Continental Notes, November 1964
Back in the spring I warned the Editor that the November Continental Notes would not have much about the Continent in them, for “come Formula Two or high water” I was going to attend the 1st British Drag Festival. The newly-formed British Drag Racing Association had announced their intention of bringing to this country some of the top American Drag Racing Teams, and we were promised the sounds and sights of cars covering the standing-start ¼-mile in close on 8 sec., with terminal speeds of over 190 m.p.h., and this I had to see. I was more than prepared to go as a spectator, but shortly before the Festival began I received an invitation to take part with my sprint motorcycle and then, even closer to the event, I had the opportunity of taking part in the car classes, as well. Gerry Belton, who is Secretary of the Drag Association, was much too busy on the organising side to contemplate driving his own Allard Dragon, so he kindly offered me the loan of the car, this being a standard production Cortina-engined dragster built by the Allard Company, and the subject of a personal bet in which I became involved back in the summer, as regular readers will remember.
The week before the Festival began saw the flap really beginning, with R.A.C. and A.C.U. “red-tape” having to be satisfied and arrangements made to collect the Dragon, fortunately self-contained on its own trailer. Friends rallied round and the Editor used his influence, with the result that Vauxhall Motors loaned a Victor estate car with a towing hitch, the trailer-king Don Parker produced a 50-mm. ball attachment, the Editorial Morris 1100 was used to get up to London from Hampshire, and by late on the evening before the first meeting I had the Vauxhall Victor and the Dragon and trailer outside my home. More friends came over at a moment’s notice to assist with painting numbers on the “racer,” cleaning it, fixing the battery on, assembling the blower drive, and generally having a look round the car, as well as helping to load my racing motorcycle and all the paraphernalia that one takes to a race meeting, into my Morris Traveller. For the first time in many years of sprinting I had a meeting taking place on my own doorstep, so that instead of the usual 100-150 miles journey to a sprint venue, I had a mere five miles to cover to get to Blackbushe aerodrome where “the world and his wife” had arrived to get their first taste of drag racing. Of the organisation the less said the better, and being a competitor on two wheels as well as four wheels I had double the complaints and frustrations. But as the whole object of the meeting was to see Don Garlits and Tommy Ivo demonstrate their big dragster machines, and we were merely meant to “fill-in” between the American runs, one just had to suffer. The demonstration runs were everything that one could hope for and the advance publicity was more than justified, with times approaching 8 sec. for the standing-start ¼-mile and terminal speeds of 191 m.p.h.
Garlits and Ivo were running open class machines, using supercharged 6-litre V8 engines burning nitro-methane fuel, and the noise and smoke as they shot down the course was well worth waiting a long time to see. Their dual run, which was the finale of the meeting, was terrific, and ended the day on a splendid note. My own efforts ended on a much lower note, for the Dragon stretched its flywheel bolts and I crossed the line on my fourth run, in company with Allan Allard in his Dragon, making a “clonking” noise which caused me to switch off oil hastily and wait for the tow car to come and fetch me. The following day my friends who had offered to act as mechanics for me, took the Dragon apart while I competed at the Chelveston meeting on my motorcycle, and before we ran the Dragon again we gave the engine a good check-over.
By the end of the Festival I had had some good solo runs with the Dragon, and some even better match races, the best being against Jack Terry on his 500-cc. nitro-burning J.A.P. Special. In this race we were very evenly matched, his time being 12.07 sec. with a terminal of 114 m.p.h. and mine being 12.19 sec. with a terminal speed of 115 m.p.h. On my 500-c.c. B.S.A. motorcycle, running on Esso Golden petrol, my best match-race was with Dave Lecoq on his methanol-burning 7R A.J.S. Special, in which we crossed the line almost side-by-side, his time being 13.43 sec., with a terminal speed of 97 m.p.h., and mine being 13.47 sec, with a terminal of 92 m.p.h.. These two runs were to me the real essence of drag racing, where paired machines were very evenly matched, and if this form of sport is to flourish the B.D.R.A, will have to pay much more intention to the pairings. Both the runs I have mentioned were most satisfying for the contestants, and presumably were interesting for the spectators, but both were “arranged” by the riders themselves, while the officials of the meetings, were flapping about and perpetrating unnecessarily long delays. Officially my motorcycle match races should all have been against Jack Terry on his J.A.P. machine, the results of which were a foregone conclusion, from practice times.
With the six-meeting Festival over and done with, I returned all the borrowed machinery and reflected on the fact that thanks to the Committee of the British Drag Racing Association we had had a lot of fun, and many thousands of people had been able to see some of the stars of American drag racing in action. Don Garlits made the best performance-overall, with a time of 8.09 sec. for the ¼-mile and a best terminal speed of 197 m.p.h. Nobody will deny that drag racing, American style, is a lot of fun, and in these days of cut-throat rat-races in circuit racing some uninhibited wholesome fun makes a great change, while a full-throttle blast down a runway on two wheels or four is always satisfying. Although my motorcycle was slower in time and speed than the little Allard dragster, I actually found the 2-wheeler much more satisfying, for whereas in a car you merely sit back and press the accelerator pedal as far as it will go, on a motorcycle there is always that little bit more to be gained. After the twistgrip is up against the stop you can help by really flattening yourself along the tank, pulling your elbows in, pressing your knees inwards, tucking your toes in, and even holding your breath; it all seems to help and you become so much a part of the high-revving engine that is under your chest that you tend to grit your teeth and try as hard as possible to reduce frontal area and wind drag, in your efforts to screw another r.p.m. or two out of the engine. To get the same exhilaration and satisfaction from a car you would have to be somewhere near the 10-sec. mark for the ¼-mile, while runs in the 8 sec., as we all witnessed during the Festival, must feel fantastic and take quite a bit of practice with slower machines first of all.—D. S. J.