The British Drag Racing Association started their festival of accelerative speed at Blackbushe aerodrome in Surrey, on September 19th, and assembled a fine cross-section of the best in American exponents of the standing-start ¼-mile, ranging from out-and-out Dragsters to motorcycles. Naturally there was nothing forthcoming from British circles that could challenge the big Americans, but in the motorcycle class there was a good battle, British motorcyclists more than holding their own against the two American entries.
Conditions at Blackbushe were good, with a headwind blowing directly along the runway, and the Americans put on a show of sprinting that was perfection itself. After doing single runs to get the feel of the course, the two really fast cars ran together to provide a sight and sound unequalled in British sporting motoring. These big “slingshot” Dragsters were pushed by service vehicles up the course, turned round and push-started on the way back, whereupon the drivers neatly did 180-degree turns in the starting area and came up to the line together. A few seconds’ pause to get the engines running on full noise, a nod to the starter, the flag went up and away went the two big cars, with smoke billowing from the huge rear tyres. Side by side they raced up the ¼-mile, wheels spinning all the way, and past the timing beams at the end, and then they both let out their braking parachutes and came to rest. That was American Drag racing and, in case anyone thought it was just showmanship, the times were 8.28 sec. for Don Garlits, with a terminal speed of 191 m.p.h. and 8.58 sec. for Tommy Ivo, with a terminal speed of 184 m.p.h.
Garlits drove a supercharged 6-litre Dodge V8-engined car, and Ivo a supercharged 6-litre Chrysler V8-engined car, both using alcohol fuel mixtures and developing a lot of horsepower. Estimates of power output range from 700 b.h.p. to a claimed 1,320 b.h.p., but the technically-minded will know that 200 b.h.p./ litre, even with special fuels and 20 lb. boost, is a lot. Those two men are masters at the art of ¼-mile sprinting and worth going a long way to see in action. Other runners were Tony Nancy with a new layout of Dragster, with the driver sitting in front of the engine, in his Cate a supercharged 8-litre Plymouth V8 running on petrol, and Bob Keith with an orthodox “slingshot” using a supercharged 6-litre Chevrolet V8 engine, also running on petrol. All these four run a direct drive from engine to rear axle, with no gearbox, and judge their wheelspin from a maximum at the start to a minimum at the finish, in order to keep the engine running at peak revs all the time. In fact, they use the spinning rear wheels as an infinitely variable gear ratio, and Garlits is the undoubted master at this sort of thing, and well worth seeing.
Ronnie Sox drove a factory experimental saloon, with a 7-litre Mercury V8 engine, and Dave Strickler a similar car with 7-litre Dodge engine, while George Montgomery drove a “special” with a 1933 Willys coupe body/chassis powered by a supercharged 6-litre Chevrolet engine, this car being an absolute riot and doing 10.65 sec. over the standing ¼-mile, with a terminal speed of 144 m.p.h. More understandable to European eyes was the Porsche-engined sprint car of Doug Church, with bored-out 1,600-c.c. Super engine, that clocked 11.57 sec., but in the knock-out Competition he was beaten by Allan Allard with the blown Ford Cortina-engined Allard Dragon, who clocked 11.42 sec., and upheld British hopes in this Drag Festival.
In the Motorcycle class fastest time went to George Brown on his supercharged 1,000-c.c. Vincent. followed by the American Don Hyland on a special machine using Tyco 650-c.c. Triumph twin engines in tandem, with 11.34 sec., and third was Ian Ashwell with his supercharged 1,000-c,c. Vincent with 11.47 sec. The only other American competitor was Bill Wood with a 1,100-c.c. Harley Davidson sprint bike, who clocked 11.87 sec.
On Sunday, September 20th, the “Drag Circus” moved up to Chelveston aerodrome, near Wellingborough, but a strong cross-wind prevented the big cars from using all their performance; even so Garlits and Ivo gave another superb demonstration of professionals at work, and clocked 8.74 sec. and 8.98 sec. respectively, on a double run, and on a single run Garlits did 8.63 sec., with a terminal speed of 187 m.p.h, Allan Allard again upheld British honours with his Allard Dragon; and his fastest time was his best ever, with 11.26 sec., and a terminal speed of 130 m.p.h. However, fastest British time overall went to Westbury with the Ferguson P99, who clocked 11.02 sec., with a terminal speed of 127 m.p.h. Among the motorcycles the British won again, this time Neville Higgins clocking 11.11 sec. on his supercharged 1,060-c.c. Vincent, to the American Don Hyland’s 11.19 sec. on the Triumph Twin-twin.
As Motor Sport goes to press two more similar meetings are taking place in the North of England, and for anyone who missed the remarkable sight of two American Dragsters running off side-by-side, there are meetings at R.A.F. Station, Kemble, near Gloucester on October 3rd, and at Blackbushe Aerodrome, again on October 4th. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed by Garhts and Ivo in action. – D.S.J.