Saturday 10th September. The third day of qualifying for the final round of this years championship, the first in two years. The previous two days were blighted by heavy showers but we were promised a dry day, don’t believe the forecasts! A few light sprinkles and late afternoon one heavy enough to cause the track to close. Add in a couple of engine mishaps requiring the strip to be cleaned of oil meant only one round of Pro class qualifying took place not the two as scheduled. The meeting had a big attendance and for the first time I could not get my usual (or any) grandstand seat! I watched from the banking which stretches the quarter mile. Photography was trickier. The lighting was rather flat and clear shots difficult with the pro photogs along the wall and tv gantry to my right. More shots than usual hit the delete button.
The performances on display were top quality. In his final meeting before retirement the crazy Frenchman Eric Teboul set a new world record on his rocket bike with a time of 5.06 seconds at 263 mph. On Sunday he lowered this to 4.97 @290mph! The fastest man on two wheels over the quarter mile in the world. There was a side by side 5 second Top Fuel Bike race and a European Super Street Bike side by side record run of 6.7 220+mph by Steve Venables and Hungary’s Daniel Lencses. Add in a clutch of 5 second Pro Mods and a 305 mph 3.8 second Top Fuel Dragster run all great entertainment.
Thursday the 8th was a very sad day for our Country with the passing of our Queen. A lot of sporting events were cancelled as a mark of respect. It was decided that the racing should continue but other on site entertainment called off. To make the weekend even more sombre one of our sports long serving and well respected racers, Jon Morton, suffered a fatal heart attack in the pits. I decided to attend at the last minute. Before the professional classes started there was a two minute silence and a playing of the national anthem. There is a phrase ‘you could hear a pin drop’ and literally you could. It was a very moving moment and I felt so proud to be part of the drag racing family that, despite whatever views are held, could show such respect.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Supercharged Outlaws A real mixture of dragsters, altereds even street legal cars. They must run quicker than 9.90 seconds over the quarter mile.
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.
Outlaw Anglia Ford Pop, Anglia, Prefect or Fordson vans fitted with big v8 powerplants.
Nostalgia Super Stock Pre 1980 American v8s raced on a handicap (what we call dial in). There were 45 entries!
Willys Wars 1933 to 42 Willys coupes, sedans or pickups race for fun and ‘bragging rights’.
Gasser Circus Nose high throwbacks to a popular class in ’60s America. They run on ordinary pump fuel.
Old School Stockers Classic Pro Stock bikes of the ’70’s based on wickedly fast Japanese machines of the time.
NSABike Shootout Famous bikes brought out to play! Not quite as quick as they once were but a joy to see.
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/
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/
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…..
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“Remember remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot”
In 1605 a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament and assassinate King James I was foiled at the last minute. Those responsible that were caught met a very grisly end, the most well known (though not leader) being Guy Fawkes.
So every year in the UK we ‘celebrate’ the occasion with big bonfires and firework parties. This is my version. LIGHT THE FIRE!