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Thanks to John who has supplied the material and photos for this autobiographical blog. John wanted us to mention that he does not have access to his own collection of memorabilia at the moment due to the Covid-19 situation. If you have a question for John please E-Mail us at email@example.com.
Wednesday 27th May 2020: Part 3 - The racing years.
Later in 1981 at my first meeting at Santa Pod Raceway as a driver, I went to the finals. However, as I engaged gear to pull round to the start line the gear change cable broke. I could have tried to pull the cable by hand but not knowing how long it might take, I did not want to keep the other racer waiting so indicated to the marshal I was out. Before that, my first observed runs were 22 seconds, then 15 then 13, which qualified me. I remember firing the engine for my first run, then engaging gear the car shot forward about 10 feet. Fortunately nobody was in front of me. The dragster was unpainted until 1982.
In 1982 I fitted a slider clutch, the bell housing, together with the Borg Warner 35 transmission changed to a manual 3 speed by John Whitmore of Drag N Fly fame. This came complete out of the Jarman brothers slingshot dragster as they had gone to a C4 transmission for their rear engine dragster. The V6 Ford engine broke the camshaft which destroyed the engine. My times came down slowly during 1982, to a best of 10.25, 120 mph at a Blackbushe meeting in 1983. I was not competitive, only wanting to run quicker and faster rather than winning. I continued into early 1984, but unfortunately did not make the 20th anniversary meet, August 12th, at Blackbushe. During this period I had two products sponsors I was grateful to. Hanover Transmissions paid my tow car fuel. Also, GDJ Disco sales paid for the engine oil in the dragster.
During 1985, Russ Carpenter offered me a really exciting deal to supply another 2.5 Daimler engine, using his own design four bolt mains, keeping the Triumph pistons, with an improved injection system with a bigger fuel pump setup to run nitro. With 2 speed Lenco, slider clutch, BMC C series axle to a set of Russ’s wheels and tyres. Russ was sure it would run in the eights to hopefully very low eight's. I had also looked at the possibility of putting my engine in a power boat!
The deal was to attend most events with Russ overseeing the tuning and development of my dragster, at the same time running his dragster. After much consideration, it was not easy to find regular helpers for all events. Deciding I could not fund this number of races, I had to say a very big thank you to Russ for believing in me, but I could not go ahead. Then in 1986 my parents put their house up for sale, sadly meant the loss of the garage.
I contacted Rico Anthes who had found buyers for a number of cars, found one for me in Germany, where I sold it for £2,000. My brother Dave and I towed the trailer, car and all the parts labelled up to Dover, meeting three guys in a nearby car park. We pulled out the dragster so far, to fire up the engine. Karl Penyratz, the buyer, tried fitting into the seat, but could not get past the roll bars; I had said in advance there was no negotiating if he could not fit. The other two were brothers who raced a comp altered, Burnt, one of them, was the interpreter. The deal was done, a very sad moment. I spoke to Burnt at Santa Pod 2 or 3 years later, asked how Karl was doing with the car. He apparently only went out once with it, damaged the fuel pump then did no more. If anyone reading this might know how I could find out what happened to the car, or its whereabouts, likewise the engine, I would be very pleased to hear from you.
Wednesday 20th May 2020: Part 2 - Building my own dragster.
I needed to extend my chassis then, in 1978. I had known Tony Anderson who had built and raced three different dragsters during the 1960s and early 1970s, being very successful too. He was building two new R.E.D. chassis. One was for the Jarman brothers, for their 3.4 litre V6 GAA Cosworth injected engine. The other was for Barry Miller from Staines with three other guys who put in a blown 2.5 litre Daimler engine, on methanol, calling it Beautiful Noise, and painting it in black and green. Tony added a third chassis, for £500, for my 2.5 litre Injected Daimler from the Bond Bug. I had a tremendous amount of physical help, knowledge and support from them and other racers. I was looking forward to constructing my dragster over the next few years.
In 1979 when both Russ Carpenter and the Jarman brothers had sponsorship from Hepolite & Glacier pistons and bearings, the names of the two cars reflected this, Russ's called the Glacier Grenade (CD34) the Jarmans, Hepolite Hustler (MD53). Their factory was at Bradford, not far from York Raceway. After both cars raced on Sunday 10th June, with the presence of the Hepolite personnel with promotional vans, on Monday we both drove to the factory being treated like VIP's. Russ and Martin fired up the cars, both driving them on a tarmacked car park (see photo) which was not very long. Russ tried a burnout then a blast, very narrowly missing a row of shipping containers at the far end; it was very close, believe me. What a fantastic weekend overall.
I need to mention the two teams of Russ and the Jarman brothers, also Tony Anderson, for all their help, advice and support to me. I thank others such as John Newman who brought the Beautiful Noise dragster, which I'm sure was sold on to Robin Read. A very special thank you to long-time friend Dave Hills for assisting me in constructing the dragster and trailer, of course my parents for all their support, also letting me use the garage. Also Brian Inch who was such a good engineer and machinist for all the bits and bobs he made were of very high standard. So many others too, to whom I'm grateful for their help.
I was made redundant as a gearbox mechanic around January 1981. It took the next six months to finish building the dragster, mostly at A.J Fabrications’ yard. John Tilly made the body panels and adjusted the setback on the headers, all this under a sponsorship deal with the owner Wally Grift. A meeting at Santa Pod later in 1981 was my target. During these six months, I needed a bank loan for £200. My father was guarantor, he also made the first monthly repayments on the loan of £20. I was able to purchase a new parachute with a pack for £150. I purchased a fire-suit and helmet for £50 from Brian Mondey of Optimist Comp Altered fame. I was ready to go! I had already sold my first chassis to Mark Forrester in Fleet, Hampshire.
The Golddigger (GD 51) was a Tony Anderson 220 inch wheelbase chassis, 2.5 litre injected Daimler engine run on methanol, Hilborn fuel pump, Borg Warner 35 automatic transmission with converter, front wheels made by Nunn's of Surbiton, rear axle from an Austin B series, Triumph 1500 discs, Girling calipers, rear wheels and tyres from Robin Read, Stainless Steel headers built by Peter Trevino, body panels made by John Tilly of A.J Fabrications at Worplesdon, seat upholstery, transmission blanket both made by Ray Mussel, paint work by Richard Jarman, graphics by Fred the Sign. It was constructed by myself and long-time friend Dave Hills. The overall cost was around £3,000.00.
Having watched meetings at Santa Pod, Blackbushe and Long Marston Raceway, saying to myself ‘one day soon I shall be running the car down the quarter mile’. Then, I remember very well, I was sitting in the dragster in the garage, suited and booted, helmet on, strapped myself in at 2 am on the Saturday of the event saying to myself. In a few hours I shall be at Santa Pod, getting to run my dragster for real. I felt very proud. Before this, I had fired the engine at Russ's yard while looking over it with me. I also fired up the engine on the road at home. I would let the neighbors know, no one seemed to mind, it was real good fun to do. That excitement and adrenaline I first felt at Blackbushe in 1973 was there ready to experience myself, for the first time.
Wednesday 13th May 2020: Part 1 - My introduction to drag racing.
I first experienced Drag Racing September 30th 1973 at Blackbushe Airport aged 16. We lived in Guildford, Surrey; Martin, my brother took me with two of his mates. Going in a green Minivan, which either had four seats or we sat on the floor in back. It was a day to remember; watching from some distance away, behind just a single rope which was V shaped, getting much wider going away from the start line of course. We were about half way down due to the number of people already there. Although the cars and bikes were some way away, it was still a most memorable day for me, the weather was good.
Walking around the pits was truly remarkable, standing behind the start line, I'm sure was in front of the bike pits near the rollers to start the bikes. I recall very well a guy had a Douglas motorcycle, who, talking to my brother he was very much into motorcycles as were his two mates. That being the last meeting of 1973 at Blackbushe, having to wait until 1974 before going back for more.
I still remember the feeling of excitement after my first time at Blackbushe, going back to school, no one was really interested in what I had seen or heard. There was this incredible feeling of so much adrenaline, wanting to share with others. It was like coming down off cloud nine, (whatever that is). It took a day or two to come back down to earth, something I still feel today after any event. I said to my sister during this period I wanted my own dragster. The only way I could do that was to create one, I did not have the money to buy one turnkey.
With three meetings in 1974 at Blackbushe Airport organised by the National Drag Racing Club, NDRC, I quickly joined. Receiving copies of their newsletter on A4 pages stapled together, later becoming a formatted A4 magazine. Wanting to go to Santa Pod, Mum would only let me go with Martin at the time. With only me wanting to go again, however I was allowed to Blackbushe by myself, taking the train from Guildford to Camberley station, walking a good few miles to and from the Airport.
I would see a number of racers drive by on their way to Blackbushe, wishing I was in the car with them going Drag Racing. I was so shy then, I would not speak to anyone at any event. I continued to see meetings during 1974-1975 and discovered the number of racer's lived in and surrounding areas of Guildford. In 1975 or 1976 my brother took me, his girl friend and her mate in his 105E Anglia to Santa Pod. I think I must of pestered the hell out of him! We left one evening, this was pre the M25 of course, it took ages. I remember arriving at the start of Airfield Road, which we had driven past a few times by then, suddenly seeing a very small sign in the head lights saying Santa Pod. It was 4 am. Great, we had arrived. I was tired but excited, although we then had to pitch our tent in the wind and rain. I'm not sure which meeting this was, only to say at daylight, I walked around the pits surprised at the number of entries and so many I had not seen before. I am ashamed to say I don't remember much about the event itself. The next time to Santa Pod was my Dad took Martin and I to the April meet when Don Garlits came over, that was such a great event with so many good memories. All brought back recently when I watched the clip put out on Santa Pod Facebook page, it was just so good to see that again.
Late 1974 early 1975 while helping the local milkman at the weekends, and school holidays I came across Martin and Richard Jarman's front engine dragster. It had an injected V6 3 litre Ford, the car being all purple, called Strip Star, an ex Harold Bull chassis, previously owned by Derek Metcalfe, then with a V4 Ford. The dragster was on the trailer out on the road. Delivering milk to Martin’s house in Raymond Crescent, Guildford, while I was there the same day I asked his wife about the dragster, being so excited to have come across it, but Martin was out. I went back round another day. Martin lived only a five minute walk from me, I ended up going round to their garage many times a week for the next five years. Going to meetings with them at Blackbushe Airport, Santa Pod, Snetterton, Wroughton Airfield and York Raceway, getting to know many more racers. Martin would drive at NDRC meetings, Richard at Santa Pod. At Snetterton, there was plenty of spare road, Martin said have a drive in the dragster. Feeling nervous about something might happen I did not; I wish I had more confidence then and had a go!
I saw an advert in the NDRC News at the end of 1974 that Ray Hoare had his Saxon rear engine rolling chassis for sale; I don't remember the price. I was so nervous about phoning him, I would go to the phone box just around from the house, visiting it many times before I actually called. I did not want my parents to know. I had to tell them sometime as I wanted to use the garage - Dad didn't use it for his car. Just to say that, before all this, my brother and I had bought a Ford Popular to customize; this did not happen so we sold it, with me moving onto the dragster. Meeting a guy, Chris, who worked with Mike Hall of Shutdown fame. Chris knew of a rear engine chassis for sale not far away for £150. I needed to speak with my parents to use the garage of course. Meanwhile I left school age 17, frustratingly having to stay on for an extra six months, my birthday being in September.
Buying the chassis late 1975 or early 1976, I wanted to use a 2.5 litre Daimler engine; there was a lot of support for it with a good following of racers in the area. Influenced by Martin and Richard Jarman, I wanted to run an injected setup just on Methanol. Having purchased a used Daimler engine, I set about cc'ing one cylinder knowing I need as high a compression ratio as possible. Speaking with Russ Carpenter, he advised me that a Triumph standard size piston fitted a + 10 thou bore of the Daimler; the same guy had designed both engines. The Triumph piston had a good dome on it so I then needed to know how much had to come off for the valve reliefs, to work out by how much the compression was raised.
As luck would have it, at this very time an advert in the BDRA newsletter was for sale of the ex-Steve Cryer ‘Metronome’ Bond Bug from the early seventies, which originally had a blown Chrysler. Now it had an injected Daimler engine, already running the Triumph piston. The two owners from Tadley, Basingstoke, had done all that research I was about to do. They'd machined 10 pistons having the jig to do it. I met them at a tennis court, where they fired up the engine trying a few dry hops to show it worked. Then they took off a cylinder head to show me the pistons. So, job done, I purchased the complete engine, I think for £400. The injection system was a Tecalemit & Jackson, this overall saved me valuable time, putting the project well ahead.
Thank yous: I'm grateful to my brother Martin for taking me to my first meeting. I remember him coming back from his first race meeting before that, showing me an A5 poster with this thin long car with small front wheels and big fat rear tyres, saying would I like to go, you want to see this! When I started to write this story six to eight weeks ago, I told him about it and asked if he remembered anything. At that very time he was sorting out his photo album, and he told me of some 30 photos from Blackbushe. I'd forgotten he had them and am grateful for being able to use them.
Martin promptly sent the photos, and they really helped me identify the years I started going racing. It turned out to be two different meetings, the dates of which Simon has confirmed, thanks Simon. I remember seeing them before, also what memories they brought back. In those days there was such an interesting variety of cars and motorcycles, and their sounds. For me, every time you hear any fuel engine fired up is like the first time. Then, there was such a crisp clearness about the sound of a nitro burning V8, today with a lower nitro percentage and twin magnetos it sounds slightly muffled, like a V8 firing 16 times to 8 back then, if you get my drift, but of course much louder.
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