2022 Main Event

Not the great line up pre-Covid.  A lot has changed in the past three years.  The cost of travel has sky rocketed, there is a shortage and long wait for spare parts but most telling is that post-Brexit there is now a customs duty called ‘carnet’.  This is a refundable payment imposed on teams travelling to the UK and is based on a percentage of the value of the vehicle, parts, tools etc.  Each Country has a different levy, Sweden (from where a large number of teams come from) has the highest and as a result only one team from there made it over.  I feel this is making the ‘European Championships’, if not a mockery, a devalued event.

Enough politics.  I went over to Santa Pod Raceway on Saturday to watch the third day of qualifying.  Not disappointed.  There were many records broken including a world record for the quickest and fastest electric vehicle when Hans-Henrik Thomsen of Denmark ran 6.6197secs at 206.24mph 0ver the 1/4 mile on his bike ‘Silver Lightning’.  On Sunday the European Top Fuel record fell to Ida Zetterstrom with a 3.782sec run (the first in Europe to go in the 3.7s) and Samu Kemppainen went 5.999 on his new nitro Super Twin bike to set a new European best.

Anyone who has seen the Pixar movie ‘Cars’ will be familiar with Lightning McQueen. This is John Tebenham in his ’53 Corvette supercharged, methanol burning Pro Mod
Wheelies always make a great shot and some cars do it every run like ‘Metamorphosis’ Pete Dodd’s ’67 Camaro
‘Tim’s Toy’ a ’55 Chevy Bel Air gets checked over in the pits
The world’s second quickest top fuel drag bike. Neil Midgley on the ex Ian King/Fast Fil Cannon Motorspots Puma

A lot of drag cars are based on American vehicles.  Here is a selection of truly British ‘classics’ though the engines are not what came off the production lines!

Dave Russell warms the slicks in his Austin Marina van complete with a 540ci (8849cc) supercharged V8
‘Brute Force’ is Andy Harrison’s Ford Sierra running in Super Gas a class where you must not go quicker than 9.90 seconds
Ron Bartlett lifts the front of ‘Sweet FA’ based on a 1960’s Ford Anglia. This has a 584ci nitrous injected V8 and runs low 8’s at over 160mph

A lot of people think drag racing must be easy.  After all they are going in a straight line for just 440 yards, what could go wrong?  Things can go wrong and very quickly.  Thankfully accidents are few and far between but on Saturday I witnessed the worst I’ve seen.  Kevin Chapman launched his 10,000bhp nitro Funny Car which will reach 100mph in less than a second.  The car headed right toward the centre line.  Correcting this it made a sharp turn left, the back end broke free and it smashed into the concrete wall at the 330 foot mark.  Here the fuel tank, about 15 gallons of nitromethane, exploded.  The car slid down the track against the wall, the body flew off and the chassis, complete with driver and engine, ended upside down against the opposite wall at 1,000 feet.  Amazingly KC walked away completely unharmed.  This all happened in a matter of seconds.  At the time I was photographing in burst mode and this is the last shot, not for the faint hearted.

This is not good

I hate seeing this.  All the safety gear worked and the rescue crew were brilliant.  40 years ago and the outcome might have been so different.  I called it a day and came home rather subdued.

Festival of Power ’22

After seven long winter months and two years of countless cancellations the European drag racing season kicked off, without restrictions, over the Easter weekend.  Easter in the UK is usually plagued by cold and rain, not this year, wall to wall sunshine, light southerly breeze and temperatures in the 70’s, perfect.

Long time readers will know that as well as butterflies, dragonflies and birds my other great interest is drag racing the loudest, fastest and most powerful motor sport in the world.  I’ve been going to meetings for over forty five years and have witnessed so many changes.  If someone had said back in the seventies what speeds and times these cars and bikes are doing now they would have been laughed at, we think we are at the limit now but are we?  Take a look at a bit of action from the Sunday eliminations, just a handful of the hundreds of shots I took!

The final of Nitro Funny Car sees winner Kevin Chapman in the blue and white Mustang take on Steve Ashdown in the ‘Undertaker’ Dodge Stratus. Under those carbon bodies are 500ci (8 litre) supercharged, injected v8 Hemi engines running on nitromethane and producing 10,000 bhp. This wide angle shot took a bit of cropping to get it to look right
Super Street Bikes are insanely quick capable of running the 1/4 mile in 6.8 seconds at over 220mph, if the power comes in too soon they can head skywards as Al Morrison jr found out!
The ultimate class in drag racing are the Top Fuel Dragsters. They race over 1,000 feet and cover that distance in under 4 seconds at well over 300mph. In under a second (about 60 feet) they are already travelling at 100mph. This brave (crazy?) lady is Finland’s Ida Zetterstrom
At the other end of the scale are the Junior Dragsters. For the 8 to 17 year olds they race over 1/8th mile. The top cars cover this in under 8 seconds at around 80mph, far quicker than most road cars! JMA 15 is Daniel Weir the event runner up
‘Crew Killer’ is the name of John Tebenham’s Ford Pop for good reason, his burn outs are really wild. This time a gaggle of media photogs got a closer look than expected!
As the sun went down it was finals time. I moved down toward the finishing line to see if I could get any shots of cars at top speed in the low light. This is Spencer Tramm winning Comp Eliminator in his Camaro

National Finals ’21

Sept 26th.

Been a bit lazy posting anything on my blog this past month.  Truth is, this, the last drag race of the season, was the last time I have gotten my camera out!  Yep, it’s sitting there in it’s bag besides my armchair crying out to see the light of day.  It’s all down to motivation and inspiration, at the moment something I am completely lacking.

The National Finals, after a misty start, was held in lovely warm, sunny weather.  With several titles still up for grabs action was going to be intense.  The other competitors were not coming along just to make up numbers, no they wanted to win the races and maybe cause an upset and in a few classes that’s what happened.  With these shots I wanted to get something a little bit different, maybe the angle, maybe the light.

Not an ‘arty’ mono shot. This is the ‘Pro Dutch’ Pro Mod in the pits
Comp Eliminator champ Nic Williams goes skyward in the COPO Camaro
The PBR Rocket 3 Top Fuel Bike ridden by Al Smith almost made it into the 5’s. The distortion above the rear of the bike is the nitro flames from the exhaust
Jon Giles competing in Pro ET with the Blitzkrieg Racing Roadster
Guy King starts his burnout in his SS Chevelle. Lucky to get this shot. It’s taken through the fence behind the pairing lanes, usually there are a lot of cars or people blocking the view
Super Street Bike winner and champ Steve Venables hurtles into the afternoon sun on another 6 second 200 mph run

And here endeth a very short, pandemic wrecked, season.  As I made my way home on the two hour drive I couldn’t but help feeling slightly sad and empty.  Summer’s over, just the cold and wet to look forward to.

33rd Hot Rod Drags

The drag racing season is rapidly drawing to a close.  For the second year running everything was so badly affected by the pandemic it’s a miracle that Santa Pod Raceway has managed to survive.  This year everything up to June was cancelled, then meetings were held with strict controls in place limiting numbers attending.  Most events that have taken place have suffered with bad weather at some point, it’s enough to make you weep!

Saturday the 18th promised to be warm, sunny and windless so I booked a last minute ticket on-line and headed out west to watch qualifying for the 33rd annual Hot Rod Drags.  Four race classes were in action, the Outlaw Anglias, Wild Bunch, Gasser Circus and Supercharged Outlaws all with a high number of entrants.  In between qualifying rounds there was a ‘run what you brung’ a mix of race cars and road cars, old school hot rods and customs, the only stipulation being they had to be pre-1973.

Getting into the spirit of the NSRA Hot Rod Drags
Keith Bartlett is the owner of Santa Pod, here he is bringing his Gasser ‘Roarin’ Rat’ through the pits
Seeing double! Norm Wheeldon and his twin engined slingshot dragster ‘Too Much’
Steve Clarke and the ‘Good Guys’ Supercharged Outlaw altered
‘American Pie’ Wild Bunch slingshot warming up in the pits
Paul Hensher’s Outlaw Anglia ‘Gas Attack’ leaves the line with the front wheels up
Plymouth Road Runner driven by John Davison in ‘run what ya brung’

Had a great day out including witnessing Europe’s first 6 second run by an Outlaw Anglia as Jedd Guy finally broke the record in the ‘Shorty’s Fabrication Shop’ car with a 6.97sec @193mph, at the other end of the scale Chris Simcock in his original 1950’s Ford Pop managed a 28.01sec @45mph!  It was that kind of day.

Dragstalgia 10. The way it was (ish)

At last a chance to get over to Santa Pod Raceway the home of European drag racing since 1966.  Built on what was the former USAAF base, home of the 92nd bomb group, the track has improved immensely but still retains the charm.  To re-live the ‘old days’ for the last ten years the Pod has held a meeting called ‘Dragstalgia’ where the vehicles racing are either originals from the time or modern reproductions.

Why ‘ish’?  Well due to this pandemic things are not yet back to normal.  The tickets had to be booked in advance as the crowd capacity is very restricted.  Sadly as things stand we can no longer be treated to seeing competitors from across Europe who would have made the event even more memorable.  Enough waffle, let me show you a variety of the classic machines that gave us a great day out.  I guess this post will not be eveybody’s thing but hey I have been spoiling you with the wildlife and there is a clue in the blogs name!

Cannonball.  The fastest cars on show.  Nitromethane or methanol, three rounds of racing over two days the two cars with the lowest combined times contest the final.

Chris Manning’s ‘The Villain’. a short wheel base slingshot dragster which ran to just over 200mph  A sad postscript I learned after I left the meeting that this car was badly damaged in a demo run.  The driver is ok but the dragster is un-repairable   c
‘Venom’ The beautiful Camaro bodied nitro Funny Car driven by Tony Betts  c

Supercharged Outlaws  A real mixture of dragsters, altereds even street legal cars.  They must run quicker than 9.90 seconds over the quarter mile.

Roy Wilding with ‘Chariots of Fire’  sco

The Wild Bunch  Again dragsters, altereds and funny cars.  These are a real taste of the early days.  They race on a handicap basis so the slower vehicle has a head start.

‘Rough Diamond’ is one of the original race cars from the period, driven by Dave Gibbons  wb

Outlaw Anglia  Ford Pop, Anglia, Prefect or Fordson vans fitted with big v8 powerplants.

Jedd Guy ran a new record for the class of 7.01 secs. Underneath that body is a motor of 12,044cc injected with nitrous oxide  oa

Nostalgia Super Stock  Pre 1980 American v8s raced on a handicap (what we call dial in).  There were 45 entries!

Guy King’s SS Chevelle  nss

Willys Wars  1933 to 42 Willys coupes, sedans or pickups  race for fun and ‘bragging rights’.

‘Redneck Gasser’ of Dave Hinson  ww

Gasser Circus  Nose high throwbacks to a popular class in ’60s America.  They run on ordinary pump fuel.

‘Guzzler’ burns out across the start line. A ’56 Chevy driven by Tony Pearson  gc

Old School Stockers  Classic Pro Stock bikes of the ’70’s based on wickedly fast Japanese machines of the time.

A Kawasaki H2 750cc two stroke triple ridden by Rod Spry  oss

NSA Bike Shootout  Famous bikes brought out to play!  Not quite as quick as they once were but a joy to see.

Gary Norman on his fathers bike ‘Conquest 2’ two 750cc Norton engines  nsa

NOT the Euro Finals

Time for a well earned rest from house renovations and garden clearance.  With the whole year pretty much ruined it was exciting news when Santa Pod Raceway announced they were going to run an event with spectator entry limited and on pre-booked tickets only.  I got ours as soon as they went on sale and although there was a slight ‘back of the mind’ concern about mixing with crowds it couldn’t be any worse than working in a supermarket!  Anyway it was brilliantly organised and with wall to wall sunshine we had a fantastic day out

DSC_0121b
Great to be back! A wide angle view from our grandstand seats as the 10,000 bhp, 300mph Top Fuel dragsters of Antti Horto (red car) and Susanne Callin get ready to back up to the line after their burnouts.
DSC_0044a
Elaine Hancock warms the tyres on her new ride ‘Lethal Zephyr’ in Comp Eliminator
DSC_0089a
The ‘Split Second’ jet dragster piloted by Julian Webb
DSC_0001a
A lot of preparation is needed to run the race cars especially those using nitromethane. After every run the engine is stripped and rebuilt in about 2 hours! This is ‘Nitro Bug’
DSC_0183a
‘Nitro Bug’ on track with Andy Raw at the wheel
DSC_0178a
It’s not everyday you witness a world record. This is Denmark’s Hans-Henrik Thomsen who set a new best for electric bikes with a 6.869 sec 195.4mph run over the 1/4 mile
DSC_0129a
Top Fuel (nitro) Bike. Alan Smith and the ‘PBR Rocket 3’
DSC_0189a
Flames from the headers and clutch dust from the rear. Steve Ashdown’s ‘Undertaker’ Nitro Funny Car blasts into the late afternoon sun

If you are confused by the different classes check out my page https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/drag-racing-machines-classes/

Now to try and photograph the visitors to my pond.

Euro Finals ’19

September already and the drag racing season is drawing to a close.  What better way to wrap up the European series than with one of the best, if not the best, meetings I have ever seen.  The weather conditions on Saturday and Sunday were perfect and to reflect this the number of records and personal bests broken was unreal!  In qualifying on Saturday, which I watched via live feed, the Top Fuel Bike world record came within 1/100th of a second of falling not once but twice as ‘Fast Fil’ from Greece ran two 5.66 sec passes.  The European Top Fuel E.T record was lowered to 3.806 by Norway’s Maja Udtain.  And the Pro Mods just keep on getting quicker.

Race Day on Sunday and it’s a different mindset.  Now is the time to get to the other end of the 1/4 mile first yet still the times were phenomenal.  Apart from 2019 champ Anita Makela the Top Fuel cars struggled to get the power down and several very expensive engines went bang.  With few major clean-ups the day flew by.  Roll on next season.  As usual there are more images and results on my HOME page https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/drag-racing-2019/

DSC_0201a
The queen of drag racing Anita Makela of Finland leaves the line in Top Fuel final and wins with a 3.850 297mph run which would have been quicker if the engine had not let go before the stripe!
DSC_0093a
The nitro burning Super Twins have a unique method of steering as the front wheel stays up for almost the whole 1/4 mile! This is Christian Jaeger from Germany on ‘Juntes One’
DSC_0187a
Robin Noren of Sweden wins Pro Stock beating champion Jimmy Alund on a holeshot. A holeshot is where the elapsed time is slower but the reaction time to the starting lights quicker
DSC_0161a
The quickest and fastest bike over the 1/4 mile in the world. This is Eric Teboul known as ‘The crazy Frenchman’ on his rocket powered missile running a 5.321 @ 262mph demonstration. The 1/2 mile shutdown area is only just long enough!

Dragstalgia

Every year Santa Pod Raceway holds a special event to celebrate all things nostalgia about drag racing.  It’s been several years since we last went but the line up was so good this year it was a must see even though it was only a day after our return from the Lake District!

True to form it was raining when we arrived but it soon passed.  While waiting for the track to dry we checked out the Rod & Custom show, took a stroll through the pits to admire all the classic machines and chat to the owners and browse the trade stands selling retro ’50’s clothing and souvenirs whilst ‘proper’ Rock ‘n’ Roll music played over the tannoys.

The racing was fantastic.  Ok so there are no 3 second 300mph monsters in fact the quickest time was 6.3 seconds and few cars made 200mph but it was the spirit and willingness to win and put on a show that made this special.  We headed for home with the smell of nitro and burning rubber in our nostrils and big smiles on our faces.  So many images to choose from I didn’t know which to pick, there are a few more on the HOME page https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/drag-racing-2019/

DSC_0095a
Legendary bike racer John Hobbs on ‘Olympus’ a 500c Weslake
DSC_0036a
A jaw dropping display of some very famous Funny Cars from the past
DSC_0142a
Like something from a ‘Mad Max’ film! Twister is a Supercharged Outlaw based on a Ford model T and driven by Andy Hadfield
DSC_0199a
Des Taylor’s ‘Thundergod’ warms it’s tyres
DSC_0084a
Sam Freeman and his slingshot ‘Long Time Dead’. Sam had a lucky escape after an horrendous crash at the finish line

Main Event… Rain stops Play

For me the most eagerly anticipated drag race of the season is the Main Event.  This is the first round of the European FIA FIM championships and all the big boys (and girls) will be out to try and get some points on the board.  Held over the four days of the Whit bank holiday, due to work, I can only get to the Sunday Qualifying round.  This is ok as it’s usually the best day with all the teams aiming to be number one heading into Monday’s eliminations, plus you get the chance to see all the cars/bikes twice or so you hope…..

DSC_0015a
Backing up to the startline after their burnouts, Laura Turburville in the ‘Bad Blood’ dragster and Mark Flavell in the Pontiac bodied funny car. These run in a class called ‘Super Pro ET’ which is open to any car that can run between 6 & 8.99 seconds. The team will state what elapsed time they aim to run (ET) this is called ‘dial in’ and the car with the slower dial in gets a handicap start. It’s first to the win line but they must not go quicker than dialed in. Most teams can forecast their time to the hundredth of a second!

Tickets were booked weeks ago so I could get my favourite grandstand seat as this meeting attracts many thousands of spectators.  After a restless nights sleep we were away early for the two and a half hour drive (Tina always drives there, I have the homeward journey) to arrive before they start at 9am.  The weather forecast was not good.  It was warm and partly sunny on arrival but with a strong head wind straight down the strip and by 10.30 ominous grey clouds were beginning to move in just as the top Pro classes were starting their qualifying.

DSC_0054a
In the gloom between the showers Jimmy Alund of Sweden runs a 6.579 @ 210mph in his Pro Stock Camaro

Sure enough the first heavy shower fell when forecast!  In drag racing the cars cannot run if there is any liquid at all on the track.  The strip is prepped prior to the event by dragging rubber over the surface of the concrete this is then sprayed with a traction compound we call glue.  Any liquid will sit on top of this like little ball bearings.  A race vehicle hitting that at speed on slick tyres is in big trouble!  The team worked like Trojans drying  the track and after forty five minutes they were ready to go again.  During this time we had walked back to the car park so came back and viewed from the bank near the finish line.

DSC_0021a
‘Another Small Fortune’ is in reality a Top Methanol dragster but runs in Super Pro ET, it has trouble in keeping over the 6 seconds!

Four pairs of cars ran and the 300mph Top Fuellers were lining up and it rained again!  An hour later just as the crew were finishing off drying up another shower.  By now I was very tired due to lack of sleep and the strong wind so we headed for home.  They did get qualifying finished by 9pm and before work on the Monday I watched some of the eliminations on the internet.

Festival of Power!

“I love the smell of nitro in the morning!”  Ok so not quite the quote from ‘Apocalypse Now’.  I have been coming to the ‘Pod’ for forty years now and still get that tingle of excitement as we wend our way along the narrow, twisty road, through the pretty well-to-do villages of Wymington and Poddington.  Take a left at the crossroads onto Airfield Road and you are almost there.  Santa Pod is the last purpose built drag strip remaining in Gt Britain and has changed massively over the years but still has that ‘feel’ of the past (thankfully proper toilets now!).  The strip is built on what was the world war two runway of the American 92nd Bomb Group, and there are memorials to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.  The hot rod revolution really took off after the war with young service men looking for new thrills, so maybe the spirits smile down on our ‘playground’?  It always seems a happy place.

Sunday the 21st and the first event of the season the Festival of Power.  Not just the first rounds of the sportsman classes but also exhibition runs by three Top Fuel dragsters.  Then there was no fewer than eight jets and the amazing rocket bike of Eric Teboul.  Wall to wall sunshine, temps in the 70’sf and the lightest of breezes, the action on the track was even hotter.

There are more images and results on my HOME page click here https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/drag-racing-2019/

DSC_0081a_254
Top Fuel match race. Liam Jones of the UK (green car) thunders down the strip in 3.90 secs at 307mph!  Maja Udtian from Norway unfortunately loses traction and smokes the tyres. You  have to witness this spectacle, it is hard to describe the sound and smell
DSC_0223a_256
Jordan Kenway fights to keep his Suzuki GSX off the centre line during his semi-final win in ET Bike. Cross the line and you are disqualified
DSC_0064a
‘FireForce 3’ Jet Funny Car piloted by Martin Hill on his way to 258mph in 5.93 secs.  The team always puts on a great show