Surrey Drag Racing Pioneers - Keith Stacey

As told exclusively to

Keith became a fan by reading about the sport, going to the first Blackbushe Dragfest in 1964 as a 17 year old, and attending events as a spectator in the U.S. and Canada in the late 60s and early 70s. When he got an opportunity in 1973 to drive the ex-Tony Anderson 'Trouble' dragster, he grabbed it with both hands and continued to drive the car, renamed 'Whiskey Peddler', with help from John Smith, until the Easter 1976 Santa Pod 10th Anniversary meeting. thanks Keith for providing his story and John Hunt and Nick Pettitt for help with editing and proof reading the feature and making archive images available. Keith has supplied slides for two extensive galleries of Santa Pod 1967-71, also Canada 1968-9 and U.S. Nationals 1969, 1974 and 1975

It all started in 1963 during my last year at the Royal Grammar School, Guildford. One of my fellow pupils bought a copy of Hot Rod magazine and he was showing us all these pictures of weird looking vehicles (dragsters and hot rods) and their big engines and wide rear tyres. In 1964 the first Dragfest at Blackbushe airfield was being advertised so, with the memories of that magazine still in my head, I went with a couple of mates to see what was to change my life for quite a few years. The dragsters of Don Garlits, Tommy Ivo and Tony Nancy just blew us away! Just as exciting were the cars that looked sort of normal. Factory experimentals they were called, big American saloons but with a lot more power and noise. The drivers were Ronnie Sox and Dave Strickler. My favourites however were the Willys coupes driven by Keith Pittman and George Montgomery. These were old looking cars with large supercharged V8s, they looked so ungainly (and handled accordingly sometimes). I guess if someone built a car like that over here at the time it would probably have just been called a special?

In 1965 another Dragfest was held and I went with Bill Haynes. There were a lot more dragsters this time, unfortunately there was also a lot of rain. The drivers did what they could to put on a show for the fans. Buddy Cortines, Danny Ongais and Chuck Griffiths were among the drivers who stood out on the day. This was Bill's first meeting and a few days later he said he was going to build his own dragster.

When Santa Pod opened in 1966 Bill and I headed up the M1 in his old Ford van, I think that was the first time we had ever been on a motorway! Although Bill had started to build his car, we still went up as spectators to pretty much every meeting. There was one weekend that we went to, there were loads of spectators on the first day but there were hardly any competitors. So the powers that be announced that if anybody wanted to race their own car they could, was this the first ever run what you brung? Bill and I took turns to drive my old 1958 split window Morris Minor for our first ever quarter mile race. The Moggy had a highly underpowered 948cc engine and it managed to fly down the strip with time of approx 23 to 25 seconds, but hey ho we had a laugh and we both have photographs to prove it!

Keith in the shared Morris Minor in 1967
Keith Stacey collection

Keith and friends
Keith Stacey collection

In 1968 I had the chance to go to Canada with my mate the late David Fleming, he was Canadian by birth and wanted to visit his relatives. This was the first time either of us had flown. It was a charter flight out of Stansted (in those days it was an airfield with Nissen huts, nothing it is like now) The flight was to Toronto via Gander in Newfoundland in a Britannia turboprop and seemed to take forever, no inflight entertainment in those days! Most of the time we just visited David's relatives and we were at a party one night when one of his cousins, Bruce, turned up in a Chevrolet Malibu with a highly tuned 396 cu in motor. You should have seen my face when he asked us if we wanted a ride in what was basically a street legal race car, it pulled wheelies in first gear out on the streets when no police were about. On the last weekend of the trip Bruce met up with a friend Brian Doherty and they took me to a local dragstrip at St Thomas Ontario, and we watched some really good racing. Before we came home Brian said if I wanted to come over again I could stay with him and his wife and we could take in a lot more racing, I did not need to be asked twice!

In 1969 I packed in my job and went back to Canada for two months (David was to go out later in the year and settled down until his early death in 1991). Brian and I went to several race meetings at Cayuga, Grand Bend and Toronto International strips. The highlight, however, was a 600 mile trip down to Indianapolis for the NHRA US Nationals with Brian and his wife. This race meeting was huge, with over 1600 competitors. I think qualifying for the stock classes started on Tuesday or Wednesday and the dragsters etc on Friday and Saturday with the finals on Sunday and Monday (Labor Day). There was so much to take in during the three days that we were there. All the names I had read about were there, Garlits, Prudhomme, Kalitta, McEwan, McCullough, Sox etc, the list was endless. We were to see so many cars (top fuel was a 32 car field for starters). Also there was The Freight Train, a twin engined gas (petrol) dragster, Funny Cars (then a fairly new class), but my favourites were the AA/Fuel Altereds. With their short wheelbases and blown engines they were a real handful. I think best of all was Sush Matsubara driving the Mondello Fiat Topolino, Wild Willie Borsch in The Winged Express, a T bucket that he drove with his left hand holding on to the door and Rich Guasco's Pure Hell. That trip was to set the scene for the next decade when, apart from 1970, I went out to Canada, stayed with either Brian or David and drove down to Indy. Both Bill Haynes and Richard Jarman made the trip with me in different years.

Mondello & Matsubara fuel altered, 1969 U.S. Nationals
Keith Stacey collection

Pure Hell fuel altered, 1969 U.S. Nationals
Keith Stacey collection

Back in England, we were still going to Santa Pod to watch the sport evolve in the UK with visiting drivers from America and also Sweden bringing their cars over to compete. Bill was running his car and Richard Jarman had bought Derek Metcalf's V4 rail Stripstar. I used to go with Richard to meetings at Pod and the NDRC meets at Blackbushe, Hullavington and others. As I am not mechanically minded I drove the pushcar and cooked the meals, breakfasts and bbqs. Like a lot of people we always thought the Barn, looking down the track, was the best place to watch the racing as the burnouts took place right in front of you. I think I inhaled more tyre smoke than I did from cigarettes, not to mention bleach on my clothes. On one occasion we were chatting to a chap named Gary Whitehead whom we had met on several occasions and unbeknown to us had recently bought Tony Anderson's V6 powered rail called Trouble. His partner, however, did not want him to drive it for fear of having an accident. Gary asked us if anybody wanted to drive for him and without thinking I said yes! Next thing I knew I was buying a crash helmet and firesuit and applying for a competition licence.

The ex-Tony Anderson 'Trouble' dragster, run by Gary Whitehead as 'Frustration', driven here by Keith at SPR. Keith also raced Frustration at Blackbushe, August 19th 1973
Alan Currans photo

Gary Whitehead's 'Frustration' in the pits at RAF Daedalus July 15th 1973, Keith second from right
from UKDRN history forum

Gary had renamed the car Frustration and I am not sure whether this came about because he could not drive it or because he could not get it to run very well! When I first drove the car I thought this is a lot quicker than my old Morris and kept backing off the throttle. I had a chat with Alan Herridge afterwards and he said just look straight ahead and keep my foot on the pedal- next run nearly four seconds quicker! It is definitely the quickest and fastest vehicle that I had driven but after those first two runs I really started to enjoy myself. Gary soon lost all interest and sold the car to me which I then renamed it Whiskey Peddler.

Having bought the car I suddenly had a racecar and trailer but had not thought about where I was going to keep it or how I was going to tow it, I did not even have a tow car! My friend John Smith managed to find a garage in a block of four or five at Maybury Rough, just outside of Woking. That took care of the dragster, but I still did not have anywhere for the trailer. In the end the car stayed on the trailer and the whole lot was pushed into the garage, but the trailer's A frame would not fit in. Luckily the garage had a rear door so the main doors were tied as securely as possible to the trailer from the inside and we would use the rear door for entering and exiting. Not ideal, but it solved the problem,luckily it was a quiet neighbourhood and there was no theft or vandalism.

Keith in the ex Tony Anderson car in fire up road
Keith Stacey collection

Keith standing by Whiskey Peddler
Keith Stacey collection

Close up of Keith in Whiskey Peddler
Keith Stacey collection

Our first meeting under the name Whiskey Peddler was April 14th 1974 at Blackbushe. John Smith helped me out as much as he could, but being a married man, also had a family to concentrate on. The car started up and sounded ok, but would not pull off the startline like it should. Back in the pits, we pulled the heads off and the six pistons had been ruined by the fuel mixture being too lean. This was my first major expense with it.

One weekend I was invited, along with Tony Anderson and Russ Carpenter, to have the cars on display at The Pirbright Institute for their fete. Although it was a static display we decided to start the cars up as there was room to push start them and then return to the display area. Tony suddenly shouted at me to shut off. The outer casing of the Wade supercharger had split in half. Had this happened during a race I might have had my face rearranged by bits of supercharger! Tony said it was probably due to the aluminium rotor shafts flexing due to the load that they were under. Tony had another casing that I could use, so I contacted Wades Factory in Brighton and they made up some special steel shafts and the problem was solved. I also contacted David Newman Camshafts at Farnborough in Kent and had the camshaft upgraded to give the engine more power.

Whiskey Peddler on display at Annabella's nightclub, Guildford, Surrey Street Rodders annual Christmas party with Rod Turner's Matchless chopper bike in the background
Keith Stacey collection

Keith is standing next to Whiskey Peddler with his mechanic Pete Hodgkins in the seat of the dragster, just having had a go himself, taking advantage of the long Snetterton return road.
Keith Stacey collection

I had loads of help from Tony Anderson and spent many hours in his workshop learning about the car. Then going up to his lounge above the garage listening to music along with the odd glass of cider. I knew Tony ran the car with a drop of nitro in the tank but I decided to just use methanol partly due to costs and also to stay in a class where I could be competitive. With a change of camshaft and help from Tony the car started to run really well.

We attended events in 1974, 14th-15th April, 5th May at Santa Pod, 11th-12th May at Blackbushe, 15th-16th June at Silverstone, 6th-7th July 21st July at Santa Pod, 18th August at Blackbushe, 14th-15th September at Silverstone, lastly 29th September Snetterton. In 1975 we attended 13th April at Blackbushe, 3rd-4th May at Snetterton, 24th-26th May at Santa Pod, 14th-15th June at Wroughton, 5th-6th July at Santa Pod, 20th July at Snetterton, 17th August at Blackbushe, 6th-7th September at Snetterton, 20th-21st September at Santa Pod, lastly 5th October at Blackbushe. My last race meeting was 16th-19th April 1976 Santa Pod.

A few snippets from these meetings, including races with my friends Russ Carpenter and Bill Haynes: at Wroughton on June 14th-15th 1975, the blower drive sheared and I was beaten by Alan Sharpe driving Methdrinker. At Snetterton on 20th July 1975, Russ Carpenter beat me and I recorded a 10.18 139mph. At Blackbushe 5th October 1975, I broke on the line in the final with Russ who had beaten Bill in the semi final.

Keith in pairing lanes alongside Tony Anderson
Keith Stacey collection

Keith with handicap start against Tony Anderson
Ken Robbins photo

My best ET was 10 seconds dead, ironically in a best of 3 match race against Tony in his new Daimler powered rear engined car. I won! I cannot remember whether it was 2 or 3 seasons that I raced the car, helped by Pete Hodgkins, a mechanic who worked at Wincanton Engineering in Guildford. He provided a tow truck for the trailer and also taught me a fair bit about the engine. After there were changes to the way the cars were classified I decided to sell the car to Steve Young of Autocat fame. As I said before, I was not a mechanic and I was not prepared to spend the money to update the car. This was the end of my racing life which I loved every minute of. Although I still went to Santa Pod as a spectator it was not the same as being behind the wheel. I got married in 1989 to Lyn and father to Hannah in 1992. I still watch the TV coverage of NHRA races but it seems to be dominated by a few multicar teams and not so many individuals. Gone are the days when the driver tuned his car by ear. I would still like to go back to Indy given the chance but maybe the good times should remain a memory.

Gallery of Keith's Santa Pod pictures 1967-71
Gallery of Keith's pictures from Canada 1968-9 and U.S. Nationals 1969, 1974 and 1975

Gallery: click on any thumbnail for a large image.

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