Stories of UK drag racing pioneers
     
     
     
     
Dante Duce and Mickey Thompson at
1963 Brighton Speed Trials
- John Wood photo
Surrey pioneers

Derek Metcalf, Wombat / Strip Star (published 8th, 15th and 22nd February 2021)
Quote from Derek: "As as result of John Hunt contacting us, our recollections of the early days of UK drag racing were put down on paper, John visited us and was a great help; his memory for detailed corrections was a great assistance and it was very rewarding to see our experiences on screen with photographs. It made us realise that we did actually participate in those early days; if he had not been so helpful and accommodating we would not have had those memories rekindled".



Bill Haynes, Quarter Horse Racing (published 1st and 8th March 2021)
Quote from Bill: "It has been fabulous having my story told . It has been done so well and I donated all my items but know that all would have been returned if required. It has been done with great responsibility and honesty. I am proud to have been connected with it. Bill."



Mick Wheeler, Scorpion (published 15th March 2021)




Tony Anderson, Trouble / More Trouble / Even More Trouble (published 22nd and 29th March 2021)




Keith Stacey, Whiskey Peddler (published 5th April 2021)
Quote from Keith: "Thanks John, I was a bit sceptical about it at first,especially trying to remember what I was doing 45 to 50 years ago.As it happens I am more than pleased with the end result and both Lyn and myself are looking forward to meeting the other guys again. I had no problem lending the slides out to you and the nice thing is they are now on my computer".


John Smith, mechanic and crew (published 12th April 2021) Quote from John: "Just a quick note to thank you for all your time and effort in getting the 'Drag Racing Pioneers' stories put together and published on Eurodragster website. I had no idea that anyone would be interested after all this time until you phoned me. I am glad that all the magazines that I had hoarded since the 60's have now found a good home and thanks for returning all the photo's and slides so promptly. Nick Pettitt has done a brilliant job in reproducing these for the article together with all the notations. Putting details of the short time that I was involved down on paper certainly brought back a lot of fond and some forgotten memories not only of the Drag Racing at 'The Pod' but also great times spent with Bill, Keith and Richard and also Derek and Pam and Tony.



Richard & Martin Jarman, Strip Star / Hepolite Hustler (published 19th April 2021)






Russ Carpenter, Trouble, More Trouble, Even More Trouble, Glacier Grenade (published November 2014)


Preface:

Former drag racer and event organiser John Hunt has contacted pioneers of UK drag racing, acquired their stories and transcribed them for Eurodragster.com to publish with original photos. The inspiration for people to become involved was the visits of U.S. racers Dante Duce and Mickey Thompson in 1963 (see above photos) and the Drag Fests in 1964 and 1965. The accounts are exclusive to Eurodragster.com and told in the original words of the racers, have been accompanied by photos and images from their collections. Eurodragster.com thanks racers for providing their stories, and John Hunt and Nick Pettitt for help with editing and proof reading the feature and making archive images available.

John Hunt writes: "I'm interested in all classes of cars and motorcycles. I would welcome hearing from anyone who would be prepared to assist the writing of others stories from the other classes? If anyone has memorabilia available to pass on to the group of drag racing historians please get in touch with me or Eurodragster.com.

If you would like to contact Eurodragster.com directly then send an E-Mail to editor@eurodragster.com.


Acknowledgements:

The above links go to UK drag racing history sites without which it would have not been possible to publish the pioneers' stories. We're also grateful for the help of Clive Rooms who has been a tremendous help for dates, results, times and speeds.

Background of historians/archivists:

The following supplied information or photos to add to the stories of pioneers:

Simon Groves:

I first encountered drag racing in magazines such as Hot Rod and Hot Car around 1969 and, after nagging my father to take me, visited Santa Pod in August 1970 to see Clive Skilton run the first seven-second pass seen there. I visited occasionally for the next 30 years, keeping an eye on the media. Two of my favourite information sources in those pre-Facebook days were Nick's Time Travel videos and Chris's Trakbytes website. At a Super Series race at Shakespeare County in 1999 I saw an advert for a trip to the World Finals at Pomona. My wife Ros gave me her consent and after meeting up with the SCR team at Pomona, they invited me to score the track points and serve on the timing crew, things that came easily to me and appealed to my career as an accountant.

As well as working with Jerry at SCR, I got to know Eurodragster.com members Tog and Sharkman during the next few years as the points were hosted on the site and one evening in November 2004 over the inevitable pizza they asked if I would like to join the team to report on Championship events. So in 2005, I started interviewing racers for pit notes, expanding the feature to include photos once I had learned how digital photography worked.

Over the next 15 years, I learned about how to update Eurodragster.com after a baptism of fire in 2006 when Tog was taken unwell at the Main Event and I became race reporter for that race at literally a moment's notice. I continued reporting on Eurodragster.com and expanded this role when I retired from my day job in 2013, also helping the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame, putting on its gala events.

In 2019 Tog decided he wanted to retire from Eurodragster.com after 22 years of running it and after a moment's thought, decided to take it over - from March 2020. Not good timing. I used my collection of historical material and contacts that could help me write historical articles, of which John and Bob Roberts have been particularly helpful. It's really because of John's initiative, organisational skills and persistence that we're all here. I just got lucky and turned my interest from a passion to an all-embracing hobby that has involved me meeting and keeping in touch with some wonderful people.

Nick Pettitt:

I've been a spectator, racer and historian of British Drag Racing since my first Drag Race at Blackbushe in 1974. By 1975 I'd bought a cine camera and along with my trusty Kodak Instamatic and cassette recorder, filmed, snapped and recorded as much of the action as I could. In the mid '90s I started to produce my Time Travel Videos using my own footage along with a great deal more kindly lent to me by other fans and racers. 2006 saw the beginnings of my website which now hosts over 23,000 photos and memorabilia scans and in 2010 I wrote a book on British Drag Racing in the '60s.

Jerry Cookson:

My first introduction to drag racing was here at Blackbushe in 1965 for one of two Drag Festivals with my dad and uncle. In fact after a lot of convincing by my uncle, dad built his first dragster for the 1966 season; the year Santa Pod opened. Taking a keen interest in what dad was doing I started to get involved more with our local Midland club writing reports and putting together the club’s magazine and newsletters. With drag racing starting to develop at our local strip at Stratford Upon Avon’s Long Marston Airfield I soon began to get involved with the National Drag Racing Club. This soon developed into writing reports for Motoring News , NDRC News , Custom Car and UK Drag Racing magazine . With dad still involved in the racing side I began to further get involved with the new track and club at Long Marston.

In 1990 after the track was redeveloped further into Avon Park Raceway I got sucker punched into commentating. This not only led to talking about events at Avon Park, but also to announcing events at Santa Pod and York raceway’s as well as a few major drag and custom shows. Promoting started to take a hold and when a previous promoter pulled out from events at Long Marston's Shakespeare County Raceway in 2006 this developed into a full time job promoting and organising events on behalf of the land owner for 12 years. In between I have done voice overs for video productions, and appeared on TV and radio shows. I also did two years as the man on the button as a starter at Shakey. Sadly when all activities came to an end at Shakespeare County with the sale of the land in 2017 so did my involvement. In 2018 my family was inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame. This was indeed a great honor for dad and myself.

Nowadays, having been involved in some of the early No Prep events, I’m largely confined to commentating at National Sprint Association events at Westonzoyland, Somerset, editing the NSA’s The Sprinter magazine, as well as administering two prime Facebook pages; Memories of a 'Warwickshire Drag Strip' and 'UK Drag & Sprint Strips That Time Forgot'. I’m also a selector and director of the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame as well as editing HoFTalk, the online magazine for the BDRHoF. From my vast collection of drag racing artifacts I have supplied material for two of British drag racing's nostalgia websites; UKDRN, Acceleration Archive and recently Chris Dossett’s excellent and well documented Trakbytes site. And despite all this I'm still enjoying life on the other side!

Clive Rooms:

I saw my first drag race and sprint meetings at Santa Pod in August and September 1966. My role in the two sports since then has been mainly as a spectator. However, I did work on the Pod firecrew for 3 years in the early 1970's. I was also heavily involved with the National Sprint Association for around 10 years up until fairly recently. I was a committee member, clerk of the course and starter on the startline. My interests today are spectating at the Pod most weekends and trying to enlarge my huge collection of drag racing and sprinting memorabilia which I have been collecting for 55 years. I also help administer the Face Book page UK Drag & Sprint Strips That Time Forgot with Jerry Cookson.

Chris Dossett:

I have been aware of Drag Racing for as long as I can remember. My two older brothers were big motorsport fans and went to the NDRC meeting at Martlesham in 1970 to see what the sport was all about. I was four at the time and considered too young to go with them. After that first visit they didn't bother much with circuit racing, they were hooked on the quarter mile. It was another four years before my relentless pestering resulted in them taking me to my first meeting at Santa Pod. My sketchy memory prevents me from remembering exactly which meeting it was, but I do vividly recall my first encounter with the sight, sound and smell of the Stardust Funny Car, a few extraordinary moments of time that ensured that I too was hooked.

My brothers were kind enough to continue taking me to Santa Pod, and Snetterton, (which was close to where we lived in Suffolk) for meetings, up until around 1981, when things like education and starting to work for a living got in the way. My eldest brother Bill had also got married and started a family, and trips to the Drags slowly drifted away.

Fast forward to the mid nineties, I was living in Birmingham and, with both Santa Pod and Long Marston in easy travelling distance, I was drawn back to the strip for occasional visits. It occurred to me at some point I had missed out on a lot of action in the intervening years, I began to dig around finding out what had been going on having been away.

This inevitably then led me to start researching what had been going on before I had attended my first meeting, and the idea of creating a timeline of 'milestone' moments, for my own reference, began to develop. Then, at Santa Pod in 1998, whilst talking about my efforts with my brother Bill, he suggested that I put my research on a web page and invite others to submit material for inclusion in what I now refer to as 'the archives'. The Trakbytes website was launched which appeared on the web for the first time in October 1998.

At the time there were not many sites devoted to UK Drag Racing History, and many people took the initiative and began emailing with material to add to the site. Among the earliest contributors were Tog from Eurodragster and Bob Jarrett, crew chief of the Showtime Funny Car. After much correspondence, I met him at Santa Pod a month after the website was launched. This led to an enjoyable five year stint working as part of the Showtime crew. During this period I got to meet many of the people who regularly sent me material for the site, many of whom I am still in touch with. The site grew rapidly until my own work and family commitments took over and I had to let it stand dormant for more years than I really wanted to. During this time I still attended occasional meetings and, in 2012, I spent a year working on the Super Modified Corvette of my mate Nigel Payne, who I had met when he came to work on the Showtime crew for a couple of seasons. This culminated in us winning the championship title for that year.

Whilst it had always been in my mind to resume work on the website, it took the relentless persuasion of John Hunt, and the encouragement of Jerry Cookson, Clive Rooms, Nick Pettitt and Simon Groves, to get me motivated again. I'm very grateful for their support and I'm once again enjoying delving into the rich and fascinating history of our sport in the UK, and I try to update the website as often as time will allow. I never imagined 23 years ago that this project would still be expanding from such humble beginnings, and I am most grateful to all the fans, racers and historians who have supplied material and contributed to its growth. They deserve the credit. I just write stuff down and put it on the internet.

Andy Rogers (Tog):

I got into drag racing at the age of twelve, in 1976, as a result of Top Trump cards. Having seen the numbers on the cards I wanted to see cars do 200 mph in real life and I made my first visit to a drag race at Santa Pod Raceway in Easter 1977 (the event at which Dennis Priddle went 230 mph in Garlits’ car). Over the next few years I made visits to Blackbushe and Santa Pod when I could get someone to take me. There was a bit of a gap between the late 1980s and the mid-1990s but then after I learned to drive I started to attend Santa Pod a lot more regularly.

In 1997 I co-founded Eurodragster.com with Tony Brennan; the site was originally intended to be a links exchange but as you all know quickly turned into a daily news and results service and took over my life. We covered (and Eurodragster.com continues to cover) every UK National Championship race plus most FIA/FIM European Championship rounds, specialist and lifestyle events, Test Days and Run What You Brungs.

I never tired of having my life run by drag racing, I never got tired of the hard work and late nights, but in 2020 I stepped down from running the site. I elected to avoid aggro by citing health and day job as the reasons for my departure - not exactly untrue, but I had managed those for years. As it happened the Covid-19 pandemic, which kicked in just after I stepped down from the web site, made and continues to make my day job particularly busy and so it would have been difficult to juggle the web site and the job.

Simon has continued with Eurodragster.com and personally I think that the site has improved in some respects since my departure.

I still love drag racing as much as I ever did, in fact probably more now that I am not being yelled at on a regular basis. I follow the sport closely via Eurodragster.com and I attend some events to photograph for the web site when its decent photographers are not available.

Keith Lee:

I was heavily involved in many facets of the sport, as a competitor, writer, photographer, and commentator during the seventies and early eighties. This follows my first exposure to drag racing at Blackbushe in 1964. More recently I have been a major contributor to a number of books on the sport, covering both bikes and cars - in addition to writing my own books. For several years I have had a regular nostalgia based drag racing column in Custom Car, and am also involved on the bike side as the historic bike organiser at Dragstalgia. I am also a selector for the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

Paul Foote:

I suppose, I have been interested in drag racing since the age of 18 when I bought a 65 mustang and went to Gary’s Picnic at Santa Pod and raced. Built a few cars but the last one was the 1956 so-Cal f100 which I raced in super gas and stopped about 5 years ago due to my business commitments. I have sponsored Eurodragster with stickers and also Santa Pod in the past with exhibition materials. Living close to Blackbushe I tried and prepared for two years to get an event for the 50 year anniversary for Dragfest but the plug was pulled at the end by Blackbushe. I did have a monthly car meet there ‘Blackbushe Reunion’ for a couple of years. I still own the domain dragfest.co.uk

Andy Willsheer:

First saw Drag Racing at Santa Pod 1972 which came about knowing the name Brian Chapman. One of my first cars I saw run was the unusual looking Bond Bug called 'Metronome'. I very quickly realised that to be nearest to the racing I needed a camera and track pass. Within one year I discovered it was quite different in the USA. So 1973 went to California with my brother for 3 months, ending up staying for 1 year and 3 months and had a brilliant time. I quickly progressed to an International Photojournalist and still am today.

Dave Dick:

Snetterton was the first Drag Race I went to, Iris Page used to run the local station kiosk and she got me a ticket and a ride there as my dad didn't drive.

I cycled to Blackbushe as a teenager only about 40 miles from home. As soon as I could drive I was at the Pod all the time. In later years after helping John with the container for the VIP's at Shakey I was given a start line photo pass by Jerry and Terry Gibb. I took photos for the Gasser Wars magazine in the US and the Mopar Muscle Association here in the UK and wrote a few articles. In 2007 I helped my friend Paul Knight organise a drag racing show at Elo's place in Ickenham.

I've also visited quite a few events in the US and have a room full of various motorsport memorabilia mostly Drag Racing focused.

John Hunt:

Organiser and coordinator, my story so far can be viewed at http://www.eurodragster.com/news/features/blogs/john_hunt/default.asp Stories © original author and Eurodragster.com