tuning, is working on the dragster with  Tony Gentile, another top tuner.

“Sheldon makes my job really easy,” says Sipple. “There are very few people who have what it takes in this sport to do what Sheldon does, and it obviously shows. We do the performance on the car, but in the driver’s compartment, if you don’t do that part on race day…you are in the trailer. Watching Sheldon drive is a gift – and you can count good drivers on one hand.”

 

Drag racing 101

  • In drag racing, specially modified cars compete two at a time to be the first to cross the finish line, from a standing start, in a straight line. They race over a measured distance, usually a quarter- or half-mile, on a track known as a drag strip.
  • Drag-racing events consist of a series of two-vehicle contests. The loser in each event is eliminated until one winner emerges.
  • There are several classes of professional drag racing, with top fuel dragsters (Bissessar’s class) being the fastest.

Sheldon’s support

  • Crew chief: Aaron Sipple
  • Pit crew: Tony Gentile, Mike Carr, Dave Covey, Tom Wirth, Andy Bissessar, Tony Sirju, Mushtaq Sookoor, Denzil Bissessar, Glenn Forbes, Gerome Bhola
  • Media crew: Narend Sooknarine (photo), Rodney Granado (video)

Bissessar’s car

  • Car: 2011 Ironman Chassis Top Dragster
  • Fuel: Methanol
  • Engine: 526-cubic-inch Brad Anderson Hemi
  • Supercharger: DMPE M5
  • Wheels: Weld Racing double bead locking
  • Ignition: MSD 44AMP Pro Magneto
  • Transmission: LencoDrive 3 speed
  • Converter: Bradco Engineering
  • Rear end: ASE fabricated titanium
  • Data acquisition: RPM
  • Body, nose and wings: carbon fibre
  • Safety gear: Simpson