Brian Holmes, David Kipling, John Greenwood and John Hill's stories

As told exclusively to

Four short stories from Brian Holmes, David Kipling, John Greenwood and John Hill who were not racers but were all involved in different ways during the early days of British Drag Racing...

Jack Terry on his 500cc JAP, Brian Sparrow pic.

Brian Holmes

My Father worked at Slocombe's a Motorcycle dealer in Neasden, North London, he was there many years as manager, had lots of friends, one was a guy named Jack Terry, who raced bikes in the NSA, where they ran for times only. I went with him to see what it was all about and loved it. I had no interest in being a racer as my love was always the cars and bikes.

I went to Brighton in 1963 and saw the two American guys, Mickey Thompson and Dante Duce who had brought over their Dragsters, and I was hooked, loved the smoke, the noise and wanted to be involved.

Mickey Thompson at Brighton.

Dante Duce thrilling the huge crowd in Mooneyes.

George Wells hoists the Union Jack as Garlits blasts off into the distance. Fred Babcock pic.

I heard about this group called the BHRA and joined, becoming a member. Next there was all this excitement about Blackbushe and some US cars coming over. I just wanted to be a part of it. So I went and volunteered to be part of the staff to help, Not really sure how it came about but someone asked if I would fill in as the flag guy, I thought that would be cool and I would be as close as anyone could get to the noise and the action. There I was jumping around and having a blast. George Wells showed me the ropes and got me to do the flags at Blackbushe.

Metal frame used to line up the Juggernaut Model Y. Ron Fisher pic.

I then heard about Santa Pod being built so I drove up to the Airfield one weekend and offered to help, thought WOW do they have a lot of work to do, and I hope they get rid of the nasty smell!! Not sure if they did get rid of it!! Spent many weekends digging, painting, working and doing whatever it took. Went up (I was living in Ealing, West London) early Saturday and came back late Sunday. Used to sleep in a small trailer with several other guys till I met a really great guy (who unfortunately I can't remember his name) who lived with his parents at a Pub down the road in Rushden so used to stay there instead, a nice place.

I remember the Christmas tree lights being used for the first time, it did take some of the drivers awhile to get used to the tree, but after some practice I believe most were happy with it, plus it made my job safer!!. Before that we used to get the vehicles in line with the start line with a small metal frame, I believe it originated with the NSA, the motorcycle Association for sprint bikes, but soon disappeared when someone built a tree.

I always hated that pointed Rat Fink hat, but George said it was part of the custom for starters, so I wore it, but not too often.

Brian Holmes in his Rat Fink hat.

Stu Bradbury preferred a Stetson.

Brian checks out Bud Barnes’ Ultrasonic

Brian and the hat made it into the Swedish press.

At the time my Mini Truck was very cool, and thanks to many friends it looked good and ran well, I am not a mechanic, but I love to drive. The Mini had a great paint job from Geoff Jago and he gave me a really good deal. I did tell him it would be seen by thousands as I always had it parked right in front of the Tower at Santa Pod. So, he painted his name & info on the tailgate, and I hoped it would bring him lots more work as the paint job was terrific, Brown & Tan Metal Flake with stripes etc, it reminded me of the Humbug candy so that's the name it got!! Besides the paint I did not make too many changes, upgraded the motor, changed the little round side lights to Austin 1100 side lights. I had all the items inside, dash, bucket seats, Tonneau cover outside and some chrome work, loved that little car.

Brian’s Metal Flaked Mini.

EJ Potter smokes to a ten second run. Mick Wheeler pic.

One guy I remember was E J Potter 'The Michigan Madman' that guy had balls bigger than anyone I have ever met, but a nice quiet guy who unfortunately is no longer with us, but I hear his two bikes are on display in a museum. Never had any drivers get mad at me and always tried to do my best as the Starter and drivers all seemed respectful. When the American Top Fuel Dragsters ran I didn’t use a mask, enjoyed the fumes & smoke too much.

The Barracudas and Mustangs in the US Commandos Team. Brian Sutton pic.

I drove the Barracuda for the US Commandos Team which was really great, got to drive it on the strip plus on the street from town to town, probably using a set of tires doing burnouts on the street. I was sad to leave but excited at the prospect of going to the USA to work for Bob George who was the guy who brought the Commandos team to England. I think I did a good job at Santa Pod but the trip came up fast so I had very little time to say goodbye to a lot of people.

I know I left a good Start line crew behind that was trained and knew their job, also I was sure Stu Bradbury would do a great job as the next Head Starter. Originally, I had planned to stay in the States for just two or three years, well I loved it so much. I stayed for 55 years so far, did travel back to the UK a few times to visit family etc, but since my sister died 20 years ago, I have not returned, no family left to visit.

David Kipling

In the back of the Adlards truck the remains of Tony Nancy's 22Jr. Fred Babcock pic

Sixty years ago I was an isolated farm lad gazing at car magazines, but somehow I caught onto drag racing and hot rods, by contacting Vic Outen of the BHRA. In 1964 I persuaded a farm labourer who owned an old car to drive me and a friend the nineteen miles to RAF/ USAF Chelveston to watch that round of the Drag Festival. I saw and heard the BOOM when Dante Duce in Tony Nancy’s borrowed 22Jr dragster smacked a marker barrel at the 1/4 mile line.

How do ‘isolated’ people find their sport? I chatted to another farm labourer who had been to the Isle of Man and had seen a motorcycle sprint; I remember him saying how interesting it was to see how different builders/riders adapted their machines for sprinting. His immediate shrewd comment when told about those unseen and unfamiliar American ‘dragsters’ was that the clutch wear and damage must be a problem.

I joined the BHRA in 1964, and served as Midlands Division Secretary after Ken Cooper, and before Dave Withers. It was Dave who invited me to his employer PERKINS open day in Peterborough in 1965, where the BHRA had a display of cars. I helped Dave Withers scrub the grime of a winter’s storage from the Harvey Aluminum Special fuel dragster that had remained in the UK. I was admiring the Wright brothers’ yellow Austin pickup hot rod, when their young mechanic told me ‘it was fairly easy’ to build such a car. Why did the Press and the literate public write off such people and such skills? At that time I was a library assistant who didn’t even own a screwdriver and could not do an oil change.

Evening Telegraph 26th June 1965.

Evening Telegraph 26th June 1965.

Evening Telegraph 26th June 1965.

Dave Moses custom Consul at Perkins.

I wrote a few race reports and articles for KOOL KAMS, went to a couple of BHRA AGMs, arranged a BHRA slot-car drag race in Northampton, and went to Santa Pod when it opened for business. Did Ken Cooper and his crew know how thrilling it was for me to simply take out and wave his dragster’s push-bar at the start? I was acquainted with Mark Stratton when he started drag racing, and watched uselessly at his workshop when Mark and some USAF guys from Heyford assembled a Jag powered Ford Pop. Well, I did drill a couple of brackets.

In 1964 David wrote to Gerry Belton at Allard Motor Company.

David never did get the film. At that time he was in his last year of school, where they had an 'automotive' club. David entertained them with slides of stock car racing and hot rods.

In the same period, I went to stock car races, to drag racing, and to road circuits like Silverstone and Mallory Park. In the first two I felt 'at home'. But at Silverstone, with my village accent, cheap Woolworths windcheater, bus ticket, and paper bag of jam sandwiches, I felt unwelcome among the county set in their tweed and occasional titles.

From childhood I have had a fascination and respect for hard work, having been born and raised in a farm’s tied cottage. I was acutely aware, from village and school life, that England’s class system dismissed the very people I knew and admired. I committed myself to writing and speaking about that foolish divide, on behalf of those who did not write or speak.

Now a Canadian, since 1978, I have been the local drag race announcer for the past twenty-five years, and it occurs to me, just now, that my interest and enthusiasm, and their origins, are with me as I stand in the control tower, unchanged.

I have never forgotten my foreman father’s earnest statement to my teenage self, that the most intelligent man he had ever encountered was a one-eyed First World War veteran who ploughed with horses on a Suffolk farm. “That man saw more with his one eye than most clever b******s see with two.”

John Greenwood

I was born in July 1941. I left school at age 15 and went straight into my first job which was an apprenticeship for a Marine Engineering company as an Electrical Engineer where they specialized in motors for ships and that kind of thing. I stuck this out for a couple of years but realized a factory life wasn't for me and went on doing various things over the years and had businesses of my own.

I lived in Plumstead, South London not too far from Spa Engineering and wasn’t married then although I’d met Sylvia in 1958 and she shared my interest in motor sports in general. I took her to many motor racing circuits, and we got married in 1964. Down near the Woolwich Ferry there used to be a magazine and book shop selling every magazine imaginable and that’s where I picked up this magazine about American engineering and there was this section on cars and customizing and that’s what lit my interest. I was about 15. I got that magazine regularly and then wanted to find out about everything to do with it.

I got to know John Bennett through my interest in American cars which I always loved. I’m just trying to think how I first got in touch with John and can’t. I went down to Spa Engineering and John showed me around and we had a good chat. I think I was 17 at the time. John was originally into Go Karting and I think that was the link there to how I got to meet him.

John lived behind Spa Engineering in South Norwood where we had these off the cuff meetings with other people. It became a group who were talking about drag racing and how it could happen in this country. If you spoke to the man in the street about drag racing they wouldn’t know what you were talking about. It was only people like us that had this interest in the sport and how it was run in America.

I became a member of the BHRA. Some of the people at those meetings where Berni Davie who worked for John, Ian Penberthy, he came along later, Mike Linton, Rick Goodale and his friend Dave Lynch who were always together. Rick’s input was as a graphic designer. Brian Sparrow was also there, and we also had a few meetings at his house. Peter Bartlett and Alan Herridge came on board. Geoff Jago turned up because of his interest in the rodding and customizing scene.

This just suddenly gelled together and the whole thing got bigger as we continued to talk about where we could hold drag racing events. By then everyone was so keen and the momentum was there to find a place so everybody was looking.

There were lots of suggestions but one place that did come up, and I don’t think a lot of people know this, was the old Detling aerodrome on top of Detling Hill. John and I went up to take a look at it in 1965 as a lot of it was still there but it was just so broken up and totally unsuitable, although a good location. This was the same year that they found the farm at Podington which became Santa Pod.

By this time John had met Ann who worked in a bank and Sylvia and I became really good friends with them until I drifted away to circuit racing. Although through John I was still on the fringes of drag racing. So in the early days we were all up and down to Santa Pod.

Our honeymoon was cut short from our stay in our friends Inn, in Icklesham Sussex. It was towards the end of the week, I said to Sylvia do you mind if we go to a drag race meeting? Sylvia didn’t mind although we can’t now remember where it was.

The BHRA magazine came out called Kool Kams. I helped Vic Outen for a couple of years, he got volunteered to be press officer and I said I’d help him do that. I was at the time still doing bits with circuit racing. Vic loved his Ford Zodiac which he had customized.

Vic Outen’s Zodiac.

Sylvia worked for in-house publications, Motorcycle Mechanics, Hot Car, Car Mechanics, Popular Motoring and a couple of others. Sylvia thinks she started there in 1962 up to 1968. I remember the guys from the art room who broke down the drawings of the cars and the engines using an airbrush. I opened my desk one day to find the guys had set it all up with petals. I really enjoyed working there. They were good times. Unbeknown to me at the time Mike Linton and Ian Penberthy worked for the same publication but at different times.

I was based at Brands Hatch at one particular period with my own business. Roy Phelps came there looking to do a marketing event at the time for publicity for Roz Prior but it didn’t come off.

We did various things to promote drag racing, we had the Scalextric drag strip which we would cart around to various places at Southend and Phillips in Croydon where John used to work before starting Spa Engineering I believe, and he had connections there. We went there a couple of times. There's a picture of Sylvia and Anne Bennett at the track which was also published in the Daily Sketch.

Philips News February 12th 1965.

BHRA Model Drags May 3rd 1964.

BHRA Model Drags May 3rd 1964.

BHRA Model Drags May 3rd 1964.

We did a couple of parties at Greatstone which was great as it was all so new, and people just hadn’t seen dragsters and hot rods before so it promoted the whole scene. This was all at the very beginning, we also did a show at Spa Engineering in the workshops and at Hyde Park underground car park.

Ken Cooper's Yella Coupe at the Spa Engineering Show 1963.

Hyde Park underground car park 1964, Mickey Thompson's Harvey Aluminum Special. Paul Hicks pic

Mike Butler's Model Y and Brian Coole's '34 Ford Sedan which took Best Hot Rod Trophy. Paul Hicks pic.

Greatstone Beach Party 1968. Maurice Takoor pic.

The two Spa Anglia vans and a custom Austin Somerset. Maurice Takoor pic.

Beauty Contest. Maurice Takoor pic.

There was another show where Jeff Beck came along and also Roy Orbison. We were talking to one or the other about Mickey Thompson’s Dragster but I can’t remember where that was. Sylvia can remember being there with Ann on the stand at that show.

I’ve had various businesses over the years, an electrical retail business for some years in South London. I also went to work for a sports agency and got the job because I was connected to motorsport. Then a guy who I’d met while doing this started up as a partnership in the back of the shop I had in South London. We fixed up an office and started it from there with just a desk and a phone. It was all sports orientated mostly motorsports but we did get involved with other sports.

I did this until 2000. In the meantime, I’d got involved with a very good friend of mine who’s since died, and we formed a little company just purely to do with motorsports, we were based in Kent.

There was a driver Pete Alexander that my friend Nigel had got to know who was really good and raced on a shoestring. I remember his boots being done up with duct tape just to keep them together. So we helped him with publicity and to promote and help with sponsorship and so on. We had a suite at Brands Hatch which helped with entertaining sponsors.

There was Dick Lawrence. He was a bit of a rogue but very likable who sold merchandise, who could forget Dick Lawrence and you never knew what he was going to do next.

I worked at Santa Pod from before it opened and helped to do anything there during a meeting and did for a number of years. But I became more heavily involved with motor racing and just stopped going Drag Racing. I did at one time want to own a funny car, I preferred them to the dragsters.

I was at Santa Pod when they did one of the shoots with Patrick McGoohan in the Lotus 7 which was used for the opening scene of the TV show The Prisoner. Also the Benetton F1 team and others used Santa Pod for testing there starts.

Sylvia did the results after the runs in a van at the top end at Santa Pod

John Hill

My involvement with the sport wasn’t until 1970 where I initially assisted the motorcycle scrutineers, George Georgiou and Trevor Jones at Santa Pod Raceway. I then under Race Director Dave Watts, teamed up with Maurice Takoor to form the Tech Crew who were responsible for checking and classifying the race car categories. I carried out this task up until around 1992 when I called it a day due to work commitments.

My duties during that time were really behind the scenes as I also processed the vehicle registrations at the start of the season.

My other memorable projects were designing and building the traffic light system in the fire-up road along with telephones. Later buying and instigating the computer pairing system which certainly saved a lot of time and trouble on race days.

I was actually elected president of the BDR & HRA in the latter years but unfortunately the club went belly up and now no longer exists.

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