As told exclusively to
Age Machine was originally built by Allan Herridge in 1968/9 and was a sister car to junior fueler Motovation. Its original owner was Pete “Snoopy” Bennett and it was named Red Baron. Bruce Brown bought it over the 1970/71 winter break, fitted a small block Chevy and then upgraded to a big block Chevy from the Hillbillies Topolino altered. At the end of 1972 Bruce sold the car to Dave and Roz Prior. The car was a little too small for Dave but Roz fitted it well and was a great driver from the start of her career. Ollie and Liz Burn (now Rowland) then bought the car in 1974 and ran it as the Lizard for the rest of the year, selling it to John Wright and John Sutton.
This is the story of a car that has a remarkable history in British Drag Racing. It involves many people who made a significant contribution to UK drag racing and it also provided a springboard for great achievements in the sport.
The dragster that later became Age Machine was built in 1968/9 by one of the sports legends, Allan Herridge. It was the fourth car he had built, starting with the Buick straight 8 H & H Racing dragster. This was followed by the Cadillac powered Pulsation, which at the time was one of the top 3 dragsters in the UK.
By this time Allan was showing his talent as a chassis builder and Pulsation clearly demonstrated his prowess. John Harrison, the other half of H & H Racing was also involved in the build of Pulsation. The Beadle Brothers, Tony and Don, also became involved through Speed and Custom Parts, importing parts for Pulsation and other racers.
Allan replaced the Cadillac with an injected small block Chevy and the UKs first Junior Fuel dragster was born which he ran through 1967. Over the winter a new dragster was built, front engine of course and in May 1968 Motovation was first raced; this was highly successful, through 1968, running down to 9.70s.
The success of Motovation in 1969 lead to Pete “Snoopy” Bennett asking Allan to build him a sister car, also with an injected small block Chevy to be run on nitro. The late 1960s were the heyday of Junior Fuel, because with light construction, high doses of nitro (90 %+), ETs within half a second of an AA/FD could be achieved without the complication and cost of a blown set up; literally a “less is more” approach.
So in 1969, the new sister car, called Red Baron, was launched. Engineering and design wise it shared much with Motovation, plus a striking paint job. Being around at that time I don’t remember there being any lack of budget issues and Red Baron was undoubtedly a credit to both Allan Herridge and Pete Bennett.
According to UKDRN's Programme Archive the car was entered, as B/D 19, for a race meeting on 1st September 1969 at Santa Pod. There is also a picture of it racing against Chicken Coupe driven by Mike Treutlein at Santa Pod but this may have been another date because Mike was not shown as entered for the September meeting.
What ETs were achieved is not known for sure but I think it ran 10 seconds. Pete apparently decided to sell it because he had asked Allan Herridge to build him a longer wheelbase front engine dragster with a big block Chevy, that later became Hemi Hunter.
Bruce Brown (in his own words): “Over the winter of 1970/71, I bought Pete Bennett’s car that he hadn’t run very much, it was built by Allan Herridge. Pete Bennett didn’t do much with it; he intended to but sold it. My mate Keith Bullen from Cavendish did the paint job and I did the sign writing. I bought the car without an engine and put the engine out of Prospector 2 in it.
The name for the car came from an album called Age Machine by a blues rock band called The Spirit of John Morgan that I used to go and see with the Gleadows and Beadle brothers (check out the band on YouTube).
I liked that name; I thought it would be great on my dragster. We saw Spirit of John Morgan in a club in Southall, called the Farx club; it was really a room at the back of a pub. I also saw a band called Stray play there and Thunderclap Newman who had some big hits around that time.
The engine which I had in the last season I ran Prospector 2 was a 327 Chevy bought from Gordon Keeble in Newmarket, and it was to be bored out to 337ci, but they bored it out too far and I had to get a second hand 327 and I got that machined for the new pistons. I put injection on it which I had bought from Tony Beadle, I never could get it set up to run right in Prospector 2 but I had high hopes it would work better in Age Machine.
The first meeting I entered with Age Machine was 16 May 1971. I was still running treaded racing tyres on Age Machine, which helped in a way because it wasn’t making the power it should have done but it could still spin the tyres. At the time nobody in the UK knew much about setting up stack injection so it was a bit of trial and error, mostly the latter!
Because the small block Chevy was not really performing very well, I sold the whole engine, with the injectors, to Tony Beadle. Then I bought the big block Chevy from the Hillbillies, I went down to Wiltshire to get It; my dad paid £1,000, which was a lot of money then. The engine originally came out of a Swedish car, Mafia Mouse, a Topolino altered that came over for an International meeting. An American racer based over here, Bill Weichelt, who ran Asmodeus (previously the Dos Palmas car), was worried about me putting the big block in, he said the frame won’t take that big block, so I put diagonals in the footwell. The car just wouldn’t handle then so I cut them out and it handled great after that.
The big block wasn’t that much heavier and it was easier to work on. It was an iron L6 454 with TRW pistons and a Crane cam. That was a lovely engine. I made the headers for the dragster; I think I did a good job.
To start with I ran a lock up clutch but Don Beadle modified it so it became a slider clutch, it launched much better then. Don also thought the engine was running too cold and so not making the power it should have done, so he held me on the start line and checked the engine temperature with his hand; when Don thought the engine was hot enough he waved me forward. I was sitting there just waiting! The car left like a bandit, what a difference! That was a valuable lesson learnt!
I got 170 mph once but no ET, I think it must have been an 8. At Blackbushe I was getting wheelspin most of the way down the track. I remember once I was approaching the finishing line, and all of a sudden the parachute released itself and all I could see was the front wheels in the air! Apparently there was only one wheel on the ground, a back wheel of course! When I come back in the scrutineering area he (the scrutineer, Captain Tom Hales I think) said “I suggest you don't release it until you start to slow down!” and I said. “I didn't! It released itself!” I knew that you have to take your foot off the throttle before pulling the chute but it was a good reminder from Captain Tom. He was a really good bloke who helped us a lot in those early days. He always tried to find a way to help us race if he wasn’t happy about something on the car.
I will never forget the first time I used the parachute; I had that chute made and I had to go to a factory in London. I think it was a cross form chute. I had to go there and tell them what I wanted, and then go back and pick it up.
I remember doing the Brighton Speed Trials once with the small block and it wasn’t very successful, because I couldn’t get it to run right. If I had gone to the Speed Trials the year after, with the Big Block, then it would have done well, that’s annoying!
Around that time I had a series of match races with John Siggery in Geronimo, at Santa Pod and I beat him in 2 out of the 3. He was crossing the line at about 140 and I was doing 166/168. The best ever speed was 170, I didn’t get an ET ticket but I’m sure it was an 8 second run.
At the last meeting I got oil coming out of one of the headers and I shut it off because I didn’t want to do any more damage. That’s when I decided to stop racing because the money had run out. That year I was 1972 NDRC Top Dragster Champion. My last meeting was the 21/22 October 1972 at Santa Pod.
I then sold the dragster to the Prior family, they came up to the garage in Glemsford, Suffolk where I worked for my dad. I can’t remember what I got for it but I was pleased at the time. Dave Prior bought it as it was but I don’t think he actually tried to sit in the car, which you will hear about later”.
Roz Prior - 1973.
Roz Prior's first drive was the injected Big Block Chevy powered slingshot “Age Machine” which husband Dave had bought from Bruce Brown in 1973, with the intention of driving it himself.
However, at the August Blackbushe meeting he found the cockpit too small for him to comfortably drive the car. Roz says “The moral to this story ‘always try before you buy’ which Dave should have heeded, the option was to sell it, or, I volunteered to give it a go, as back then, I only weighed in at 6 stone 8 pounds and 5 foot 2 inches to Dave’s 6 foot and 16 stone, (whatever that is in new money) so I was on the right side of power to weight eh!”
“My first experience was concentrating on getting the engine started, getting it off the line, and then remembering the sequence to stop it. Of course once I got into the routine I loved it. I had to borrow some of the gear i.e. ‘Bootsie’ Herridges’ Boots, as I didn’t own any”.
The following weekend at Santa Pod, August 25/26 Roz was in place behind the butterfly. Roz put down an impressive 10.8 at 132mph on her first run and by the end of the meeting had recorded a 10.12 and was an instant crowd favourite. Roz made an impressive debut with runs of 10.37/141; 10.21/145; and 10.12/148, losing to Ray Hoare in the semi final, but getting quicker every time...
Roz went on to race at Long Marston on September 9; back at Santa Pod on September 15/16; Blackbushe on September 30; Santa Pod on October 6/7 and again on October 21.
By the October meeting at Santa Pod Roz was running mid 9s at 155mph and she gained other drivers maximum respect when she took Top Dragster Eliminator, shutting down Tony Anderson and Ray Hoare.
1974 saw Roz back out in “Age Machine” and there were some exciting duels with “Hemi Hunter” another injected big block Chevy slingshot, driven by Gerry Andrews.
At the Big Go they met in the final where Roz shaved the green to perfection and won with a slower 8.48/157mph to Gerry 8.29/177. Roz “Our team was various, but Bob Gallington and Graham (can’t remember his surname) were regulars. One particular amusing incident, we were going up the M1 on our way to the Pod, Age Machine was on an open trailer, when our tow car started to slow down, of course we were concerned, our three children in the back started to laugh, I said it’s not funny, Stuart said ‘but Mum, the chute has come out!’ and there it was floating all over two lanes of the motorway!. ”
Gerry (Andrews) remembers the day when we were racing against each other in Top Dragster, as it was then, Tom Hales (scrutineer) had already pulled me over the coals for my chute not deploying, so Dave unknown to me, adjusted the pin after my burnout, I got off the line perfectly, totally got him beat, then he saw my chute gently unfurl halfway up the track, which gave him the win. He said ‘bad luck’ to me, and I said "#$@!%"...
I’ve got fun memories of Age Machine, but fuel beckoned, but that’s another story”
In 1974, Roz raced Age Machine on 24th March, 14th-15th April and 5th May, all at Santa Pod, followed by 11th-12th May at Blackbushe, back to Santa Pod on 26th-27th May; 2nd June at Long Marston (as it was known then) followed by 15th-16th June at Silverstone where Roz and Dave helped Liz and Ollie Burn run the car.
But Roz wanted to go faster and later in 1974 she moved up to Top Fuel after buying Dennis Priddles “Mr Six” front engine top fuel dragster which she campaigned with great success, moving onto rear engine Top Fuel cars such as Maneater.
So Roz and Dave Prior sold Age Machine to Liz and Ollie Burn and another chapter in the dragster's history began...
Liz Rowland 1974 - From Age Machine to Lizard.
Liz's account, from her book “Drag Racing through the Eyes of a Woman”:
At the end of 1973 Roz and Dave Prior were selling their front engine dragster that she ran in the class called Top Dragster (which means an engine with injectors running on alky or nitro-methane) Ollie asked me to go around to their pit with him and sit in the car to see what I thought of it. I thought it was fantastic, so Ollie did the deal with Roz and Dave over the winter but we let them carry on racing the car in the first half of the 1974 season.
We picked it up from Long Marston when Roz finished her last race with it, which I think was June 1974.
I was very apprehensive but at the same time quite excited at the thoughts of racing the dragster. I kept thinking “if Roz can do it, so can I!” We decided to leave the engine as it was, until we got used to running the car. Pete Baker, (Ollie’s old school friend) was part of our team and he was going to drive the car at the first meeting, which was June 15/16. The weather was sunny as it always was when we had meetings there.
I can’t remember much about that weekend but I do remember the look on Pete’s face when he got back to the pits after his first run. He was quite shaken, it wasn’t what he expected and I remember thinking if it shook a "nutter" like him, who used to drive like a maniac, then I had no chance of getting used to it!
Well after that it was my turn.
I wanted to call it (the dragster) something associated with my name so it didn’t take too long to come up with the name “Lizard” so we had the car painted in dark green scales, and a lizard painted across the top panel.
This was also the weekend Roz’s son smacked into the trailer, split his head and had to have stitches; it was very upsetting for her. Roz was a racing mum too!
The next meeting was 6/7 July 1974 at Santa Pod. The weather was fine and it looked as though I was finally going to have a drive. I got into my gear and climbed into the cockpit. As it was my first time out in the car, I had to do a pass on my own, which was very nerve wracking, as I knew all eyes would be on me! I then raced on July 21 at Santa Pod.
Apart from the turn I had in Ollie’s Folly, the only other cars I had driven were a Moggy – Minor, a Ford Pop and an Escort – not exactly racing machines!
The engine fired up as I was being pushed up the fire up road and I drove round to the burn out area behind the start line. We decided not to do a burn out (why complicate things?) I just wanted to get the feel of the car and get to the other end in one piece! I drove the car into stage, waited for the lights to run down and left on the green.
I remember seeing the tarmac flashing past under me and my right foot had a great urge to lift off the throttle, but I was determined I was going to give it my best shot after all the disappointments. Next moment I was at the finish line, shutting of the motor. I was trembling like a leaf but it was such a fantastic feeling that I would never forget – I was hooked!
By the end of the weekend I had run a best of 9.28/151mph against Gerry Andrews time of 8.25/161mph in the final!
After that weekend, I never looked back. I progressed every time I raced. My best time in the car was 8.93 seconds! My top speed was 156.25 mph recorded on separate runs on the same day at Santa Pod during the August Bank Holiday meeting. We raced on into 1974, at Santa Pod on 9th September; Silverstone 14th/15th September; Snetterton 29th September and back to Santa Pod on 6th October.
We never had any serious problems with the car. Ollie didn’t mess around with the motor too much as it ran fairly consistently.
I remember on one run, Ollie and Pete stayed in the pits to work on the Folly (Ollie’s Folly competition altered - yes, we were still persevering with it!) So two of the other lads came up to the line with me. It was a fairly cold day and we decided not to bother doing a burnout, the lads decided to hold me on the line for a while to give the motor a chance to warm up but I guess we waited a bit too long – I saw smoke coming up from my feet and I knew something was getting hot! I drew their attention to it and they signaled me to go. After the run, when were back in the pits checking over the car, we found it was the clutch thrust bearing. I had just sat too long with my foot on the clutch ready to go! Ollie was not pleased!
Now it was getting towards the end of the season. Ollie discovered that Clive Skilton was selling his Castrol sponsored GTX Top Fuel rear engine dragster, complete with 392 ci Chrysler engine. This was the rebuilt (having crashed) ex Kuhl and Olson car that he had bought from the states when he was there in 1973. Clive had raced it since then but he now decided to sell it. This was Ollie’s dream; he always had the intention of going into the sport in a big way and this was going to be his opportunity! He decided to sell the competition altered - which we never had much success with and sell The Lizard (when I was only just getting used to it) He had a chat with Clive and the deal was done and we would get the Top Fuel car towards the end of 1974.
The meeting at Silverstone was to be my last race in the car. We were going to race both cars (Ollie’s Folly and The Lizard) there, so Pete took The Lizard back home to his place in Bedford to work on the clutch, as it was in a pretty bad state and Ollie worked on the Folly.
There were a couple of weekends when we took the car to race meetings but the weather was against us. I recall one weekend (June 30th) we went to Wroughton airbase. It was raining most of the time but during one dry spell I was to have my first drive in the car.
Ollie said he would push me with the van up to the top of the return road and then we would fire up on the way down. But as we were turning the car round to face the right direction, one of the steering arms snapped, so that was the end of that! Just as well it hadn’t happened when I was on a run!
We travelled down to Silverstone with Ollie towing the Altered and me following in our Mexico Escort. Then Ollie left me there with all the camping gear, while he took the Transit van to pick up the Lizard. Well, it wasn’t ready and Pete and Ollie set to and worked on it until it was ready – but I didn’t know that! It had been raining and the ground was soggy but I managed to put the tent up by myself. Dave Prior got stuck in the mud with his car and caravan, so I and some of the others helped push him out.
Night came and it was bitterly cold. I sat in our Escort until 2am in the morning and there was no sign of Ollie. I started to imagine all sorts of things, like they might be laid up in some hospital or boozer somewhere! But they showed up shortly after, much to my relief.
The next day was fantastic – it was really hot. The racing went well and I was up against Alan Blount’s “Mouse Organ” for second place. We fired up and drove down to the start line. Dave Lee Travis, the DJ, was standing by the side of the track watching me. He raced for the Stones team in an Escort called Tender Trap. I did a fantastic burn out, the lads pushed me back, I came into stage a bit too quick and I shot over the start line, causing the over stage light to come on. One of the marshals signaled to me that they were going to pull me back to give me another chance, but then the red-light came on! I sat for a second wondering what was going on, but took the opportunity to go, he had been having trouble with his car, so decided to take the option of an easy run, as I had “red lit” anyway! So I could either shut off, I had lost anyway – or go for it – as it was to be my last ride in the car. I decided to go for it! I overtook my opponent (Alan Blount), who hadn’t made it to the finish line yet. I went through the finish and stopped. My opponent made some comment as he passed, I mumbled a few choice words back and then Ollie and the gang showed up. They had an argument with the guy who controls the lights, because he had pushed the button on the lights too soon after the marshals had decided to let me restage.
We tried to get a re-run but they wouldn’t hear of it, and anyway it had started to rain. A friend who was watching me from the spectator lane said the crowd were with me and were chanting “re-run, re-run”, but the meeting was then called off because of the weather.
I was very sad to see the car go when John Wright and John Sutton, who bought the car, came to pick it up one evening.
We hadn’t taken possession of the Top Fuel car yet from Clive (even though we had paid for it) as he had to honour his contract with Castrol – and had crashed it on his last run at Santa Pod on 26th August, when he hit the barrier (can you see a pattern emerging here?) Dennis Priddle repaired the chassis and straightened out the nose panel before we took possession of it.
I then went on to race in Top Fuel and Pro Comp until 1979 and then I retired from racing.
You can read my full story in my book “Drag Racing Through The Eyes of A Woman” available from this link at Amazon.
Gallery: click on any thumbnail for a large image.
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