In the beginning
I guess you can blame Bob Allen really. It was Bob who introduced me to the sport of Drag Racing, way back in 1974. We had both just started our apprenticeships with a well-known helicopter manufacturing company in Yeovil, Somerset. The same helicopter manufacturer that used to employ a certain Dennis Priddle.
I had read about and seen pictures of the long cars with the big wheels at the back and the little wheels at the front, as well as the short-wheelbase cars with their funny looking ‘replica’ bodies, but nothing was to prepare me for the sight, sounds and smells that were to greet me at Santa Pod. No I’m not talking about the infamous toilets, but legendary heroes like Dennis Priddle in Mr. Revell, Ronnie Picardo in Firefly, Bootsie Herridge in Stardust, Owen Hayward in Houndog, to name just a few. The cars that really stuck in my mind though, were the altereds: Tee-Rat, Sneaky-T, Shutdown, Panic, Stripteaser, Stagecoach, Dorset Horn, the list goes on.
That was it – I was hooked !
I spent many happy years spectating at The Pod, Blackbushe, Wroughton, North Weald and Long Marston, with memorable meets like the Tor-Line funny car meeting at Blackbushe, the Easter 1976 ‘Garlits’ meeting and the 1979 ‘Beadle/Snow’ World Finals, until finally in 1984 I decided that “if they can do it, so can I !”
At the Easter 1984 meeting, I saw an advert for a part-built altered chassis, complete with Model T body. This was the conception of my baby…
Team Blue Dragon, our first time
The original plan was to debut the car towards the end of the 1984 season, but in time-honoured tradition, we were working into the early hours of the mornings during the week leading up to Easter 1985.
Good Friday didn’t start too well, as we got pulled by the Police for allegedly overtaking a farm tractor and trailer on a single continuous white line, but eventually we arrived at (the then disused) Ilton Airfield, where she actually moved for the first time under her own power. Saturday was spent sorting out a few minor problems, like the steering and the brakes! Then it was off to Santa Pod Easter Sunday morning. That was a bit of an eye opener, for someone who’d never previously been ‘the other side of the barrier’ ! We were told that due to the shortage of time available, we were to only get one observed run and if the observers were happy with that run, we’d be in Monday’s elimination.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t select second gear, so our run was a rather pathetic 16.58 seconds at only 68 mph. Back in the playpen, our problem was found to be purely low fluid levels in the powerglide. Still, never mind, everyone was happy with our observed run and we qualified for Monday.What happened Monday ? Just for a change, it rained ! So that was it. Nothing left to do but load her onto the trailer and take her home behind my trusty Austin Maxi.
The rest of 1985
May 19th saw us at the Inaugural Bitteswell meeting, where we lost in the quarter-finals against Brian Howell’s 97ci Ford engined ‘Snowman’ dragster. June 9th saw us at Long Marston, where we redlit against John Wright’s ‘Strip Lightning’ 230ci Jaguar engined altered. During early August, we had a serious tidying up session and a completion of the paintwork, ready for the Yeovil Festival of Transport. August Bank Holiday at The Pod wasn’t very kind to us; Fuel pump problems on Saturday and loss of compression on Sunday persuaded us to go home Sunday night and miss the eliminations on Monday. We freshened up the motor and rebuilt the fuel pump and carburettor in preparation for the Santa Pod World Finals. In competition Bracket 4 we beat the Chevy engined ‘Snapdragon’ Dragster of Ivan Birch in the semi-finals and the similarly powered ‘Five Alive’ 5-window coupe altered of Mark Riches for our first ever win. We finished off our 1985 season exhibiting in the South West Custom Show, at the Bristol Exhibition Centre.
283 small block chevy motor
Mechanical fuel pump
Holley 650 vac. Secondaries carb
Stock torque converter
Mk2 Jag rear end
Drop-tube front axle with transverse leaf spring and coilover shocks
Best e.t. 13.23 seconds (World Finals)
Best terminal speed 99.00 mph (World Finals)
The rest of the ’80’s
After the (yet again) rained-off 1986 Easter meeting we wanted to go a bit quicker, so it was time for an engine and gearbox change. The 283 & glide were swapped for a 350 and TH400. The rained off finals were run at the ‘2nd Labour Day’ meeting. Beating the ‘Exile’ dragster of Dave Ellis in the semi-finals, took us through to the final of Econo Eliminator, where we beat ‘The Alien’ altered of Ivor Roffey. By the end of the season, our times were down to 12.30 seconds and our terminal speed up to 109.6 mph.
Memorable for all the wrong reasons in 1986 were our near trip into field at the Cannonball meeting, when the brakes failed and the oiling of the track at the Fireworks Spectacular, caused when the hose to the oil pressure gauge split.
The winter of 1986/1987 was spent stripping and refurbishing the chassis, with the installation of a new solid front end and a narrowed 9″ Ford rearend.
Although at the Easter meeting, the Chevy engine was ailing, the way that the handicapped racing worked, we somehow managed to take out Mark Riches in the semi-final, to lose to Steve Young’s ‘Autocat’ Dragster in the EconoEliminator final. I’m not particularly proud of the way we won that runners-up trophy ! It was only when we got her home and stripped her down, that the extent of the damage was revealed. The oil pump pickup had come off and was lying in the pan; the rod bearings and big-end bearings had picked up on the crank and had spun in their housings and the crank was badly scored. A replacement short-motor was found locally, in the shape of another 283. This is believed to have started life in Ed Shaver’s old Chevelle. Usable parts, like the cylinder heads, etc from the 350 were fitted to the new short motor and we back up and running again. Initial runs weren’t too special, but with a borrowed pair of heads, the ‘Sun Supernationals’ in August, saw us in the 11’s for the 1st time, before fitting a small Nitrous Oxide kit and running 10.45 seconds @ 125.9mph..This was bettered with a 130.7mph terminal speed at the ‘Fireworks Spectacular’.
The winter of 1987/1988 was spent working on a new Austin A35 body, but more of that later.
Easter saw us beating Phil Herrick’s ‘Vicious Trait’, in the quarter finals, beating Pete Borrowik’s ‘Rutland Rebel’ in the semi’s and losing to Mark Riches’ ‘Five Alive’ in the final. Mayday Bank Holiday saw us beating the Gleadow Brothers’ ‘Time Machine’ in the quarter finals; George Gordon’s ‘Green Onions’ in the semi’s and taking the final over Craig Lewis in ‘Pegasus’. August 1988 was the debut meeting for the new Austin A35 body. It was celebrated in fine style , with a Sunday Bracket 5 semi-final win over Phil Herrick’s TR7 and a final win over Martin Cowell’s Midget.
At the 1990 Firework Spectacular, Knut Soderquist had a part-built chassis for sale. Allegedly, the tube was cut, bent and tacked together by Mike Derry and Roland Pratt of Hillbillies fame. John Tebbutt was reportedly responsible for actually welding it together. Christmas 1990, we went up to Santa Pod and collected it. In between race meetings, the new chassis was completed and various parts from the original Blue Dragon were grafted onto it. It was August of that year before the new car was ready to run for the first time. With the T body in grey primer, we sat in the collecting lanes at Santa Pod all day August Bank Holiday Sunday, waiting for a time slot to put in an observed run. Still having not run by Sunday night, rather than waste another day, we decided to pack up camp and travel across to Long Marston, where we knew there was a run-wot-you-brung.