Things you expect to see in the English countryside: hedgehogs, pubs with names crafted using two nouns, and Belgians with fussy mustaches solving murders. Things you don’t expect to see: supercharged Chevy motors, wheelstanding Dodge Challengers, and rockabilly bands playing in front of monster trucks. Sure, people who drag race in Europe knew there was drag racing in Europe, but even the customs official at Heathrow looked confused when I said I was in England to visit a drag strip. “We have a drag strip?” he asked.
Not only does England have a drag strip, it has several. But only one is currently in full-time use: Santa Pod Raceway. That particular site is a historically important strip, and many of the legends of American drag racing have spun tires and spat flames down Santa Pod’s quarter-mile. Today the track runs regular brand-specific and open-run weekend meets, as well as big international events like Dragstalgia, where for three days, rain or shine, it’s 1969. Well, it’s really more like 1948 to 1978-ish, but that doesn’t rhyme. Point is, it’s retro and it’s delightful—and we were there. Click that link for a look at the event through the eyes of master tuner Roland Leong, and scroll on for more photos from the Pod across the Pond:
Adrian Sidwell’s ’69 Opus HRF is a true English hot rod, based off a Ford Anglia with a Model T-like body. Sidwell runs a 1700cc four-cylinder and a supercharger from an Allard dragster. He’s made a best pass of 14.6 seconds at 88 mph. “I’m aiming for 100,” he told us.
Here’s something unheard of at American races: a handsome fellow named Mario selling crêpes trackside. It’s just like Le Mans!
The weather in England isn’t necessarily friendly to hot-rodding, but Hannah Thomas of the National Street Rod Association (NSRA) just laughed when it started sprinkling on us. “Our hot-rodders are hardy,” she said.
Retro drag bikes are a big thing at Santa Pod, and if you ever wanted to know what fearlessness looked like, take a peek at these guys running bizarre combinations and seating arrangements. We saw twin engine, supercharged, nitro-burning bikes ridden to speeds of more than 160 mph.
One thing that the Brits love is a fancy dress party, and their motorsports events are no different. There are even vintage clothing shops and hair and makeup artists onsite to help you achieve that perfect updo or pompadour.
One of the most charming cars—and teams—at an event full of charming cars and teams was the JD Racing team and its Volvo P1800 Gasser. Built by Lee Johnstone and crewed by his wife Sue, and their three daughters, it was a crowd-pleaser all around.
If you don’t have a car of your own, but you still want a 1320 thrill, may I suggest a go in the two-seater dragster? If you want to experience zero to 170+mph in less than eight seconds, it’s $500 well spent. Plus, Idris Elba rode in it once! I’m sure I stepped out just a little bit more attractive than I was before.
People come from all over Europe to race at Santa Pod, including 16-year-old Dano Pluijim from Holland, who raced his 1967 Plymouth Valiant for the first time during the weekend.
Because drag racing is so associated with Americana, it’s fun to see the ways it changes in other countries, like watching a movie you know well but dubbed in a different language. So, sit back and enjoy the show!