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.
Bob Keith – Profile by Brian Taylor
Although perhaps not so well known as some American drag racers, semi-professional Bob Keith played an instrumental role in establishing the sport in Great Britain. But his drag racing exploits started like many Californians back in the day when his father gave him a cherry 1940 Ford as his 1955 graduation present. That led to the next 20 years of his life being spent at drag strips across the USA driving a variety of vehicles.
His influence on drag racing across the globe leaped to a different level when in the early 1960s he became one of the first American drag racers to contact Sydney Allard in the UK after reading about his exploits in developing the Allard Chrysler in American magazines.
Regular correspondence (hand written letters in those days) resulted in Sydney insisting that Bob be included in the National Hot Rod Association team that launched the sport in the UK during the 1964 Allard-promoted six-race Drag Festival. Still just semi-professional, but now with a blown small block Chevy dragster in a Tommy Ivo chassis and called Dos Palmas, he found himself in the company of America’s top drag racing stars of the era. What a thrill.
He sold his car to a UK team, helping them learn the techniques to get the power to the ground. The machine went on to play an important role in establishing drag racing in the UK during the next few years under the name Asmodeus, then in the hands of American Bill Weichelt who took the dragster back to the USA. Bob managed to track down this car in later years and Ray Evernham financed its restoration to original condition.
Bob captained the American team that raced at Blackbushe and Woodvale in the 1965 Drag Festival. By this time the small block had been replaced with a blown Chrysler in a Kent Fuller chassis. The following year, with a big block Chevy, Bob captained a team that visited Australia. This car too has been recreated and Bob is recognised as playing an important role in developing drag racing in Australia. He met his wife Lee there and they married in 1967.
Bob kept in contact with many UK pioneers during the years that followed and returned to the country several times. He was very involved in the research for Crazy Horses – the history of British Drag racing. Sadly he passed away during the summer of 2015, but he remembered the period between 1964 and 1966 as the highlight of his career. It is for his involvement in launching drag racing into the UK in 1964 and 1965 that he is being inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
Rob Loaring – Profile by Simon Groves
Rob Loaring is one of the most versatile and accomplished engineers in European drag racing. Working as I.C.E. Automotive from premises at Silverstone, he has won six UK Pro Modified Championships as crew chief or tuner, created a highly respected engine building business, fostered the introduction of new class regulations into the sport in the UK and built and run some of the sport’s best performing and spectacular race cars.
He was in his late teens, when he first ventured to Santa Pod with the Draper Brothers, carrying out minor roles on their first few cars. He then acquired a dragster from them which became his grounding as a crew chief and tuner.
In the mid-eighties Rob made the momentous decision to work in drag racing for a living. The name I.C.E. Automotive was coined as it was a suitable length to place on his customers’ hood scoops and fenders. The initials stand for Internal Combustion Engine. Pro Modified had just started by 1988 and Rob had an opportunity to work with Tim Cook on his ’56 Chevy and, later, a smaller ’55 Chevy, The class technology was growing quickly, albeit solely with nitrous engines, and the pair won winning the championship in 1990 and 1991. Rob then joined with Tony Rose for two years, who ran the first six second pass by a European doorslammer in July 1993. Subsequently, they both took the 1994 Pro Mod Championship. A further collaboration, with Dave Mingay in 1995, gave Rob his fourth Pro Mod title.
Rob teamed up with current business partner Nick Davies in 1997, the pair winning the Championship in 1999 and 2000 with Nick driving. He drew up plans for a heads-up doorslammer class which would be more affordable and yet be highly competitive – Super Modified. The class was an instant hit and fields of eight cars were common during its ten year reign.
And during recent years, he has developed turbo engines for Pro Mod and Street Eliminator and built the iconic Havoc Altered, which he and Nick raced memorably against the legendary US Fuel Altered Pure Hell at Santa Pod Raceway’s 2014 Dragstalgia Meet. Rob also turned his attention to Nostalgia Funny Cars and built the superb Apache for Tim Garlick and he found time to help with the recent restoration work on the Allard Chrysler dragster. It is for his continued determination to pursue engineering excellence and influence drag racing’s development in the UK, along with his willingness to help others that Rob Loaring is being inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
Paula Marshall – Profile by Andy ‘Tog’ Rogers
Paula Marshall became interested in drag racing in 1986, attending races with a group of family and friends including then-boyfriend Ian Marshall whom she later married. Paula and Ian soon volunteered to work at events at Santa Pod Raceway and starting in 1989 Paula filled almost every possible role at the track, from working in the Signing On office at both race events and Run What You Brungs, to marshalling in the pairing lanes and collection area, to working on the fire crew. She started to race at the 1996 Cannonball at Santa Pod Raceway, making test runs in Jon Webster’s Comet before driving her own car, the Highlander Camaro, in Super Gas.
In 1998 Paula became Secretary of Santa Pod Racers Club. At that point she had no experience of the organisation of UK and European Championship events but she was a quick learner and equally quickly earned the respect of racers and authorities both for her efficiency and for a no-nonsense approach which became legendary. In a sport in which many people think that they know everything, Paula genuinely did know everything. Whether obscure questions about rules, or queries from UK racers wishing to compete overseas or overseas racers wishing to compete here, Paula knew the form and was always ready to inform, to assist, and to deliver.
Paula played a leading role in the formation of the current UK National Drag Racing Championship, whose first season was contested in 1999, forging links between Clubs whose relationship had historically been uneasy. The UK National Championship is administered by Santa Pod Racers Club and as well as working on regulations and paperwork on behalf of both SPRC and APIRA, she also organised the annual UK National Championships Dinner Dance. She was one of the first to realise the potential of the internet and in 1999 set a precedent for providing event entry lists and notices to racers for publication on-line.
Paula continued to race until the end of the 2000 season before stepping out of the car to have daughter Holley, who now races and who also assists Ian both with SPRC administration and marshalling at race events. Paula returned to the track when Holley was a few years old to contest a few events in Super Modified before finally hanging up her firesuit and concentrating on her duties as Club Secretary.
Paula was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2011, and although she faced up to the disease with her characteristic toughness she passed away on the evening of 6th January 2013. There were tributes from all over the planet to the Club Secretary, the racer, the wife, the mother, the daughter, the sister, and the friend. The sport as a whole in the UK and Europe, and all of us as individuals, will be forever in debt to Paula Marshall for her hard work, for her friendship, and for the lifetime of dedication and service to the sport for which she is inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
Photo credit: Eurodragster.com
The history of Santa Pod Raceway began when John Bennett announced plans to establish a permanent drag strip on Podington airfield, near Wellingborough at the British Hot Rod Association’s 1965 annual meeting. A new company, National Dragways Ltd., leased part of the airfield and operated it as Santa Pod Raceway – ‘Santa’ to evoke visions of Santa Ana, scene of California’s first commercial drag race in 1950, and ‘Pod’ for Podington. The founding directors were Bennett, Bob and Roy Phelps, Ted Peddle and landowner Ernie Braddock.
Staging its first event on Easter Monday, 11th April 1966, it was the first permanent drag strip sited anywhere in Europe and for the first two seasons, the start line stood close to where today’s finish line is located, the current track layout being completed at the start of 1968. It is impossible to overstate the importance of Santa Pod to the history of British drag racing, and arguably European drag racing as well. To every UK legend of the sport, Santa Pod has been the cradle. And visitors from the homeland of drag racing have been in evidence from the beginning.
In June 1966 a team billed as the ‘American Commandos’ headlined one of the earliest meetings. Led by Al Eckstrand it included the Ultra-Sonic AA/Fuel Dragster driven by Bud Barnes plus the eccentric biker EJ Potter, ‘The Michigan Madman’. Bud returned in 1967. Since then, the numerous American luminaries to have graced the track have included Don Schumacher and Paula Murphy, who together gave Britain its first, thrilling experience of full-tilt US Funny Cars in 1973. Don Garlits raced at Santa Pod in 1976 and 1977. Other American stars include Ken Annesley, Marion Owens, T C Christenson and Danny Johnson on their bikes; Sammy Miller and Al Eirdam with their rockets; Raymond Beadle, Gordie Bonin, Tony Nancy, Frank Hawley, Tommy Johnson Jnr, Darryl Gwynn, Leroy Chadderton, Dale Emery, Gene Snow, Don Prudhomme and Al Segrini with their fuel dragsters and funny cars. And let’s not forget Melanie Troxel in her Pro Mod. Scandinavian racers became a regular and valued addition to the ranks as early as 1970. At this year’s The Main Event, no fewer than 16 continental European countries were represented. Entrants from further afield have ranged from South African Arthur Christie who raced a fuel dragster on the track in 1971, to 2016’s debut European appearance of a competitor from the thriving Arabian Drag Racing League, Pro Mod racer Hussain al Shammari of Kuwait.
Santa Pod has been run by three distinct management teams in its half-century of history. After John Bennett stood down in 1969, the Phelps family assumed full control, with Roy Phelps accepting sole charge after father Bob retired in 1983. Don Brister and Bo Meftah acquired the venue in 1989 and the current team, led by Keith Bartlett, took over in 1996. For 50 years of continuous, and sometimes challenging, operation, Santa Pod Raceway has served as the bedrock and the heartland of drag racing in Europe. It is for this signal and abiding achievement that Santa Pod is inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
Members of the Hall of Fame receive a ‘Bootsie’, a trophy encapsulating an image of the late Allan ‘Bootsie’ Herridge, a man who put so much into British drag racing, together with an exclusive commemorative pin. They join the élite list of inductees from previous years and will be listed on the official British Drag Racing Hall of Fame web site which you can view at www.britishdragracinghof.co.uk or by clicking on the British Hall of Fame link on the left-hand side of any Eurodragster.com page. The Hall of Fame trophies will be presented at the Gala Awards Dinner at the Sheraton Skyline Hotel, Heathrow on 19th November.
The Gala Awards Dinner 2016
Ticket prices for the 2016 BDRHoF Gala Awards Dinner remain unchanged at £60 per person. Corporate tables of 10 are available at £580. More details are available from www.britishdragracinghof.co.uk/news-events/2016-bdrhof-gala-awards-new-venue/
To reserve tickets please email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone Stu Bradbury on 01933 279102.
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Sheraton Skyline Hotel information
BDRHoF Gala guests are eligible for a special hotel room rate via an exclusive online reservation link. Details will be supplied with Gala ticket applications as above. Discounted room prices are £115 per night single, £125 double, and include full English breakfast and complimentary use of Sky Garden pool and Fitness Gym. Car parking will be available on-site for £8 per night. The Sheraton Skyline Hotel is situated on the A4 Bath Road on Heathrow Airport’s northern perimeter and hotel information is available online at www.sheratonskyline.com.