Sam Freeman's Long Time Dead
by Sam Freeman


I got my start in drag racing around 1971 helping someone to build a Big Block Ford front-engined dragster which soon got dropped in favour of a Small Block Chevy-engined car; there are a few pictures out there but I soon got away from that deal as it was not all it was cracked up to be.

Following this start I got called upon to help Clive Skilton... literally! I was hanging about in the pits and he asked me to hold a funnel to refuel his rear-engined car, the newly-imported ex-Kuhl and Olson Pro Fuel Dragster. I stuck around and helped out with fuel and chutes all weekend then Don Beadle, who was Clive's mechanic, informed me that I was going to the next meet at Long Marston if that was OK with me as he had already asked Clive to book me a room. 

Things progressed, and when Trevor Young appeared on the scene I was allocated to run his car, Revolution III, and then Trevor imported the Competition Products car - certainly the nicest-looking Pro Fuel Dragster in Europe at that time. We ran that car out of two workshops in Rushden for a few years and at the end of the 1970s I called it a day for various reasons such as marriage.

I did a bit of circuit racing for myself in 1980-81 with a little success. Lack of money was a major problem; by this time my first daughter had arrived on the scene and I had another on the way so I parked the sports car and got involved with Alan Ritmeister for a few meetings before his death at the Easter meeting in 1984. Between then and 1987 I spent time and any spare cash I could raise to rebuild my Centaur sports car into something a bit more competitive. It went really well until I had a coming-together with the wall at Donington Park due to a steering rack failure - about the only part not replaced. The car ended up five feet shorter on one side! One good thing about that circuit car was that it got me a job with Aston Martin Tickford, which doubled my wage overnight. Happy days! I worked in several positions including engine build, dyno test, airflow, and several years as track support engineer in F3000 travelling quite extensively.  

In 2005 I spoke to my old friend Chris Bishop, who helped me out when we ran Trevor Young's car from the Rushden workshops. At the time he was running a 100e fitted with a Small Block Chrysler at RWYBs. Our conversation led me to research the availability of Comp Altereds - unfinished business from the 1970s! - and I ended up importing my Double Density altered from Florida, which was another learning curve. I ran the car for a while but my partner Lindsey got breast cancer which slowed us up a bit, although she is seven years clear this year - you may have noticed that the altered was decked out in both Breast Cancer and Movember decals at the 2015 Flame and Thunder Show. The altered ran 8.001 on petrol and a single four-barrel carb, and has run 7.9 on injected alcohol, so there is plenty more to come. It's now fitted with a cooking engine so that we can go and play with it whenever we want. 

By now I was living in Hemel Hempstead and working on contract to Ford Motor Company at their Dunton Technical Centre and in fact I just (March 2016) retired from there recently. Whilst I was there I helped Vic Hammond to locate, purchase and import his SpeedDemon front-engined, the idea being that he would drive and I would get the occasional go. As it ended up, due to Vic's health I ended up driving for nearly four years. I believe we were in the top three or four of the Supercharged Outlaws Championship during each of those and we won the title in 2012. Vic unfortunately died in 2013 and the car was sold on to Bob Hawkins, who has been quite successful with it.

As you have noticed I was always an altered person but after driving SpeedDemon I started to think that maybe I should have one of my own, not that there was anything wrong with Vic's car. I had talked to several friends in the States and came close to buying a Junior Fuel car (rolling chassis) from someone who was going to build a replacement with some refinements, that got delayed for a couple of years so wasn't really supposed to happen. It was in 2012 that I decided I really wanted to build my own car; this was shortly after we had won the Supercharged Outlaws Championship with the SpeedDemon car.

The first problem was finance, or to be more exact lack of it. I had enough to buy a few bits but that was it. I started saving as much as I could. I also started to investigate who and where the people were that had the information I would need to collect all the parts I needed. I ended up with Neil and Parks Racing who for any who don't know build some of the nicest cars out there; they have won numerous championships and awards with both their own race cars and with customer cars. Initial contact was made with Frank and his son Scott regarding my new car in late 2013. As I wanted a 225" WB car which has turned out just under twenty four feet without the wheelie bar there was no way I could fit it in a twenty foot container, I asked about building it in two halves to be welded together when it got here and lots of other bizarre methods of achieving my goal.

Where we ended up was that I would purchase a complete rolling chassis from them in parts including all the chrome moly tube, some of it pre bent, axle, third member, shafts, brakes, steering box, spindles, wheels, tyres, nuts, bolts, fixings (including a complete spare set)... you get the general idea: car in a box! Now a normal person would find someone to sort this all out for them but undeterred I did what I always do and took it all on for myself.

The first obstacle was paying for everything, initially my credit card was declined on the first stage payment and by the time I had that sorted out N&P had decided they wanted good old fashioned cash in the bank. This took a good couple of weeks to overcome, as my transfer went through several USA banks to get to them, each one slightly smaller than the last, ending up at the First National Bank of *****ville, a grand sounding name for a bank with one branch which had been taken over by the local lawyer after the previous owner had decided to call it a day. Once the initial transfer was done then it was easy enough. Incidentally after meeting Frank and Scott in their shop for the first time it was only about ten minutes before Frank told me that they would never have a problem taking my credit card again, which shows how much good old face-to-face meetings are worth.

Back to the parts: I had the tube shipped from Kansas where the Parks are located to Tennessee where my good friend Duane (RIP) was located with the idea that I would go out and transport the rest myself.

Fortunately I was due to go to the USA on a business trip in early 2014 so I went a few days ahead of the others, this meant my flight to Detroit was paid for. I arrived and cleared customs and transferred terminals for my ongoing flights to Chicago and Kansas City. I got out of Detroit with a delay and a further delay to land due to the poor weather, by the time I got off I was already too late for the connecting flight but still made my way to the gate as everything was being delayed. I got there just after the gate closed, as it turned out for the preceding flight to Kansas, my flight was going to be another two hours if at all that night. Long and short of it was that I got away two hours later and arrived in Kansas City in the early hours local time, six hours behind us. By the time I had picked up my Dodge Caravan (thanks Andy Wheeler and Alamo) and got to my hotel about 150 miles away it was nearly 4:00 am or 10:00 am UK time - twenty eight hours travelling. I slept quite well.

The following day I drove to Wichita and met up with a couple of internet friends and spent a few hours chatting and drinking coffee. Monday I drove to N&P and met Frank and Scott Parks who made me very welcome, I stayed most of the day taking pictures, asking questions and generally being a nuisance. They were more than helpful and even now I can E-Mail them with a question and always get a reply with help within a few hours. To my recollection about 4:00 pm we started loading the Dodge with parts, it was the ideal vehicle with all five back seats folded flat into the floor. Four wheels, four tyres, complete axle in parts, brakes, steering, carbon fibre seat, cowl and nose, bent tubes, parachutes and plenty more. I set off back to my hotel and got my head down as I had planned to go back to N&P and ask all the questions which I hadn't on the first day and then set off for my first stop in St Louis, Illinois en route to Franklin in Tennessee, the idea being I would drive about 275 miles the first day and then the other 425 miles the following day.

With all the best-laid plans I awoke to snow the next morning, only a light dusting of powder but it was very cold and the forecast was for lots more snow that day. I left about 6:30 am having decided not to call back to N&P and see how far I could get before the snow stopped me. Little traffic helped but getting out of the inside lane into the snow-covered lane to overtake the really slow vehicles was a problem. The snow continued to get worse as I drove. Passing numerous accidents including one that was probably twenty five miles of wrecked trucks and cars and seeing a great many cars leave the road in all directions. I arrived at my booked hotel early as I had foregone the stop at N&P, I stepped out of the car into about six to eight inches of the white stuff... do I stay and get some rest or do I cancel and see if I can drive out of the snow before I get stuck here? I took the latter option and cancelled my room and drove off in to the early afternoon sun. Eventually as I drove into Kentucky at about 5:00 pm the snow slowly eased off into torrential rain which lasted until I had nearly got to Nashville where it eased off. At about 10:00 pm I got to the hotel into which I was booked for the following night, and they had a room. So another long day and roughly 700 mile through snow and rain touching on six different states. I did mail Scott the following day to report in on progress and he informed me that if I had stayed I would have been snowed in as they had eighteen inches and very cold temperatures.

After a good sleep I set off for my good friend Duane's house. He lived about twenty miles south of where I was staying. Over the next few days we built a crate to ship everything back to the UK. The size of the crate was based on the longest single length of chrome moly needed in the chassis and the width and height of two slicks, the tube was all in the bottom of the crate and everything else was packed in on top including two more slicks and an axle for someone else. We visited Home Depot several times for timber, bubble wrap and screws etc. By the end of the week everything was packed in including the carbon fibre cowl which we suspended on nylon cord from the top of the crate so that it did not touch anything else. We spent days building and packing and evenings chatting about the differences between the two countries: both Duane and I learned a lot about where the other lived. I flew out of Nashville back to Detroit on the Sunday afternoon where I picked up another rental car for my business trip. I spent a week in Detroit assisting with the build and sign-off of some new cars with which we ended up on the Canadian border for three weeks cold testing. On the final day we were at minus 36° C at 6:30 am when we left the hotel; at 10:30 pm the same day I got off the plane at Los Angeles airport at plus 25° C - a difference of 61° C - and began a twelve-day holiday taking in the March Meet at Famoso Raceway. I had left the UK on 1st February and got back around 17th March.

After a few delays sitting about in the USA the crate eventually got put on a ship and arrived in late June 2014. Unloading it with the aid of a borrowed forklift mounted on the front of a tractor was precarious to say the least, but we got it back to my workshop somewhat battered and bruised but intact. As many of you know it's always a pleasure to unload a parcel from the States so you can imagine the fun opening a 15' x 3' x 4' foot parcel. Needless to say I am still using up the wood it was made of.

Work then began, firstly buying and constructing the jig for a one-off build ably assisted by Paul Shaw, buying a new TIG welder only to find that welding in varifocal glasses is not good, eventually I had a pair made just for welding at a comfortable distance which helped. The process was also hampered by a dodgy torch which, despite only having been used for less than three hours, was deemed to be out of guarantee. I fixed it instead of buying another. Needless to say I use another supplier now.

The build has always been off and on; no sooner than we had got started and I had to return to the USA (Arizona and Colorado) for another business trip for all of September 2014 followed a fortnight later by flying off to the CHRR and then Las Vegas for the big show cars.

At one point we fitted the jig to two engine stands so that we could rotate it to make it easier, but that allowed the jig to sag so more time was spent triangulating it and adding a preload with a huge ratchet strap.

Early in 2015 I underwent some major abdominal surgery to correct a problem that has put me in hospital on many occasions as an emergency admission. I lost count of the consultants that I have seen both NHS and privately until on a follow up appointment from an emergency admission one of them told me what it was and he was spot on. It took about eight weeks to get over the surgery and even then I was not in a position to lift anything too heavy. At the same time I was diagnosed with another condition which is ongoing at the moment and which means I do not get any decent sleep and am generally very tired all the time. Hopefully they will get this sorted quite soon as I am now being seen by probably the country's leading hospital in this field.

In 2015 we also took some time out to get an engine built for my DoubleDensity altered, which we took out for a few runs at Dragstalgia, the BMW Show and the Flame and Thunder Show. We will continue to run the altered in the early part of 2016 as we have enough parts to run both cars at the same time.

Despite the above progress is very slow but we remain hopeful that we have a running car in 2016. Things may speed up now that I have retired. Currently we are fitting the body work to the car and we are hopeful that that will be completed pretty soon, then it's the last few brackets and a complete dry build of all the major components before we disassemble and send parts for paint and plating. I still have a few things to buy but I collected the last major parts in Tennessee in February. We have no fixed time scale or class in which we run either car; my attitude is that we will run when we feel like it and my motivation (often sadly lacking) is just to go as fast as we can. As it all comes out of my pocket we are somewhat restricted as to what we can afford, for example we are going to have to construct a new 24foot long trailer to move the car about, not to mention purchasing something suitable for towing and all on a pensioners income which will be a few months before I see any.

The basics of the car are, or hopefully will be:

  • 224" wheelbase front-engined chassis which will be tagged to 6.0 and slower as I am pretty sure it won't be going that fast.
  • Front end: A arms with quite a narrow track
  • Lindsay wheels fitted with Hoosier tyres
  • Nose cone: carbon fibre
  • Fuel tank: five gallon, mounted as close to front as possible
  • Two 10lb DJ Safety fire bottles mounted outside the chassis adjacent to fuel tank
  • Engine: small big block Keith Black Oldsmobile. Callies crankshaft, Venolia rods, JE pistons, Total Seal rings, Brodix heads with TD rockers, Indy inlet manifold, 14/71 Kuhl supercharger, Nutter dry sump pump, Comp Cams camshaft, Isky Red Zone lifters, Enderle injection, MSD magneto, KB gear drive, RCD crank support - front mag mount - fuel pump extension and oil pump drive, I'm sure there is more but you get the general idea
  • Transmission: Mike's Shorty 'Glide and 10" converter
  • Dive shaft and axle are all Strange Engineering, drilled shafts, lightened flanges, aluminium centre section etc
  • Braking system is all Wilwood
  • Body is carbon and aluminium, seat is carbon
  • Lightweight battery for data logger etc. External battery for starting block mounted starter
  • White Safety Equipment parachutes (two but quite small)

Performance? Good question! As I want the car to remain quite reliable and I'm running it of my pocket then it's not going to be an all-out max effort more like we are out to have some fun, if it runs low sevens consistently and with good reliability then all is good. If you want wild speculation then I can recommend scanning Facebook. Costs, well mind your own business is probably the politest answer I can give you but it is a lot less than most people would think, I can't afford most of the prices and costs I see bandied about, I (we) do everything ourselves so that I (we) can afford the parts needed to do it.

Sponsorship? Is highly unlikely, ideally we'd all like a sponsorship deal which pays for the car, parts, fuel, everything. I'm realistic enough to realise that's not really going to happen for me but if anyone would like to make an offer then I will listen.

When is it going to be finished? Short answer is "When it is finished", hopefully this year sometime.

Which class? Who knows, it will be legal for most classes and I'm not committing to any of them. I'll run when and where I want and that includes any track at any event even as a demo car (good fun, no hassle, low costs).

Finally the rendering was done by Darren West of Power Race Graphics who turned the picture which I have had in my head for so long into what you can see now.

And finally final my list of thanks, in no particular order: Frank and Scott; Parks N&P Race Cars; Duane Carr (RIP); Mark Rapp, Rapp Racing Engines; Chris Dafoe; Paul Shaw; Kevin Catling, KC Autos; Lindsey Walsh, without whom it wasn't going to happen; and Vic Hammond (RIP) for allowing me to drive his front-engined dragster in the first place.

Clive Skilton and Trevor Young pictures courtesy and ©Alan Currans, The Acceleration Archive

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