Santa Pod Raceway: Dragstalgia
Fri. 15 – Sun. 17 July 2016
It was a moment to savour for throngs of fans at Dragstalgia; perhaps the most poignant moment in Santa Pod Raceway’s half-century of history.
The plan for the Dragstalgia historic drag race meeting had been to recreate the first run ever made down the Santa Pod dragstrip: early on the venue’s opening day, Easter Monday 1966, Harold Bull and his little hand-built dragster, Strip Duster, powered by an engine lifted from a Morris Minor, had traversed the length of the track, the first of countless thousands of runs to be made over the next 50 years. Recently, Harold’s son, Simon Bull, had built a perfect replica of the car under Harold’s supervision (the original Strip Duster chassis is believed still to exist somewhere in Germany) and would mark that inaugural moment in Santa Pod’s history by piloting the car up the strip during Dragstalgia.
Alongside would be another modern replica of an early racing machine. Ken ‘Flathead’ Cooper was a drag racing pioneer whose activities pre-dated Santa Pod – his nickname arises from his predilection for Ford’s workhorse flathead V8 of that era. Son Bradley Cooper had lately replicated one of Ken’s cars, again with his father’s help, and races it at historic events. Simon Bull and Bradley Cooper would drive their respective mounts side-by-side up the strip as a fitting 50th Anniversary tribute.
That, at least, was the plan.
Yet as the two dragsters swung out from the pairing lanes and approached the start line, it was not the sons discovered at the controls but the fathers themselves. At 91 years of age, Harold Bull was about to become not only the first driver ever to traverse the Santa Pod quarter-mile, but now the oldest too. Ken Cooper, a mere stripling at just 79, might well be next in line. Decades have passed since either had last piloted a competition car.
Awaiting them on the line was Santa Pod’s onetime Chief Starter, Stuart Bradbury, wielding the flags he had once used in the days before the electronic ‘Christmas tree’ starting system was installed. With a wave of the flags, the pair were under way. Age plainly does not dampen the competitive fires, and what was intended simply to be an exhibition pass turned out to be anything but a meander. Harold Bull got the jump on his younger opponent and appeared to be ahead at the finish line too. Since neither car staged in the modern manner, times and speeds were not recorded. In their heyday, both racers were accustomed to clocking 10-second passes at over 130mph. Their 2016 performances certainly looked respectable by comparison. Applauded by spectators all the way to the finish, the pair received a further ovation from the track marshals as they pulled to a halt at the end of the shutdown area half-a-mile beyond.
For those onlookers old enough to have watched Harold Bull and Ken Cooper in their prime as leading lights in the formative days of British drag racing, this extraordinary match-up was an occasion none would ever have expected to see happen. Those too young to remember found themselves privy to a unique moment of motorsporting history that they will do well to treasure for the rest of their days.
Santa Pod Raceway’s 50th Anniversary season reaches its climax with the FIA/FIM European Finals, 8-11 September 2016.
The British Drag Racing Hall Of Fame in association with US Automotive continues into its tenth successful year and is pleased to announce the 2016 intake. Nominees are eligible by dint of having raced, owned, designed, built, maintained, prepared, promoted, officiated, supported or taken part in British drag racing in any capacity, having been involved for at least twenty years, or having made a significant and recognisable contribution to the sport. The 2016 inductees, in alphabetical order, are US dragster builder, driver and overseas pioneer the late Bob Keith, engineer, crew chief and race car builder Rob Loaring, Santa Pod Racers Club Secretary the late Paula Marshall and Europe’s first permanent drag racing track Santa Pod Raceway.
Santa Pod Raceway: Dragstalgia Fri. 15 – Sun. 17 July 2016
In drag racing, the V8 is king and there is no substitute for cubic capacity. So says the received wisdom. Yet it is not strictly true, either today – when all manner of powerplants propel all manner of vehicles up the track – or in the earliest days, when eight-pot locomotion was a comparative rarity on the British scene.
Indeed, when Santa Pod Raceway opened for business 50 years ago on Easter Monday 1966, the very first car to traverse the quarter-mile packed all of 948cc into its four-cylinder engine. Harold Bull’s Strip Duster was a slingshot dragster powered by an engine lifted from a Morris Minor. It was an immaculate miniature version of the thundering V8-motored dragsters which had so impressed and inspired Harold when an all-star team from America had toured Britain two years earlier, though there was nothing miniature about the car’s performance. With constant modifications and improvements made over the next few years, Strip Duster would not only win races against opponents at Santa Pod but would set world records against the clock at the Elvington records meeting in Yorkshire which still stand today.
When Harold Bull and his fellow BMC-powered arch-rival, John Whitmore, pulled to the Santa Pod start line, fans would hurry from all parts to watch. The same response is anticipated when Strip Duster recreates its maiden Santa Pod voyage at Dragstalgia, the venue’s annual historic revival meeting taking place from 15th to 17th July.
When he made that inaugural trip up the track, Harold was already 41 years old. Half a century later and still living at Wymington within earshot of Santa Pod, the self-taught, expert engineer and tool-maker has supervised the construction of a perfect Strip Duster replica by his son, Simon, who will pilot the car on its Dragstalgia outing. The original Strip Duster, now modified beyond recognition, is believed still to exist somewhere in Germany.
Dragstalgia brings forth a veritable treasure trove of historic drag racing machinery. Some 300 cars and motorcycles of all shapes, sizes and vintages will be in attendance over the July weekend, many in action on the track and others displayed alongside. Top of the bill and visiting from America will be the spectacular Fuel Altereds, Rat Trap and the Bradfords’ Topolino, along with a bygone era’s array of Dragsters and Funny Cars, Altereds and Stockers, plus bikes of many classes and kinds. There’ll be no mistaking the moment, however, when Simon Bull guides Strip Duster on its historic passage up the fabled quarter-mile.
A very cool Liam Churchill from 1976