As told exclusively to by Nick Pettitt with help from Jerry Cookson
All pictures by Pete Robbins or Pete Blake unless credited otherwise
Rumours were circulating in 1972 that Big Daddy Don Garlits was coming over to Santa Pod for the fourth annual July Internationals in 1973. Garlits was also interested in breaking Dennis Priddle’s new two-way average standing quarter World Record of 6.700 at Elvington. Not only that but word was out that the Internationals was going to be held over three weekends starting at Santa Pod, then moving to two ‘On Tour’ venues much like the Drag Festivals in 1964.
Then in December Don Garlits announced he wouldn’t be coming over after all due to a mix-up over the dates and being too heavily committed with race meetings in America. Santa Pod then contacted Larry Fullerton with his Trojan Horse Funny Car who agreed to come over but there was more bad luck when he too had to pull out after testing his new rear engined Funny Car on the street which went out of control and burst into flames. Larry suffered severe burns, a broken arm and collar bone.
Roy Phelps was starting to panic but all was not lost as Tony Nancy was contacted and agreed to bring his Revell liner Top Fuel Dragster after doing demos in front of a crowd of 200,000 in Japan. Also, Don Schumacher was booked to appear with his Stardust Barracuda Funny Car and Danny Johnson was bringing over two Harley Drag Bikes having recently recorded an 8.51 at 177mph making him the fastest rider in America.
A late entry was Paula Murphy and her STP Duster Funny Car which would be match racing Stardust. Tony Nancy would be competing in an eight-car Top Fuel field along with another American late entry, Norm Wilcox driving his old car which was now Dennis Priddle’s Mr Revell, while Dennis would be back in the seat of his old car Mister Six.
Completing the eight-car field was Clive Skilton with Revolution 4, Roland Pratt in Revolution 3, Mike Hutcherson in the Houndog 6 slingshot, Allan ‘Bootsie’ Herridge with Firefly and John Siggery in Commuter, now six years old but still winning having taken the Springnationals title at Easter.
Completing the International field were six entries from Sweden, the Roaring Viking injected hemi Capri Funny Car of Pele Wedeholm and Hazze Fromm, Anders Lantz’s ‘33 Plymouth Coupe, Svante Eriksson in his 440 Chrysler powered Jeep, Krister Johansson's Dodge Lancer, Nicolai Lawrienco’s Camaro and Johnny Jonsson’s Corvette. Henk Vink and Rob Enzler brought their Kawasaki bikes from Holland and there were two South African entered Street Cars.
Only one suitable venue could be found for the ‘On Tour’ meetings and that was HMS Daedalus Airfield, Lee-on-Solent in Gosport, Hampshire. So it was decided that the International series would be run at Santa Pod on the 7th/8th July, Daedalus 15th July and back to the Pod for the 21st/22nd July.
The British Drag Racing & Hot Rod Association organised the meetings and sponsorship for the series came from Petersen Publishing. It was also announced that the meetings were to be run under the American Hot Rod Association’s approval as steps were being taken at the time to have the Pod AHRA sanctioned.
The weather was perfect for the first round of the series at Santa Pod. The banks and stands were filling up with spectators eager to see two mouth-watering American Funny Cars on British soil for the first time and they weren’t to be disappointed. So far the Funny Car starved UK fans had seen the Santa Pod Gloworm Capri running nines in 1971 and the Hillbillies Transcontinental Vauxhall VX4/90 which ran eights in 1972 but then sadly crashed before reaching its potential.
But now there were two fire breathing Ed Pink powered beasts sitting patiently in the pits capable of six second 200mph blasts. First out was Paula Murphy who after obliterating the start area with two smoky burnouts ran a 7.97/185mph adding a few dents to the sump over the top end bumps. She later ran a 7.72 managing to negotiate the bumps with no further damage. Don Schumacher came out and made even more smoke but was eating blowers, having to borrow one from the Firefly team before the race on Sunday.
The Swedish Capri Funny Car ran a promising 9.02/162mph at the cost of a broken gearbox side-lining the car for the rest of the meeting. This car had already been seen at the 1970 Internationals with an injected rat fitted and would later be seen at Wroughton in 1975 powered by a 520 cube Garlits-prepared hemi.
Although it wasn’t a Funny Car yet, Ed Shaver was driving the rear engined chassis built by Mark Stratton. Ed ran it as a Dragster at the International series getting very out of shape but still clocking an impressive 8.89, then in August it appeared at Blackbushe with a Vauxhall VX4/90 body fitted.
Tony Nancy brought out the beautiful Revell liner which only just got to the Pod in time, arriving mid-morning and qualified with a 6.98 putting him in the number two spot. This was Tony’s third visit to the UK having raced his rear engined Wedge Dragster at the 1964 Drag Festivals and his 22 Junior slingshot Fueler in 1965.
Top qualifier was Clive Skilton with a 6.80, and Dennis Priddle was just behind Tony with a 6.99 in Mister Six, now painted in blue and yellow courtesy of new sponsors Shell and Chrysler.
Completing the field were Roland Pratt at 7.40, Mike Hutcherson with a 7.71, putting a smile on Nobby Hill’s face and proving that Houndog’s first seven at the last meeting was no fluke, Allan Herridge was just in the sevens at 7.99 while Norm Wilcox took 7th spot with a wild ride in Mr Revell using both lanes and shutting off to an 11.12 and sadly John Siggery with the aging Commuter didn’t make the field.
Danny Johnson brought out his old bike and after two rolling burnouts, one on water the other on grip juice, what looked like an effortless run produced times of 9.27/162mph leaving the UK riders looking somewhat stunned.
Norman Hyde had run the first nine of the year when he qualified top of the pile in Top Bike with a 9.92/145mph and he later match raced Danny. Using the instant green start system they left together, Norman’s Triumph screaming while the Harley merely cruised up the quarter to win with a 9.26/163mph as Norman ran 10.21/114mph after blowing a head gasket.
The Swedes were causing havoc in Top Street when the RAC scrutineer decided that Svante Eriksson’s controversial 10 second street legal Jeep should run in Street Altered rather than Competition Altered, outclassing the rest of the 12-13 second field causing the UK drivers to voice their annoyance; some were heard muttering about fitting headlamps and wipers to Funny Cars!
Pro Stock had its first British bodied entry when Gerry Andrews debuted the Stones’ Chevy powered Escort Tender Trap, mixing it with the Camaros and qualifying with an easy 12.4. Gary Goggin was top of the pile qualifying with an 11.13 in Clunk Click.
The National Street Rod Association put on a display as usual at Santa Pod. Many street rodders would head for the Pod in the early 70s to show off their cars adding to the atmosphere and as an added bonus they were let in for free. During the lunch break they would cruise up and down the strip.
To everyone’s surprise qualifying was interrupted by rally cars in the afternoon running a stage of the Tour of Britain Rally. The Rally featured a mix of race and rally stages at several circuits, airfields, stately homes etc. including Long Marston, Wroughton, Snetterton, Silverstone and Llandow which all had, or were due to see some Drag Racing action in their time.
Roger Bell in his BMW took top time at 16.1 seconds followed by James Hunt in a Camaro at 16.2. The spectators were not happy seeing rally cars running times in the high teens, but it did do some good for Drag Racing as a TV program about the rally shown on ITV a week later included a shot of one of Stardust's runs.
Onto Sunday and even more spectators turned up to see the American Plastic Fantastics and their long-awaited match race. Don Schumacher came out for a checkout pass at 7.50/191mph. There was relief all round as the blower from Firefly was holding together.
Then it was time for the big race and the tension mounted as the two cars were pulled down the fire-up road, bodies up, ready for the portable electric starters to be plugged in behind the start line. This was a relatively new idea for the British fans who were used to seeing the big cars push started down the fire-up road. Stardust was in the yellow lane and Miss STP in the blue.
Both cars barked into life, the bodies lowered as Paula’s mechanic Fat Jack Bynum directed them forwards before side-by-side 150-yard burnouts which not only deafened everyone but blinded them too as the whole start line area was engulfed in tyre smoke. Everyone was cheering as they reversed back and edged into stage.
The lights blinked and they blasted up the quarter together, Don getting their first with a 7.21/202mph to Paula’s 7.82. They were then towed back down the strip to the applause and cheering from the crowd which really overwhelmed the American drivers.
Onto Top Fuel and Clive Skilton got a bye run as number one qualifier. Dennis Priddle also ran a bye after Firefly lost fire. Then it was Tony Nancy against Mike Hutcherson who pulled a wheelstand in Houndog charging to a 7.72/151 as Nancy passed him with a 6.90/213mph. Norm Wilcox grabbed a holeshot on Roland Pratt but broke the diff letting a surprised and lucky Pratt through with a 7.66/163mph.
The semis saw the old rivals Priddle and Skilton battle it out. Dennis was on form pulling a holeshot and storming to a 6.63/191mph win to Clive’s 6.80/207mph. There was drama in the second semi as Tony Nancy edged into pre-stage while Roland Pratt was having trouble holding his car in stage. Chief Starter Stu Bradbury helped Pratt to stage which upset Nancy’s mechanic. Then Pratt left the line and there was a bang from Nancy’s engine which lost fire with oil dripping out. Nancy jumped out and had a go at Stu Bradbury. The crowd were loving the drama.
It was then noticed that two red lights were lit on the tree. The BDR&HRA decided to allow a rerun but were contradicted by the RAC who declared Pratt the winner. The arguing continued when Nancy returned to the pits but once everyone had calmed down, he came out again to make a solo run attempting to break the strip speed record which he did with a run of 6.68/220mph.
Tony couldn’t understand why the times weren’t quicker and faster as he had just got back from Japan where he ran 6.30/238mph and felt the car was running as good as it had been there. Some put it down to the four-inch stage beams being used at the time. In the Top Fuel final Roland failed on the line allowing Dennis to run an easy 7.08/160 and take the SEMA Perpetual Trophy.
Danny Johnson ran a best of three against Jim Brown riding his blown Jap. Brown took the first race after Johnson blew his Harley to bits halfway up the strip. He then brought out his other bike, the new 2-speeder which ran a 9.34 but pulled a red light while Brown lost fire on the line. Then Brown red lit in the third race as Johnson broke the chain after performing a crowd-pleasing fire burnout.
In Pro Stock Gary Goggin shut down Tony Dickson in Money Hungry, then Kev Pilling in Satan’s Toy took out Gerry Andrews who was having trouble finding gears. The final saw Goggin take the win with a 10.94 to Pilling’s 11.19.
Dave Stone in the popular Tee-Rat Altered took the Top Comp win beating Freeman Rodgers in Aardvark. Dave Page in Panic started the weekend running in Senior Comp but after losing the Topolino body at the top end during qualifying ran the car in eliminations as a dragster. Top Dragster was won by Ray Hoare in his immaculate Saxon rear engined machine.
John Whitmore in his BMC powered Drag-n-Fly took Senior Dragster after which he attempted to run a 150mph terminal and he did it running 151.29mph, a new E/Dragster record and a fantastic achievement for a 79-cube motor, but there was more to come.
As expected, Top Street saw the Swedish Jeep dominating the 16-car field and taking the win against Rick Krejci’s Corvette in the final. Another Swede that did well was Anders Lantz in his newly custom painted injected rat powered ‘33 Plymouth Coupe. This was also street legal and was initially classed as a Street Altered but after a driver’s meeting was put into Competition Altered where he scooped the Senior Comp title with a 10.39/135mph shutting down Pete Smith in his Buick Altered.
The bikes were providing some close racing with the winners in Top, Senior and Middle all in the tens. Duncan Hocking on his blown Triumph took Top Bike beating a slowing Norman Hyde with a 10.06/140mph to an 11.08/101mph. Senior Bike went to Dennis Allen who shut down Ted Dunmows’ Triumph with a 10.00/142mph to a 10.55/130mph and Dutchman Rob Enzler on his Kawasaki took Middle with a 10.78/129mph win over John O’Brian’s Triumph.
At the end of the day Don Schumacher came back out with Stardust to perform a fire burnout. He continued up the strip, turned round and did a burnout for the top end spectators then came back to the start line for one more before leaving for home due to race commitments in America.
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