As told exclusively to
Thanks to John who has supplied the material and photos for this autobiographical blog. John expresses his gratitude to Dave Riswick at John Woolfe Racing for lending back his collection. I am extremely grateful to the following people for having supplied information directly or from their own sites assisting me in telling the stories I'm currently writing about other racers: Nick Pettit, Jerry Cookson, Clive Rooms, Simon Groves and the Trakbytes website of Chris Dossett, without whom it would have been an almost impossible task.If you have a question for John please E-Mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read the posts in last-to-first sequence, click here.
Preface: I was, at the start, very self-conscious of writing this story. I felt my story is of little significance to so many of the racers and others involved in the sport, whose stories have been told. There is a great number to still be told. I ask anyone interested in telling theirs to please get in touch. Simon did encourage me to start and continue with mine, I am glad he did now. I've really enjoyed it. I'm currently involved with writing up the history of seven individuals, six of whom have raced, and one worked with all six during the period 1964 to 1978.
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.
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 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 3rd June 2020: Part 4 - Socialising.
During the early 1980's, up until I sold the car I was involved with helping out in other areas for the sport. Four of us would visit a number of times, the social evenings organised by John Standen in The Bull at Riseley. Until starting our own social evening on every third Thursday of the month. The first, at the Stoke Hotel, Guildford. Much to my surprise, some 60/70 people turned up, being very pleased with the turn out, but feeling very nervous. So I had a few beers to relax myself knowing I needed to speak to everyone together to say, hi, thank you for turning up, what I had in mind to do, did they have any suggestions, hope you'll all attend next month. Not everyone fit in the small room we had that evening, the Hotel had a function hall which I booked for the coming months before I left that night.
There was a charge for the function hall, I asked everyone to donate £1 to cover this. If any money was left over (which there was), I would carry it forward until the following month or later. The second month we had a screen set up with a video recorder, watching drag racing videos of NHRA events with Colin and Paul's videos. The third month, had a 60 foot model drag strip from the local Surrey Street Rodders’ Club, who organise the well-established Wheels Day Car Show near Guildford on Good Friday. Dropping one length of track it fitted across the hall.
The attendance was 40 to 50 for a few months then tapered off, continuing to show the videos regularly. Then moving to the Woodbridge Hill working men's club, nearby. A more suitable sized hall for the numbers, with a built in screen and recorder. Also using the lounge with a bar and to buy our drinks. There was no charge, as the social evenings brought more business across the bar. People still made donations which I used to buy video tapes, also adding the occasional competition. The evenings ran for between three to four years. I spoke to someone a few years ago, who told me that three guys still met there every third Thursday up until 10 years ago.
I also helped the National Drag Racing Club (NDRC). Helped by Martin, a mate from school. He worked at Dennis specialist vehicles, in the packaging department. With the disused packing crates he made a box to store the club's Christmas tree light's in, which I painted black. Delivering the box to Blackbushe early on Saturday before an event. I heard from Bruno Sanderson later on they named it the coffin.
About the same time Bruno had organised the removal of a building in Brighton to go to Long Marston Raceway to rebuild as the clubhouse, delivering a trailer load to the raceway. Then Pete Field of Field Cycles in Fleet found a large crane locally, with the jib off lying on the ground. We took off all the cab panels over two weekends to expose the engine, which we understood was a runner. We agreed with a local scrap man to lift the engine onto Pete's trailer, taking it to Long Marston Raceway to be used to run the rollers to start the Motorcycles. The scrap man had what was left in return for his hi-ab lifting the engine. There was no fee for the crane, the owner just wanted it gone, so that was a result.
I put my dragster into a nightclub for the Surrey Street Rodders annual Christmas bash, January 1982, it snowed that night therefore was cancelled but rescheduled for February. I did this for a second time, it was quite a task getting over a wall outside, up a corridor just wide enough, then taking of the front wheels to lift it over a glass screen of the eating area while pushing a pole table into to the ceiling to get round to the left where the dragster settled, that was real fun!!!! I agreed with Tony East, of ARE Motor Factors, Guildford, posting £100 prize fund, I think, split for winner, runner up across three classes at a Blackbushe meeting in 1983.
During this same period I organized cars and bikes to attend the local Surrey Street Rodders Club's annual event Wheels Day car show. In the first years the show used the area of the cattle market on the Slyfield Green Industrial Estate, Guildford. Russ Carpenter would go most years, supporting the club. He was a member, he'd fire up the engine at each show. For the 1984 Wheels Day, I organised a group of mostly local dragsters. It was not easy getting racer’s to attend as it was always on Good Friday, this clashed with Santa Pod. However in attendance with Russ, were Dave Wilson with his Krypton alcohol dragster, Steve Johnson’s Motor Mouse front engine dragster, the Jarman brother's rear engine dragster, Frank Bennett's Pop, Phantasm comp altered, Mark Forrester's rear engine dragster, Marksman, Pete Lugro's Drag bike, my dragster. I think that was everyone. We did fire most of the car's individually then I'm sure we did some together. There is a video recording done by Paul Lambert and others jointly, he was instrumental in organising the indoor Ace of Clubs Dragster and Custom Car Show held at Farnborough Leisure Center in April 1985. I was pleased that day to be sitting in Dave and Russ's dragsters when fired up individually.
Links: Street Dreams film narrated by DLT - I'm featured in the pits and on a run at Santa Pod.
Wednesday 10th June 2020: Part 5 - Trip to America.
Also during the early 1980’s, I met Herb Andrews and Bob Vaughan of Magnum Force Comp altered, Dave Ellis and Paul Picket who had The Comet motorcycle- engined dragster, renamed Exile, with myself and my crew member Kevin Chanot. Paul sadly died some years ago, he was a real nice guy. Herb, Bob and Dave had been to America before, but myself, Paul, and Kevin had not. During late 1983 or early 1984, we visited the Sandrock Arms near Farnham. A good real ale pub which we all enjoyed. We organised our trip to America for August-September 1984. Bob worked for a phone company, he could contact places we wanted to visit, as there was no internet then, booking everything in advance. The six of us flew into JFK Airport on Saturday 25th August 1984. It was quite an experience getting through passport control. Kevin was detained and questioned, this led to quite a delay getting out to meet the car hire drop-off; the company was a few miles from the airport, we had missed this, having then to get a taxi to the car hire place before it closed at six.
We split into two groups of three. I asked two taxi drivers 'Rockaway Boulevard please', they just drove off. Then we saw this guy dressed like a traffic warden who would hail you a cab, which he did. The driver put our cases into the trunk, we got in the back, he and the driver had a chat; we were then asked to get out, the cases were unloaded onto the pavement, and he then hailed us another cab! The other three, had already got a cab well before we finally got away. I asked our driver why we had been turned away by three cabs, but he did not answer. When we drove off the freeway turning right into Rockaway Boulevard, it was a really long road with like 2000 numbers, we needed to go to the far end. I then realized it was not the best place for us to be going. We arrived around 6.30, the guy stayed on for us, he was a really nice guy, very helpful, telling us how best to drive out of the area.
Herb and Bob were the nominated drivers - we all wanted to drive, the insurance only allowed two drivers. We had a Chevrolet Caprice station wagon, setting out on our way heading to Esta Safety Park Drag Strip, Cicero, Syracuse, New York State, run by the couple who did the fuel checking at the NHRA events. We decided to just drive while looking for a place to stay the night; unable to find somewhere suitable, we stopped around 10pm at a roadside bar for a beer. We all slept in the car in the car park, then setting off at first light. What an experience on my first trip to America.
Arriving at Esta Park drag strip Sunday 26th mid morning, we had been told to introduce ourselves, as we did, on the gate were guest tickets from the couple who ran it. It was so good to see a local track with a full sportsman race event with a few hundred competitors, no fuel cars. A pair would leave the line, while on their way down another pair burned out ready to stage, two more in the water box ready to burn out, this continuing until we left. The others went up into the tower to meet the couple who ran the events. What a great day.
On Monday 27th we drove to Niagara Falls, which we saw from the Canadian side, going down into the tunnel under the Falls, a great experience. Then on to Indianapolis for the 30th US Nationals, August 30th to September 3rd 1984, visiting 4 speed shops and one chassis shop on our way. First day at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Thursday 30th, a practice day, it was hot. We parked just after the finish line, as we got out, we heard the noise of what was a comp dragster, which had flipped over and slid along inside the barrier, the driver was fine, the Safety Safari had it all cleared very quickly as we watched on. Then back to Motel 6, about 40 miles away which we stayed at for the next few nights. Friday was the first qualifying pro session which lasted some three hours as there were so many entered in each class. I recall some 30 Top Fuel Dragsters, more Funny cars, some 40 Top Alcohol dragsters, 60 odd Alcohol Funny cars, loads of Pro Stock then Top Fuel motorcycles.
Don Garlits had returned after a five year absence, Shirley Muldowney had unfortunately crashed her car in 1983, she was still recovering from her injuries. At the event, a few hundred pink balloons were released, promoting fundraising towards her medical costs. I did donate.
On the Friday, in front of where we were, Phil Hobbs top fuel dragster, came up onto the guard rail, riding it for a bit before dropping over onto the grass then rolling many times, he was ok but sadly not the car. (you can watch it on Youtube). Don Garlits raised the rear wing on his car on the Fri for Saturday's practice session. Lots of the cars had already fitted them by this time, Joe Amato was the first to do this earlier that year with great results. The weather was great until Monday; the finals of the pro classes were brought forward to earlier in the day, as it did then rain. Don Garlits won Top Fuel, Jim Head Funny Car, Warren Johnson Pro Stock, I think Elmer Trett won Top Fuel Motorcycle. Tom McEwen won the Big Bud Shootout. We went back for most of Tuesday to watch 260 Super Gas cars race until only two were left.
During the event we all met Brian and Ann Johnson who were out there for the year campaigning in the Top Fuel motorcycle championship; Herb and Bob knew them quite well as they did Dave Fletcher. Dave, known as Fletch, was crewing on Frank Hawley’s Nitro funny car, he did of course stay to live, then worked for a number of the top teams, such as Roland Leong, Kenny Bernstein, Vandergriff Motorsports, Torrence Racing, Al-Anabi Racing and Don Schumacher Racing. I introduced myself to Troy Buff; his father Willard drove the top alcohol dragster Golddigger. I shared photos of my car; we had a good chat comparing drag racing in the UK to the US, then swapped tee shirts. I still have his one today with others. The six days we spent there were truly amazing with 1400 entries overall - truly fantastic, just brilliant.
I had earache with a little dizziness; Bob took me to hospital later on Tuesday. I asked the lady at assessment, while putting my name tag on my wrist, what happens now, what's the cost involved. She said $25 to see her, $50 for a blood test, then anything upwards. She asked, what if she visited the UK then needing treatment, I said, you just walk in, get seen to, no charge, she was very surprised. At which point she phoned a local doctor's surgery, explained my symptoms, made me an appointment, and gave me directions. Cutting off my wristband, she said just walk out, say nothing to anyone. I had an ear infection brought on by my first time flying, I got the medication, it all cost I think about $24, which I claimed back on insurance, and got back about £13.
We visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, Wednesday 5th September. Going around the circuit in the tour bus ride that's available, a tape recording playing of important moments in racing history. It was very interesting, well worth experiencing for just $1.00. We then headed to Bristol, Tennessee, for the 5th Fall Nationals, Thunder Valley Raceway for Sat, Sun 7/8th September. We visited the Maker's Mark whisky distillery on route, having a sample but was not for sale, we had to buy a bottle at the local liquor store.
We booked into the Motel Saturday morning, then went to Thunder Valley. This was run then by the IHRA. The weather was really hot, and racing just great, as was the entry across all classes, another brilliant weekend overall. We sat in the seating which was built into the banking the full length of the quarter mile. The other side had one small seating area, I imagined for the racers as all the pits were behind it. When a car fired up in the pits then whapped the throttle, as they did back then, the sound would echo round the valley, a brilliant sensation.
We headed to New Jersey where we would stay until it was time to return home September 12th. We traveled into New York City from there to experience the city and visit the Twin Towers. We went up in the lift, which I seem to remember took less than a minute to reach the top, where you could go outside on a viewing platform, which was brilliant as it was a sunny day. I stood upright against the wall at the bottom of one tower, then looked straight up the building, thinking that's a Drag Strip quarter mile high, it made me feel giddy. We also went up the Empire State building; the lift was much slower, you could not go right to the top, but out on a viewing gallery which you could walk around. Our last visit to the USS Intrepid Aircraft Carrier Museum on Hudson River. All of this being a great experience.
A truly remarkable, memorable, incredible experience, having traveled some 3,000 miles over ten days of our trip while having seen nine days of brilliant Drag Racing at three very different venues, travelling through seven States, into Canada. An unforgettable experience, the holiday of a lifetime, I guess that's why I remember so much to have written this.
Wednesday 17th June 2020: Part 6 - Ace of Clubs show in Farnborough.
We are grateful to Nick Pettitt of timetraveldvds.blogspot.com for permission to use the images in this part of John's story.
Once back from the US trip, I set about organising the "Ace of Clubs" indoor charity Dragster and Custom Car Show. I knew Paul Lambert who worked at the Farnborough Leisure Centre, Hampshire. He put the idea to Barry the manager. He offered us the main hall, with a balcony which we used for the PA system, also a smaller hall, all within a flexible arrangement with reduced fees, as it was in aid of charity. John Price was our compere for the weekend, having his sound system on the balcony, with it all to himself, looking over the main hall, he did all the commentary, music and trophy presentation.
I knew Mike Payne of Transmissions Services, I worked for him back in 1977. He was at the time chairman of the National Street Rod Association (NSRA), Steve Sharman chairman of the National Street Van Association, (NSVA). Then after having spoken to Keith and Frances Parker who ran the NDRC, I asked if I could use the NDRC name and logo, to represent the drag racing world, which they agreed. I started working at Hanover Transmissions 1981, owned by John Hayward, whom I’m most grateful to for allowing me to use the office and phone. This was essential to the success of the show. I created an exhibitor form with the help support and some sponsorship from Phoenix Press in Guildford for all our print and stationery requirements. We made the exhibitor forms available to those in all clubs or any other owners of show vehicles, both four and two wheeled.
The date was set for Sat/Sun, 20th/21st April 1985. Having seven months to organise this we set about our own tasks, however I did end up doing most of it, as Mike and Steve were busy with their work. I really enjoyed the challenge which did pay off by the end of the show. I agreed for £500 with local company Autocavan, who became our main sponsor. I got help from Gary Davis from the Surrey Street Rodders who acquired the wood, then assisted building five trade stand fronts. They were real basic, something you could not do now, although they did the job back then. David Goeff had not long started his business Signseen in Guildford. I asked if he could make an advertisement board about 24' x 3' to go over the top of the newspaper stand inside Farnham railway station, and I got offered this space free. I'm sure he painted it all freehand on two boards, including pictures of a street rod, dragster and motorcycle. He sponsored this for the show, it was really well done, and was kept by Steve Sharman.
We divided the main hall space between three categories, drag racing, street rodding and custom vans. Myself, Mike and Steve all had our own show worthy vehicles but agreed it was not right for us to display them in the show. The small hall was dedicated to 2 wheel machines, drag bikes, road motorcycles and scooters. I drew up a plan of both halls on graph paper, each square representing one foot of space. I moved small pieces of graph paper around to fit into their respective areas. We were overwhelmed with entries, making it very difficult to decide which ones to choose. We chose a few each from our own categories then we had an open discussion on the rest, narrowing it down that way.
I went to a local TV and radio appliance shop just outside Farnham. I asked the owner, would he loan us two ex-demonstration TV's and a video player, in return for advertising their company. I invited Colin’s and Paul's videos to play their range of NHRA drag racing films during the weekend, advertising their films for sale. It was one of the easiest deals I've done, after very little explanation the shop owner agreed. When I went to collect them before the show he gave me all new equipment still boxed up. I offered my credit card as security, he said no need, what a really nice, trustworthy guy.
We'd given time slots to everyone to turn up between, on the Friday afternoon and evening, in order to access the hall in the correct order according to the layout. We were limited to space outside for waiting time. Everyone was great sticking to the time slots, making access to the hall so much easier, we obviously brought in the long dragsters first, also other trailered vehicles. Likewise on break down, it worked in reverse so the trailered vehicles had time to load whereas those driving back went straight out first and on their way. I must say now that it did all work very well. We received some complimentary and positive feedback letters after the show.
I drew circles on a map to work out mileage payments by distance, starting from £5 then increased by £5 each time up to £25, allowing £1 per mile. We said as long as we had people through the doors on Saturday the first monies would go to each exhibitor, which we managed to do that evening for which people were grateful. We also sent cheques after Sunday's attendance for the same amounts to every exhibitor with a copy of the accounts, total spend £1,568. It was only a small fee but wanting to keep our word, had the gate money been more we would have paid more. We donated to two charities, buying an alarm system for a local care home, then 3 tricycles for a partially handicapped children's center, total spend £1,057 with the balance of £410, not required for another show, which was donated to charity, only I’m not sure now which.
We had sent out press releases with passes to as many local newspapers and national TV stations that we could find. The BBC did put up on the screen Saturday morning the poster of the event with no sound, but being shown for about 10 seconds. I believe a couple of the local newspaper reporters turned up and I'm sure I remember one TV station from down south coast did film too! I knew one local paper sports reporter who had been to Blackbushe previously doing a report after the event; he was very keen to cover the show - however he actually didn't turn up. As luck would have it, a father and son who lived locally at Fleet filming weddings, asked permission to film the show. I asked if they were prepared to do a copy of the overall show, with use of a balcony, giving full access to all areas, also the trophy presentation. They promptly did this at no cost to the show. It worked out great, we then offered copies for sale after the show, I think we sold about 12. A link to the videos is available below.
I remember sitting in the leisure center restaurant on the Saturday morning with my parents feeling full of anxiety about the show overall, just feeling sick inside, could not drink my cuppa. My parents were very supportive throughout. I now realise at age 61, having had anxiety at different times over the years, that I have learnt now to understand it much better. The feeling was a mixture of adrenaline, excitement and anxiety all at the same time. That's another story about anxiety. An NSRA member was an accountant, he did the accounts for free. Likewise so many other people gave their time free in order to support the charities. You need such a team of people to organise an event like this, we did have some great support all round, I do take the credit for bringing it all together. Mike has sadly since passed away, Steve I lost contact with. I think it's fair to say it was a successful show overall, and I learned lots from the experience.
Thursday 25th June 2020: Part 7 - Back in the U.S. of A.
After selling my dragster in 1986 I had no involvement with drag racing for a couple of years, during 1987 and 1988. I did a variety of jobs followed by a very low period, which took me to see a hypnotherapist. I had 14 sessions with Derek in late 88, early 89 which worked wonders. Just before this I had answered an ad in the local paper, house buyer seeks similar. Buying a share in a house, which, you guessed it, did not work, as I write this it was most probably the cause of my low period at the time.
As luck would have it, Darryl, who I worked with at Hanover Transmissions in the early 1980’s, had kept in touch with me. His family lived in Daytona, Florida. Darryl’s family were moving out there into one of the family homes, a five bedroom place in Ormond Beach. He asked if I would like to go stay for six months. Yes please I said without hesitation. Getting a six months visa, I intended to visit an NHRA event. I was looking into getting hired for the season on one of the fuel car teams. Knowing Fletch who I’d met on my 1984 trip, understanding he was working on Roland Leong's team, so hoping to meet up with him. He had a good knowledge about this, as he’d been working for a number of teams by this time.
Thursday May 4th 1989 I left for Orlando, meeting Darryl, then back to a very nice house in Ormond beach. Darryl’s Father had an auction room with roadside frontage which had dumper trucks for sale, as we say tipper trucks. This was in Daytona, in sight of Daytona International Speedway. I helped, cleaning the trucks, then on a Wednesday evening driving the cars through the auction, all good fun. Darryl had brought a run around Fiesta for my time there. I planned a trip to the 14th annual Cajun Nationals May 27th 28th for which I hired a new Escort for my trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Leaving 6am Friday 26th, my first stop at Tallahassee to book ahead Motel 6 for three nights. Then Mobile Alabama stopped for lunch. Continuing onto Mississippi driving through a time zone off one hour less, then onto Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 740 miles. Arriving at Motel 6 at six that evening. This was a personal achievement. Going into the room, laying down on the bed with a sigh of satisfaction, the going down sun shining through the open door. Then it suddenly hit me, that thing called anxiety. Thinking positively, I walked round to reception to ask directions to the raceway. Well on my way round sitting outside their room, two guys with drag racing shirts on. One of them eating crawfish, from a large bag on an empty drinks tray. I’d seen the sign down the road saying 5lb for $10. I asked how far the raceway was.
Ray the guy eating said do you like crawfish, yes I said, sit down and tuck in then, which I did. We got talking, while the second guy sitting next to Ray had his head down in his knees with a burger king meal untouched next to him. After 10 minutes he looked up at me and said do you come from England?'' Saying yes but from Florida today, he said you're mad to travel all that way to see drag racing. His name was Phill, a true redneck as they say, he was sunburnt for sure. Ray’s son Ray jr was lying on the bed inside.They were from Mississippi. Well that was it, I didn't look back for the rest of the weekend. As luck would have it, Ray’s daughter normally went, Ray offered me the weekend ticket with seating which was a stand block that was 90 degrees to the track and next to the start line. Great, it was $70 he asked for $50. We all ended up in the pool that night with a few beers. Ray already said to go with them each day to the track in his Ford Econoline, this worked a treat.The weekend was very hot, with a very good entry, some great racing, with a good view looking straight down the track. I did spend quite a lot of time walking around the pits.
I collected loads of hero cards as I was on a mission for Paul Lambert of Blue Dots, to collect them to take back with other drag racing sample merchandise for his stand. I spoke to Roland Leong as I understood Dave Fletcher, Fletch, was working with the team, which he had done. Speaking then to Frank Hawley, said Fletch was back at his drag racing school in Gainesville. Sunday afternoon Jim White driver of Roland Leong’s, Hawian Punch funny car was sitting alone on the tailgate of their pickup. Taking the opportunity to ask him how to get hired onto a team. Inviting me to sit on the tailgate he started to say did I have a licence to drive the big rig. At that moment the whole team appeared surrounding the pickup ending that conversation. I also spoke to a young lad who had taken round his resume on Wednesday and got hired by Gene Snow for the weekend. I guess he got hired for the season as Gene Snow won Top Fuel Dragster, Mike Dunn won Funny Car and Bruce Allen Pro Stock. What a truly fantastic weekend. I drove back on the Monday, later having the after-meeting blues during the next few days, but at the time I was feeling just great.
I phoned Fletch Friday, arranging to meet him on Saturday. I went to Don Garlits Museum on route to Gainesville, that was just so very very interesting and well worth the visit. I enquired about buying a quantity of tee shirts I spoke to Donna Garlits, but no deal on a quantity, these were for Paul. I met Fletch in a brewpub come cafe in downtown Gainesville, chatting for the next 4 hours. I wanted to learn about his experience of working for a team when he first came over. I gathered as much information as I could about being on the road for a season. The main point he highlighted was needing at least $80 a week. It was so worthwhile, Fletch was so helpful and really good, easy to talk to, very enjoyable and so useful.
I phoned Paul the next day, and told him the price of tee shirts from the Garlits Museum. I went back on Monday to buy one of each from the range of tee shirts to go with the hero cards from the Cajun Nationals. I brought a variety of pin badges from a local Flea market in Daytona, also some belt buckles as samples with a catalogue. I sent it all back via surface mail to Paul as I’d planned to stay for the six months. I also looked to ship back a 1961 Chevrolet Impala which had failed to sell in the auction, which I could have bought for $300. However practicalities, together with the cost of shipping, resulted in this not happening.
Seven weeks into my trip having decided not to follow up on getting hired, which I do regret. I decided to return home. Just before my return Thursday 22nd June. Troy had brought a ticket for me to go with him to see the Pepsi 400 Challenge at the Daytona International Speedway, just near the auction room for that weekend. Only telling me on the Wednesday auction evening, having gone along to say my goodbyes before leaving on Thursday, a real shame. The weather had been in the mid 80 degrees at first then into the 90's, as high as 98 degrees also the humidity was well into the 80’s which did get a bit much for me. The most important thing was in my seven weeks there I had learnt more about myself, others and life in general than I had in the last seven years. A truly remarkable experience, fantastic time, unforgettable memories and this time I had written a diary so I have been correct with my dates.
Diamond P coverage of 1989 Cajun Nationals: click here.
Sunday 19th July 2020: Part 8 - Models, real ale and the birth of Drag Racing Nuts.
Stepping back to 1986, just before I sold the dragster, an annual visitor from Portsmouth to the estate, servicing garden tools, saw the dragster in the garage. He told me about Peter Young, of Dreadnought Model Engineers in Gosport. After meeting Peter and seeing some of the fantastic models he’d built, he agreed to make a scaled model of the dragster. We agreed on a price of £400 providing there was no time scale. In September 1990, I collected the model, just needing to have it painted. As luck would have it a friend Andy collected Dinky Toys, he agreed to paint and put on the lettering. Also he made the HT leads, seat belts and fuel lines for £200. Although it was quite a bit of money at the time, I'm so pleased now that I had it made. Yes there is a rear wing on the model dragster for those who have spotted it. (I did have the wing stored in a lockup, but sadly after a new door was fitted without me being there, when I came to fit the wing it was missing). I myself did build the Houndog and Blue Max models from kits.
After such a great experience from my US trip 1989, I came straight back into fitting a new kitchen and fitted bedroom furniture in my sister’s house. Also I sold my share in the house to the person I had bought it with. Turning to my passion for real ales, from the early 1980’s I’d served on the committee for the Farnham Beer Festival, for three years collecting the ales from breweries. I inquired in my last year prior to my US visit about buying beers from those breweries I had visited. Thus in late 1989 I started Guest Beers and Ales, wholesaling those real ales.
During the next couple of years wholesaling, my brother Martin practiced brewing on a 5 gallon home built full mash, tower brewing plant. I marketed this brew at 4.2% abv in two free houses, also at organized house beer tastings alongside a selection of bottled beers mostly Belgian. This ale became the flagship beer for the brewery, called T.E.A. (Traditional English Ale). Martin and I started the Hogs Back Brewery which opened on 4th August 1992, with partner Tony. I left the partnership in April 1995 due to ill health but felt proud to have been a partner up until then.
On the brewery site were 1930’s Tiger Moth and Stearman biplanes and I was taken up in both. Then in the Stearman, I was allowed to use the joystick, all three flights a fantastic experience. I’d met Maureen McCrae-McIntyre, my partner, before I left the brewery, whom I am most grateful to for her support at that time. Mid 1995, once having gained back my confidence, I worked at Sainsburys cleaning the canteen and kitchen, continuing with a variety of part time jobs while Maureen had full time employment. At the same time I turned my attention and focus back to drag racing. I always admired Brian Taylor’s contingency prize fund which he started in 1978. It worked extremely well, and became beneficial to the racers who qualified to race in the Super Comp class. This was made up of the fastest qualifiers from each class of dragster and competition altered, if I remember correctly.
We wanted to do something similar to support the racers financially. Maureen and I sat in a pub garden in Woking one evening; Maureen wrote out our requirements, objectives and how to go about it. As luck would have it, on a trip to Mevagissey, Cornwall, in an amusement arcade we saw a large collection of small figurines all with the same theme, i.e. boozing nut, fishing nut and so on. On our journey home while looking at the three or four of these we had brought, Maureen just said drag racing nut, which was of course what we decided on, Drag Racing Nuts, DRN. I not only have Maureen to be thankful to but am hugely grateful for her being so supportive of putting the whole idea into realization. I could not have done it without her. Knowing John who made some plaster cast plaques for the brewery, he made a couple of sample figurines; we chose one holding a set of the Christmas tree lights, naming him Norman Nut.
Already having the Chevrolet day van, I set about drawing a plan for our sales trailer. Asking Russ Carpenter his opinion, he funnily enough had a similar drawing of the same. He offered me the use of his workshop and facilities to build the trailer. I contacted four companies who I’d had dealings with through the brewery. John Bennett of Weybourne Transport Services agreed to sponsor us £400 to buy the steel to start the trailer build. Then H3 Print and Design who printed clothing also had just started embroidery. Pozi, as nicknamed, one of the owners, set about drawing some designs for the logo, coming up with the one we used. Godalming Print Shop agreed to supply all stationery needs. Value Valet, agreeing to wash the van and trailer before an event. Normandy Garage agreed to supply us with £500 of fuel for the Chevrolet. Sunbrella of Ripley sponsored us a 4x4 meter umbrella and base, worth over £500, we used this to cover the sales side of the trailer. Things were coming together quite nicely.
Asking each company for a £500 product support and or services sponsorship package was preferable to asking for money. In return we supported the individual companies in various ways through the DRN for example, buying clothing items from H3 Print and Design. We had already agreed a products deal with David Graham for 12 cases of Kendall Oil. Having created a platform with the DRN, our intention was to find companies to support teams with the consumable products that can make such a difference to the operating cost of any team. From the beginning this was all done on letters of intent with every company. The setting up of the Drag Racing Nuts was concluded. Having these seven companies on board would make it easier to continue approaching other companies that I didn’t know.
Then, needing to know about trading at Santa Pod and Avon Park Raceway. I phoned Bo Meftah, one of the partners who took over Santa Pod from Roy Phelps. Bo agreed to meet me at his London office. He was not there when I arrived; his secretary showed me to his office indicating where to sit which looked odd. When Bo arrived he pointed out I was sitting in his chair, he said don’t move. So I don't know if that was deliberate, but it was most odd. I explained the concept of the DRN in full which he listened to with great interest, not asking many questions. He said he would explain to Mo and Jo Charlton, who managed the traders area at Santa Pod, so that Maureen and I could meet them and sort out our pitch. I left with Bo’s full permission to trade freely. We also had full permission from Anthony Hodges to trade freely at Avon Park.
We visited a Santa Pod Racers Club committee meeting, speaking first to Tim Cook then to Lesley Digby who were both very accommodating but I think seemed a little confused. We realised a short time afterwards maybe we had been seen as a bit of a threat. This could not have been further from the truth. We only wanted to work with the clubs in cooperation but not wanting to go through a committee process if we could avoid it. We wanted to run as an organisation which appealed more to the spectator and general public, selling memberships and merchandise to raise prize funds from the profit; it was that simple. Staying as neutral as possible to the cause, I was and have not been someone who wanted to get politically involved, although that cannot always be avoided.
Monday 17th August 2020: Part 9 - Operating Drag Racing Nuts.
We continued trading while building the trailer which we first used September 1995. We visited the Winston Select Finals at Pomona, November 1995. Having written to many of the racers in the professional classes in advance, I had received a reply from Adria Force before we left to visit the shop at John Force Racing, in Yorba Linda and sort out some memorabilia to donate. We visited it just before the Finals. John was at the SEMA show, however we first met John’s Mum, his wife, then Adria. We also met Bernie Fedderly, one of two crew chiefs; they allowed us to walk freely around the rest of the premises. Before leaving Adria, sorted out a great selection of goodies for us to take. Everyone was so friendly and accommodating, it was the experience of a lifetime. We introduced ourselves to some 20 teams at the Finals. We had a great response from everyone, collecting a great range of hero cards, tee shirts, caps, decals, model kits, with many signed by the drivers. These we sold, and took bids on the more collectable items during the 1996 season, each one going to the highest bidder at the end of the season.
Acquiring more companies as product sponsors to Drag Racing Nuts during 1996. Guildford Tyres supplied tyres for the trailer; Gourmet Chocolates, which was Bob and Kath Glassup of Bubblegum competition altered fame, made DRN chocolate bars, Sarah Jane Frames framed all the prints we sold. Ultimate Images supplied vinyl graphics on the trailer, St Georges Coachworks and Wheelchair Travel supplied paint, use of a workshop and sprayed the trailer. Saville Interiors, T. Simmonds, and N.M.B. supplied a variety of products used in the trailer or for raffle prizes. Marshall Manufacturing cast the pin badges of the dragster and funny car. Malcolm, a long time friend, made the originals to make the moulds, and cast them alongside other runs of badges, all at no cost to the DRN.
Having introduced this range of new products, they sold well at first, then over a period of time sales slowed down due to a limited market place. Our market was mostly drag racing fans, which was great as that’s what we were about, creating prize funds for drag racers. By Easter 1996 Keith Bartlett had acquired Santa Pod Raceway; I needed his permission to continue trading as we had been, or not. Tracking him down at the end of the event, he agreed we could continue as we were. That was a relief. From there on we built a good working relationship with Keith and his colleagues over the next two years.
At the Summer Nationals 1996, Ray and Brian Cross who ran the Deadly Messiah comp altered suffered an incident. Ray lost some fingers in an accident with a blower belt on another racer's dragster. D.R.A.G. (Drag Racing Action Group), an organisation run by Penny Williams and Carla Pittau, raised money to help injured racers financially. With a bin collection, they raised £600 from the spectators, racers and traders. We had already auctioned off a number of broken parts donated by racers. On this occasion a piston with an embedded valve and four tee shirts were donated by Lex Joon. John Price announced over the p.a. we would auction them from the trailer, raising £50 for the piston, a total of £128 including the shirts, all the money going to Ray Cross.
Norman, the Drag Racing Nut, became popular, and was awarded as a trophy for Racer of the Meet. This was chosen by the commentators, John Price and Graham Backwith at Santa Pod then Jerry Cookson and Martin Bennett at Avon Park Raceway. Awards from 1995 to 1997 were to Barry Sheavils, Andy Robinson, Robin Read, Rune Fjeld, Peter Schofer, Lex Joon, Fay Fischer, Peter Creswell, David Williams and Mark Balzaretti. I’m sure some went to the Wild Bunch class, although now I'm not sure of the names, sorry. Norman had met his other half, Norma Nut, she was to appear at meetings with him, sadly this did not happen. She was real in her plaster cast figurine though!
We had already attended by this time the Performance Car Show, Olympia 1995, on behalf of D.R.A.G., Wheels Day Car Show, organised by the Surrey Street Rodders, in 1995, again in '96 and '97. This had displays from Bob Glassup, Barry Giles, Terry Gibbs and John Menetrier, with engine fire ups. Also there were monthly social nights, barbecues at the tracks for members and sponsors, and a coach trip to the Santa Pod World Finals in 1996. At Autosport 1997, we were invited by Power Racing Communications on to the Santa Pod Raceway stand, all a very good experience.
Above all, Drag Racing Nuts was an organisation set up to raise funding to support drag racers using all the product sponsorship deals from the companies mentioned above. I wanted to expand on that, to pass packages to racers directly, supporting the consumable parts used by a race team on both two and four wheeled vehicles. We managed to raise some useful prize money along with the Norman Conquest with a sum of £1,300 put up by member Colin Cripps. Thanks to so many people that made it possible for Maureen and I to operate the Drag Racing Nuts how we did. To mention a few, Richard, Mervin, Marilyn Lock, Dave and Debbie Dick, Jon Benn, Paul Francis, Andy Willsheer and anyone else who helped, thanks. We were asked, mainly by racers, why we ran the DRN especially as there was no financial reward for us personally. Well, we asked the racer a similar question, why do you race.
The DRN operated from mid 1995 to late 1997, with just over 100 members. We raised £11,000 product support from 19 different companies, putting up prize funds to the value of £5,000 from just the drag race events, five outside shows and monthly visits to Guildford Cruise, also from the sale of a quantity of jackets to F.A.S.T members. Attending this small number of events gave us a great scope and opportunity to go fully mobile. However I wanted to prove it could work. It was my intention to then approach Santa Pod and Avon Park to assist me in taking the operation out on the road to eventually go fully mobile to increase exposure, sponsorship and involve more companies alongside DRN, Santa Pod and Avon Park Raceways. I wanted to grow the operation so I could eventually start earning for myself from the various types of packages we could then make available.
One time attending a committee meeting, as we got out of the Chevrolet van a racer walking past, said to his colleague, so we could hear, and knew that we did. He implied we run the van on the DRN. They failed to understand the following companies sponsored us, Normandy Garage, petrol required, Trams American Spares, parts, Shalford Autos servicing, ABS Batteries of Guildford, a new battery, all for the van. I still paid the road tax and insurance, and we had already put up the van originally as the tow vehicle out of our own funds. We slept in the van and thus incurred no overnight costs. That comment irritated and hurt me. They easily condemned what they saw, rather than trying to understand the reality behind it.
We did on two occasions treat ourselves and Richard Lock, who gave his time freely, to a pizza, being too busy serving to prepare the food we usually took. I’m really proud of what everyone involved had achieved in a relatively short time, the support from track owners to racers and spectators for the donations of magazines, memorabilia and a great assortment of other items. A very memorable and gratifying experience.
Friday 2nd October 2020: Part 10 - Obsession Motorsports 1997-1999.
After three years trading as the Drag Racing Nuts, Maureen and I decided to stop for the time being. Maureen still worked at her same full time job. We had the opportunity mid 1997 to open an Off-Licence shop in Woking town centre, selling a selection of bottled beers, mostly English & Belgium, calling ourselves Beer Nuts. This was part of a leisure center called Planets, with a micro brewery on site, producing their own traditional real ales. About six months in, and shortly before Christmas, the company we rented the shop from unfortunately went into administration, so we chose to leave. Terry and Tina Gibbs had run their first event, Super Slam, a few months previously at Avon Park August 23rd/25th 1997. This prompted me to get in touch. It must have been very early 1998, I first spoke to Terry, he was at Avon Park Raceway at the time. We arranged to meet up at their place; we lived only a few miles from them at Woking. We talked to them about doing something with the Drag Racing Nuts, however they were very much focused on just running the events.
Thankfully what came from that was myself working at the offices at Woking for Obsession Motorsports. Terry said there’s a spare office ready to use with a phone. The arrangement for 1998 was very flexible, to assist in the operations and organisation for the Super Series events at Avon Park Raceway. Not knowing how the first year would turn out, I agreed to work for no fees, having full use of the office, phone and the facilities freely available, and working solely for Obsession Motorsports. My duties were to assist Terry and Tina with most aspects involved in the organisation of the 1998 Super Series championship drag racing events at Avon Park Raceway. My main tasks from the office in Woking were to deal with any form of sponsorship, also organising in advance Traders, Trophies for all events, and the end of year Championship Presentation. I also had to find a venue for the 1998 Dinner Dance and all aspects involved in its organisation.
When starting out, working with new people at first is always a challenge. I discovered in the first months of 1998, Terry was quite particular with most things. Everything was very neat and tidy everywhere, this was really good and pleased me. During the day I learnt when to choose my moments, usually at the start, to ask things of Terry and Tina while they were running their own business. This was building, maintenance and air conditioning, mostly for public house refurbishments. Terry and Tina were both very much involved in all aspects, taking the time and interest at the end of any day in what I had been doing. It was good team work, and quickly we all had a good understanding of working together. This was good for me, being trusted, left to get on with the work, still asking if I had a query, then catching up at the end of the day. Both they and I had a good understanding of what was going on and what was needed to deal with anything.
At Avon Park Terry and Tina had a unit installed just behind the start line with a viewing tower, to be used for hospitality. This was to be used for invited guests, sponsors and potentials, all done with the approval from track owner Anthony Hodges. Maureen and I were asked by Terry and Tina to look after the unit and guests. I would welcome the guests, looking after them during the day and Maureen would supply, cook and present the food and drink. Maureen charged per guest at an agreed price with Terry. Maureen also did a packed lunch each day for between 15 to 20 marshals, with help from friend Debbie on the busier meets. This was charged to the club at cost price. I would deliver them round to the marshals as it was not always possible for them to stand down for a lunch break. I would, before any final rounds, check eligibility of racers displaying decals from participating companies in the contingency sponsorship scheme, making sure the trophy presentation was ready to take place at the unit, being presented by John Price.
I remember when I asked Terry about doing the end of year trophy presentations and diner dance, he was very uneasy about this, I think he felt a lot of things could go wrong with all the organisation involved in advance and the time scale building up to, and on, the night. Then there was the cost of the event, and ensuring it ultimately broke even. He said to me if I was happy to organise it all, he would finance what was necessary and back me all the way. I also remember Terry and Tina were very passionate about the idea of a joint presentation evening with both the APIRA and SPRC. I was also in favour of this. We chose the Hanover International Hotel, Daventry, Saturday 31st October 1998 for our first Super Series Championships Presentations and Dinner Dance, making available on the night the Super Series '98 video, narrated by John Price.
During 1998 Terry and I went to see Geof Hauser. He had two junior dragster chassis with body panels in his workshop. Soon after we met Geof, Terry commissioned three Junior dragsters, for Katie Gibbs, Jack Hewitt and Phillip Cook, wanting them in time for the start of the 1999 season. Terry and Tina were very keen on getting the Junior dragster class up and running, accommodating them at Avon Park in the Super Series championships. I seem to remember it was a bit of a race between Geof and Terry to see who could start up the class first, Geof wanting to start at Santa Pod.
Thankfully the 1998 season turned out alright; it’s fair to say it was a good season, enjoyed by most, and I looked forward to 1999. Terry and I had an agreement from November 1998 to November 1999 with a minimal fixed fee to reflect the part time basis I worked at the offices, and being available for all race events. It was good to know I had the 1999 season to look forward to alongside the part time job I had since found, working as a civilian at one of the Surrey Police motorway garages, which was very interesting work. Something which became very sentimental later on. During the first year I would always say goodnight to Terry, see you tomorrow, he would always say "God willing". Later in the year, and out of curiosity, one evening, I asked him what did you think might happen then. He explained that since a major operation to remove the tumor on his brain, that he should take every day at a time as there were no certainties how long he might have if problems reoccurred.
Junior Dragster track photos © Tog.
Wednesday 10th November 2020: Part 11 - Obsession Motorsports 1999.
The 1999 season for me was much of the same duties as before, always looking to improve on what I'd learned from 1998 and to continue improving in what I was doing. In 1998 Craig Gibbs had done the artwork we used for that season. Then for 1999 John Andrews of Digital Arts did all the artwork, also organising the full colour printing with RCS Plc for all our printing and promotional needs. We produced an A5 programme alongside the Racer’s Information Pack and Entry List. Additionally in 1999 I set up an advertising programme within a budget for all events with a number of newspaper groups covering a wide area around Avon Park Raceway.
For the first time since 1995 there was a UK National Championships, a nine round series, five at Avon Park and four at Santa Pod. This was between Obsession Motorsports and Trakbak Racing. Terry and Tina organised TV coverage for all five Super Series events to be shown on Sky Sports in UK and Europe with a 30 minute stand alone programme after each event, John Price presenting and providing the voice-over commentary.
The Junior Dragsters' first appearance was the Thunderball meeting at Santa Pod, April 3rd-5th 1999. Being reminded by Tina, this was only for demonstration as the class was not recognized as part of the SPRC or National championships until 2000. However it was included in the first round of Super Series championships at Avon Park May 1st-3rd, the first official entries were the Junior Dragsters of Katie Gibbs, Jack Hewitt, Phillip Cook and Paul Allen, who was the first person to obtain a car, the winner being Katie Gibbs. July 10th was Junior dragster day where the licenced drivers ran the cars, then offered rides to other Juniors aged 8-17. With five new Juniors who passed their observed runs. Round 3 Super Series Holly Glassup, Ben and Kane Jones were added to the entry. With Ben Aged 12 coming first and brother Kane aged 10, second. The Super Series Final round entry, September 25th 26th was eight Junior dragsters adding Jamie Willis, although not in the entry was Oliver Newman.
A short story from Bob and Catherine Glassup of Bubblegum Competition Altered fame, involved in drag racing for over 30 years: "As a family with son Matti, daughter Holley, at the time racing our latest Topolino Altered, we were involved with the Junior Dragster class from the start. Living in Woking, at the same time we became good friends with Terry, Tina Gibbs and family who lived just a few miles away. They were promoting the Super Series events at the time and were very interested in the Junior Dragster class which was very popular with the Scandinavians, having quite good numbers of entries. Terry and Tina wanted to purchase a car for their daughter Katie as we wanted to do the same for our daughter Holley. Interest at the time from other families was Peter Hewitt for son Jack and daughter Katie, then Alan Cook for son Phillip. So the first 4 Junior dragsters were to be built by Geoff Hauser.
"As luck would have it Peter's daughter Katie was not interested in racing, he offered me the car. We organised Holley's safety wear, her first official entry of Junior dragster for the Super Series event August 28th-29th 1999 at Avon Park alongside the family's, Gibbs, Hewitt, Cook, Jones and Allen. Interest was so good within a few years the class entry grew to 20 cars. Critics at the time said Junior dragsters were "a waste of time, too slow". However it has given other families an opportunity to get involved in drag racing; like ourselves Matti and Holley have been or are still racing today. We have also seen early Junior drag racers make their way up the ranks in different classes, becoming fantastic racers. Peter Walters is one good example alongside many others. Good luck to the Junior drag racing class and its future racers."
I used the Drag Racing Nuts trailer, taking the Junior Dragsters of Katie Gibbs and Peter Hewitt’s son Jack to the Super Series events and Santa Pod. I'm proud to have been involved from the start and played my little part in the establishment of the class. I did during this time speak to, I believe, Gabbi from Blue Peter and her team, altogether on speaker phone, offering a ride in a Junior Dragster at Avon Park for one of the lady presenters at the time. I'm sure she was over 18 which was not quite in keeping with the age rules, however we were prepared to overlook that for the coverage. Unfortunately nothing came of this. It’s a shame the sport had as such missed out on a generation with there not being Junior Dragsters much earlier on, as there had been in America.
The Hanover Hotel was unable to accommodate us in 1999, so we had to find another venue for the Championship Presentations and Dinner Dance evening and all aspects of the organisation. This evening took place at the Chesford Hotel, Kenilworth, on Saturday 23rd October. The afternoon pre the evening's events we had arranged a video viewing of some early short films from the 1970s and 80s. That evening on the back stage, alongside the junior dragster of Jack Hewitt, was a large TV screen playing the five round Super Series 1999 season video during the meal, with commentary by John Price was available for sale. John was MC for the evening, also providing the disco. We had sponsorship from Ampar courtesy of John Woolfe Racing. This was organised by David Riswick, including attendance of special guests, Stuart Bradbury, John Bennett, Dennis Priddle, Steve Green, Gerry Andrews, Dennis Stone, Roz Prior and Brian Taylor, amongst the rest of the 300 guests that year. I was proud to have organised the 1998 and 1999 events. Support at both presentations from all the racers and companies, who had also supported the events, was incredible.
On the night, Anthony Hodges made a surprise announcement that he was changing the name of Avon Park Raceway to Shakespeare County. Also an overbooking situation by the hotel for that night of 20 rooms. Some guests saw Obsession Motorsports as responsible. It's always pointed out that the booking of rooms was out of our control. Nevertheless, having realised why this happened, I did on Sunday morning address the Hotel manager on the spot to explain why that had happened in front of a large number of those guests that had been put out. We had several issues that night which we took up with the Hotel and head office after the event including the rooms issue.
Associated and Contingency sponsors in 1998 were, Always Travel, Andy Hawkes, Andy Robinson Race Cars, Wheelgame Racing, Ampar, Apsley Transmissions, Kendall Oil, Drag Racing Nuts, Franks Spares, Panasonic Air Conditioning. Joining those in 1999 were, MPD UK Sales, MAC Construction, Luke Ramage & EDA, then during the season Ford Rapid Fit, Cambridge Motorcycles and Pro Blend Products. Prize money, product support and vouchers made up a great range of prizes for all classes, this was over and above the promoters prize funds.
Junior Dragster track photos © Tog.
Super Series 1999 video: click here.
Download Super Series 1999 event programme (5MB file) click here.
Thursday 10th December 2020: Part 12 - Obsession Motorsports 2000-2001.
For the 2000 season I continued with the same assistance to Obsession Motorsports as I had done in 1999. John Andrews continued, the program was now A4 titled the RCS Official Program. I organised the 2000 Super Series Presentations, Dinner Dance which was back at the Hanover Hotel, Warwickshire. Terry & Tina were looking for another facility as they felt their time at Shakespeare County had become too restricted in what they wanted to progress to another level. In October 2000 Terry and myself met for the first time, David Riswick at John Woolfe Racing. We went to ask David if he was interested in being involved in any way with another race facility, knowing the excellent job he and his team had done with Long Marston Raceway previously. Sadly David was not interested, as the saying goes, one bitten twice shy, after the first time round.
Maureen wanted to stop altogether at the end of 2000. We stopped having any involvement in the hospitality unit and marshals' lunches. Around March 2001 I’d gone to see Terry and Tina one morning to say I was unable to be a part of the 2001 season. Terry and I stood in his kitchen as I explained why. He paid me the biggest compliment by saying he could not do it without me. You can always do without someone, it was not just because of me at all, it was a team effort which it had proved to be and for 2001 and 2002 seasons went down as good if not better than the previous years and quite rightly too. Maureen and I had also split up. However I did continue working with Terry and Tina for the 2001 season from the offices and attended the first event on May 5th/6th and then stopped altogether.
For me and working with the Super Series, I have to say there was a tremendous amount of support and good work from the APIRA, F.A.S.T the timing crew, commentators, Janet and John, just about everyone who was involved. I believed in what we all did which worked extremely well. I was and am proud to have been a part of the Super Series drag racing from early 1998 to early 2001. I also enjoyed my time working with Terry, Tina and family and those others in the offices at Woking. It was a great Super Series, enjoyed by many of the racers and spectators. It held its own financially and was down to Terry and Tina taking an assessment of its success and continuation year by year. However it was Terry and Tina’s decision not to continue beyond the 2002 season.
This was written by Tina just recently, I’m grateful for her contribution.
The Super Series became a big part of mine and Terry’s life for 5 years bearing in mind we also had our other companies to maintain as well. We had our highs and lows but the highs out wade the lows and the memories will stay with me forever. Terry also said ‘I’m a racer at heart’ and I think he proved that in what we achieved with the Super Series. There was also at times some conflict between myself and Terry as I would have my Clerk of the Course hat on and Terry would have his promoters hat on which would lead to some heated disagreements between us but was soon forgotten. As John has said nothing could have been achieved without some good people behind us APIRA, FAST. I would like to thank them all.
This was the statement from Terry and Tina put out on Eurodragster.com:
Tuesday 22nd December 2020: Part 13 - Xtreme Wheels 2004.
In 2001 after my last Super Series event in early May, also having finished working at the Police garage and another part time job working in a sandwich bar, I moved on. I started work with Andy my brother in law, assisting with the building of a two story house extension in Reigate. I was staying at my sister Ann and Andy's place, then on 29th June we all moved into Waterhall Country House, a 12 bedroomed guest house near Crawley. I cooked breakfast for the guests every day whilst Andy served then we went to work on the house extension Monday to Friday. I did this till November, long days, then having finished the extension, I only cooked the guests breakfast in December. I had also called in at the Hogs Back Brewery to say hello to my brother for the first time in seven years.
In 2002 I continued to work at the hotel for a few months, also now working at the brewery, I moved to Tongham Surrey near the brewery and in March 2002 started a Mobile Bar Services business working closely with the brewery. Having my own personal licence, I organised each job from start to finish, eventually having a regular listing of 10 to 12 staff who were all great to work with. I converted my trailer to use as a mobile bar. I had learned to cook a range of foods, which came in useful. I joined a singles club in April 2002 and in June cooked a selection of Chinese dishes served buffet style for a group of 20 members. Doing more group meals at members' homes was great fun, although I stopped short of buying the business of the club. It also came in useful later on when I did the catering for two drag racing teams.
May 2003 I think was the first time I had seen Terry and Tina since the Super Series. They were with Bob and Catherine Glassup, looking to promote a car show at Alexandra Palace. I became involved, and so did Dan Welberry of 3T Media. We all visited Alexandra Palace on 2nd June 2003, then on 24th June we all met to decide on going ahead and who wanted to invest and how much. Our first committee meeting was 8th July and Xtreme Wheels 2004 became a reality for February 13th/14th 2004. Once again I was working out of the offices at Woking, assisting with the organisation of a car show. I was able to apply my experience from the 1985 charity Custom Car and Dragster show held at Farnborough.
I was out driving for the brewery August 3rd 2003, taking me past Lasham airfield in Hamspshire, well known for hiring Glider flights. I’d always fancied a go so I drove in and waited 30 minutes for a flight I think it was £35. We were towed up by another plane rather than pulled up by a cable on the ground. Then suddenly that change and feeling of the glider dropping and stalling at the same time and my stomach felt even further down as the glider was released. Then that silence as the tow plane disappeared and we just glided, what a great feeling, then you get to take the joy stick, another great feeling, although your descent is quite quick as you're not used to it so before you know it you’ve landed, a fantastic experience - my adrenalin was topped up for the next few days.
We all had our own businesses, for me Mobile bar Services was starting to get established generating more bookings. As luck would have it I had an inquiry from Sandown Racecourse. This led to me starting a dedicated real ale bar in June 2003 with the HBB ales, by 2004 this included Epsom, Newbury, Kempton racecourse for all meetings and occasional one at Ascot. This became 80% of my business for the following seven years with the remainder made up of birthday, wedding and outside events, including the very popular Surrey Street Rodders Wheels day car show always held on Good Friday. In 2004, for the 30th Anniversary I supplied a commemorative own label bottled beer from the Hogs Back Brewery. A fringe benefit was seeing top bands perform at the racecourses, Status Quo three times, Madness, Rhythm & Blue Jeans, Lemar, and Ronan Keating.
Working in between the bars and on Xtreme Wheels was exciting for me with five other like-minded people putting on a car show at Alexandra Palace, a step up from the Farnborough Show. I had gone on before the rest of the guys on Thursday and walked down the hill from our hotel to Alexandra Palace. Walking past a couple and two sons, I recognized one as Lars Erik Lindberg who was exhibiting a Snowmobile. I stopped and turned, said 'Hi is it Lars', yes he replied and that’s how I meet the family. Also before and during the show Darren and Marie from the APIRA were such a great help and good to work with, nice guys. Friday's set up day went quite smoothly, I was pleased to say the corridor to the halls was a nice touch, looking like a drag strip as it was my suggestion! The layout of the rest of the show looked great too. There was lots of anticipation and expectation just before the door opened Saturday morning. Would we see a large attendance to the show? Unfortunately it was not to be and was financially a loss. All other aspects of the show were a success, but Xtreme Wheels 2005 would need a lot more promoting and sponsorship.
Xtreme Wheels 2004 photo gallery courtesy Dave Dick: click on any thumbnail for a large image.
Wednesday 6th January 2021: Part 14 - Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School 2004.
I had, since racing Golddigger, always wanted to go quicker and faster. I decided to book up with Frank Hawley's school of drag racing at Gainesville, Florida, firstly to do the Super Comp course then the Top Alcohol course back to back. I ended up only doing Super Comp as the cost of both was just a bit too much. At the same time I organised a trip for two groups of ladies from the singles club, visiting at different times, having booked for the full month of March 2004. Also Dave Hills who had done a huge amount for me with the dragster came for the month, and Martin, a mate from school, for one week. Myself, Dave, and Pat, a lady from the club, all went to the Gatornationals Sunday 21st March, it was just great to see the racing again, the weather was very hot. I asked Dave and Pat if we could leave before the finals which we did but it didn't please them, and least of all myself. It was very hot and there were thousands of people going to leave the raceway afterwards. My mate, anxiety reared its ugly head again!
After the race I was really looking forward to the course the following Thursday and Friday 25th - 26th. As luck would have it, Carol, a club member, had an Aunt, Lyla, who lived in the mobile home park just off the freeway where you turned off to go to the raceway. Dave, Carol and myself visited her in the first week of our trip, she said I could stay the Thursday night of the course which was just great.
On Thursday 24th March I was back at Gainesville, this time in the control tower which was our classroom for the next two days. There were I think ten of us, two from a previous course which was rained out. We went round the table introducing ourselves then there was a talk from Frank Hawley. We were then put into pairs so one could help the other get suited up before our run, then we went out to choose our safety equipment. As we had explained before our first run the procedure to follow is the same as in the operations book received some weeks earlier. Also we were reminded you must lift the throttle at the run board markers or if you have a problem and not to get back on the throttle. Each run was filmed directly from behind, then after each session it was back to the classroom to watch your own run and talk through how you felt it had gone. Then Frank told us about it with his experience, help and guidance; everything was very well organised, laid out and carried through.
I was fourth to run, which I was really pleased with, not to go first or last. On my first run I left late, after I'd let go of the transbrake button, which after two seconds automatically changed the transmission into 2nd gear, so I came off the line in second and lifted at the marker board of 200 feet. I went back out very soon for the second run. I walked round the corner of the building looking at the run board from a distance to see if Frank had put me up to the next marker along. I was still on 200 foot due to my second gear launch. There was so much excitement and adrenaline from the overall experience at the time. I can feel it even now as I write this. I went to 600 foot for my third run, then 1000 foot for the fourth. One guy who worked on an alcohol dragster but had not driven could not get past the first 200 foot until his fourth pass. Another from Australia went through all his runs ok, he was quite a character.
The requirement to obtain an NHRA licence was to complete two full passes under power out of the six runs allocated as part of the course. Doing the first four passes on day one left you with expectation about your first run the next morning. Would the run board say full pass, or was I still stuck on the 1000 foot run which fortunately I had achieved by my fourth run?
I remember so well returning from one of my earlier runs, coasting back round to our start area. That feeling of complete satisfaction of finally being there, a nice sunny day, having completed a half pass, really enjoying the classroom education and talks from Frank. Saying to myself as driving back, the rest of you back home working away at whatever, I’m here fulfilling a lifetime goal, just bloody marvellous. Stopping at Lyla’s that evening, she made me very welcome. She was a lovely lady, once back home, I sent her a selection of English tea bags which she missed.
We all spent the first few hours of Wednesday morning in the classroom with Frank on how to be a competitive racer, and the mindset behind it. He said that he had many experiences of others who had done the course and how much quicker learners the second generation of family members that had attended the course were. Then for our fifth pass, walking round the corner from the building looking straight away at the board again from a distance, I could see I was granted a full pass, great. That pass. Although I got out of the groove about half way, I had achieved my ambition of what it felt like to go quicker and faster, 8.43 at 155mph. Then on my final run I stayed straight, this was my best run for me, 8.45 at 157mph. Just such a great feeling with the adrenaline bank all topped up for some time to come. Then waiting to see if you had acquired your licence, if not you could take additional runs at $200 per run to get your two full passes, or just if you wanted more runs anyway. I had passed on my six runs, choosing not to do any more runs, just so pleased with myself, also to hold an NHRA licence for two years. You were told at the start, all timing tickets would only be issued at the very end of the course so the students didn’t spend time comparing all the details like reaction times. As Frank explained, you were there to learn to drive a race car, this made great sense. Certainly two of the best days in my life.
On my way to Gainesville from Kissimmee, where we had stayed for the month, was 150 miles; I had been very anxious about the drive there by myself. Once I’d arrived at Gainesville and particularly by the end of the course, that had all disappeared. As I said my goodbyes to Frank with another student present I told this to Frank, but I was now leaving with a huge boost of confidence and adrenaline which put me on a high for months afterwards.
Once back at Kissimmee, I told Dave, Martin and Pat about my experience. Martin, my schoolmate, had wanted to go on the Skycoaster ride in downtown Kissimmee which was to release himself and one other on a swing wire between two poles 300 feet up. He wanted me to go with him before the course, I didn't want to, so he and Dave did while I was on the course. Telling me of his experience, I could only relate to him that what I had experienced in the last two days was very different. Also at the park was a Funny car on a rail which would shoot you down the distance which I seem to remember in about three seconds, again I didn’t go on this. I much preferred the real thing, going on the course to drive a dragster. The cost of the course in 2004 was $1,695 plus $50 on the day for insurance but very well worth the lifetime experience that was for sure.
I'd received a call from Viveca Averstedt in February asking if I had any more of the pencil prints of her Top fuel dragster we had done as Drag Racing Nuts, I did have. With our trip to the US in March I took out 20 copies and we arranged to meet her at Orlando Speedworld off highway 50. Dave, who stayed the whole of the trip, and I went out on our last weekend in March and met Viveca and husband Hakan who were working with friends on a full bodied car which I can't remember what it was now, it was really nice to see them both. As luck would have it, apart from the drag racing that was on, I think just on the Sunday, was also Junior NASCAR on a small circuit at the end of the drag strip. Dave really wanted to watch this, and as we sat in the top row of a block of stands which overlooked the circuit, behind us was another dirt track which had Midget's racing round at the same time. We were spoilt for choice, but what a good end to our trip, I'm sure this was on our last Sunday before we flew home.
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