As told exclusively to
Bruce's next dragster after Prospector 2 was also built by Allan Herridge as Red Baron for Pete Bennett, renamed Age Machine by Bruce. The 327ci small block Chevy engine was replaced by a big block 454ci from the Hillbillies. With this setup, Bruce became 1972 NDRC Top Dragster champion, then selling the car to Roz and Dave Prior. Bruce left drag racing in 1974 and continued sporting competition in enduros, motocross, equestrian sports and circuit racing.
Over the winter of 1970/71, I bought Pete Bennett’s Red Baron dragster; it was built by Allan Herridge. Pete Bennett hadn’t done much with it; he intended to but decided to sell it. My mate Keith Bullen from Cavendish did the paint job and I did the sign writing renaming it Age Machine.
I bought the car without an engine intending to put the engine out of Prospector 2 in it. But I bought a 327 from Gordon Keeble in Newmarket to be bored it out to 337, but they bored it out too far and I had to get a second hand 327 and got that machined for the new pistons. I had the Enderle fuel injection on it but never could get it set up to run right. I was still running treaded racing tyres on Age Machine.
The name for the car came from an album by a group called The Spirit of John Morgan (click on link for recording of Age Machine song) that I used to go and see, with the Gleadows and Beadle brothers, I liked that name. I think 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 saw a band called Stray play there and Thunderclap Newman. Tony and Don Beadle found it and asked us over. Afterwards we often went to a Wimpy Bar for a Wimpy Special Grill, just what you need after a few beers!
I went to Sweden for a camping holiday with the Gleadows and Steve Warner who was in their team, in 1971. We went in my 55 Chevy and took the ferry from Immingham to Gothenburg. That was the route to get to Sweden in those days. It was a 24-hour ferry so we had a few beers and a Swedish Smorgasbord! We drove from Gothenburg to Stockholm and camped just outside Stockholm. I remember once that Robert was wandering around the campsite wearing a green fibre glass replica German WW2 helmet, that was all part of the Rat Fink scene in those days. A German tourist didn’t look very happy! We went to a Swedish Speed Shop in Stockholm to see what they had, I can’t remember the name but they were very friendly. By then English racers used to go to Sweden to race at Mantorp. Sweden was very expensive then, £5 for a beer in 1972! We seemed to live on Hell Specials which we bought from hot dog stands, they were great, a frankfurter in a big hot dog roll with two dollops of mashed potato and then mustard sauce – or tomato, we had a few of those!
Then, over the winter of 1971/72, I sold the small block Chevy in the dragster to Tony Beadle and I bought the big block Chevy from the Hillbillies, I went down to Wiltshire to get It; my dad paid £1000, which was a lot of money then. The engine originally came out of a Swedish car, Maffia Mouse, a Topolino altered that came over for an International meeting in 1970.
An American racer based over here, Bill Weichelt, who ran Asmodeus (previously the Dos Palmos car), was worried about me putting the big block in, he said “the frame won’t take that big block”, so I put a diagonal in the foot well. The car wouldn’t handle so I cut it 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. 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 as much power as it should, 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!
At Blackbushe I was getting wheel spin 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 were the front wheels in the air. Apparently there was only one wheel on the ground, a back wheel. When I came back in the scrutineering area the Scrutineer, probably Capt. Tom Hales, said “I suggest you don’t release it until you start to slow down!” and I said. “I didn't, it released itself!” You have to take your foot off the throttle first and I knew that. 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 Brighton Speed Trials once, 1971 I think, with the small block and it wasn’t very successful, 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 one ever was 170 but I didn’t get an ET ticket but I’m sure it was an 8 second run.
I was 1972 NDRC Top Dragster Champion. At the last meeting I did 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 and that’s when I decided to stop racing, because the money ran out. I sold the dragster to the Priors in 1973, they came up to the garage in Glemsford, 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 tried it for size as it was a very tight squeeze for him and his wife Roz ended up driving it.
During the time I was in drag racing I had some lovely American cars – a Ford Fairlane, a Shelby 350 GT Mustang and a Pontiac 389 GTO. I didn’t use the Mustang for towing; it was too wild for that!
I had a few years off after that, got married to Jan in 1974 and bought a house in Little Waldingfield, Suffolk, where we still live. I started again on motor bikes in 1986, doing Enduros with a 250 CR Honda 4 stroke. In Enduros you start at four-minute intervals and you have a timesheet like in a car rally, you have time checks, this sort of thing, the last event I had was in Thetford Forest, the John Banks National. That was 16 miles in a lap and I had to do seven laps but I only made five and you’re allowed to be an hour late. Well, it was getting that my back had gone. I was sitting all the while on the bike, really you need to be standing and fix the knees but I couldn’t and it was getting late so they said I shouldn’t start again but, they said, “its up to you”. I said ”it’s no good, it hurts too much”.
Then in 1987 I did pre ‘65 Motocross, I ran a Tribsa, a 1957 BSA with an all aluminum 500cc Triumph twin, which was 50 bhp. I had good times with that bike. I used to race in the East of England but went down to Kent quite a lot; this was before all the performance with the QE Bridge. When I started with Enduros I had a 125 cc Yamaha. I had to keep fit and every night I went out on my pushbike for about 18 miles. In pre 65 motocross, there’s a special club and you had to use old bikes. I bought my Tribsa cheap from Southend way because the bloke said the gearbox had had it. A friend, Jim Hale, told me to check the timing on the gearbox, which I did and it was wrong so I put it back together right and it was then a lovely gearbox.
I had some good rides on that bike. I rode it at an international down in Hampshire. There were Belgians, French and Americans, and I was riding in the pre 60s and in motocross you have three races and you take an aggregate. Anyway, it was a zig- zag course; you're going down big steep sandy banks. The secret there was to go over the top sideways, I was fourth overall with that, but I might have been third but on the last lap I fell off. Had to start again and get going again. Lovely course that was, near Southampton, took a fair time to get there. Then I finished with scrambling in 1991.
From 1992 to 95. I did horse show jumping and then cross country events. I got into that because my daughter was then into horses and it was something we could do together. The horse was a bit unpredictable, I remember being in the warm up area and when I went out to the start line, the starter said,” Right, go in your own time”, I said “No, it won’t be!” Because my horse would go when it wanted to! After the first two jumps they all went past me, then I got a clear round after that.
I came off the horse once, which was called Thunder, and broke my wrist. I was just getting on the horse and had one foot in one of the stirrups and before I got the other one in, the horse just took off, it was 0 – 60 in 2 seconds! Every time he was naughty he would turn right so I braced myself to turn right but he went left, I remember waking up in the grass thinking, “it’s a lovely sky” then looking at my arm which was bent round. We got the horse and took him back to his stable, it was a lovely horse but it turned out he had a brain tumour. I’d had him from when he was 3 and I broke him in myself but I had to have him put down when he was 10 with the brain tumour. He’d been to the vet in Newmarket about his teeth and that’s when they told me, he was a lovely old boy. We had some good times with him.
Up the road from us there was a big farm and the farmer was Master of the Galway Blazes in Ireland. Every time they went hunting in Ireland, he would bring back some horses. Before he took them back to Galway he used to take me hunting with them, some of the jumps especially the ditches were the most frightening ones. I went over the back end once. The ditches were about as wide as the living room and about six to eight foot deep. Good fun!
I did about 30 fox hunts. My favourite horse was called Bomber, quite an old horse, I think he was 24. One time he had fallen into a ditch but he was checked out and was OK, but I went for a ride with him and I thought, he’s not himself and he reared up and it turned out he had a broken jaw.
After I packed up horse racing I knew what I was going to do, which was circuit racing, which is what I had always wanted. I started with a week’s course at Silverstone. We had Robin Liddell as the Instructor. Firstly it was on Lotus Proton GTIs, they were a lovely little car. And I made a mess of qualifying for my license because you got to qualify for your license before you go onto something different, I spun the blinking thing you know, I had to have a second go at it.
And then we had one of the Formula Firsts, which is a rear engine race car with a Fiesta engine in it, they were nice little cars. And then there were Formula Fords. But one of the things we did was an hour endurance Go kart race in a team. There was me in our team, a guy from Surrey, who did kart racing and a young fellow, about 16, from Stockholm, who was a national champion kart racer. We changed drivers when we liked, so we will go around and if we catch up with a slower person we used to pull in for a driver change and we actually won, we all did much the same lap times but this Swedish guy was slightly quicker, me and the other guys were about the same. That was really enjoyable, that was, and I loved it.
In 2003 after getting my circuit racing license I decided to go kit car racing with the 750 Motor Club. I bought a Luego, (In Spanish Luego means ‘Next’ or ‘In a while’ in other words, it can wait!) It took me six months to build the Luego; I started with all the bits laid out on the garage floor. The Luego had the 2 litre Pinto engine in it and in the rules I had to run it with a single stock carburettor, I couldn’t get it to run right so I took it to a rolling road. Originally it had about 93 bhp but when I picked it up it had about 180 bhp!
Then the club started allowing Duratecs in and 2.2 litre Duratecs were allowed with throttle bodies and mapping but I decided to stay with the Pinto. They let me have a pair of 36DCOE Weber’s, it improves the performance but not enough to keep up with the Duratecs. I thought about putting in a Rover V8 but couldn’t make the minimum weight so I stayed with the Pinto. I raced at Pembrey, Silverstone, Mallory Park, Cadwell Park, Snetterton, and Brands Hatch. I used to love Cadwell Park but before my first meeting two drivers got killed there in a crash while we were spectating. Jan said to me “I don’t want you to do this!” The number of spins I saw ahead!
I remember racing in the pouring rain around Snetterton. One day coming around the Bomb Hole, I came up to Coram and I went across the grass towards a bank in reverse so I thought “Oh shit”, but I managed to start and get going again. I only raced with the 750 Motor Club, they’re lovely friendly people and we used to love going to the Annual Awards Ceremony at the Holiday Inn in Stratford upon Avon.
I remember going to the Autosport Show in about 2010 I think it was. I was on the 750MC stand and I decided to go over and have a look at the Santa Pod stand. As I was having a look around I heard a voice “Its Bruce Brown!” I turned around and it was Barry Sheavills! It was lovely to be remembered from so long ago and we had a nice chat.
I packed up racing in 2011 because it was getting too expensive and I sold the car to a guy in Ipswich. After finishing with circuit racing, I took up golf, something I always wanted to do, and I won a championship!
Then I had a stroke in 2017, only 2 weeks after I retired, and this has changed my life and I can’t do the things that I used to, but I look back on what I did and people that I met with fond memories.
I’m nearly 80 now and I still follow racing, F1 mostly and I’m a big fan of Lewis Hamilton. I’ve still got lots more photos and magazines in the loft which I must get round to sorting out!
“I can’t think of anything that I haven’t done that I wanted to”
“I’m not a spectator, that’s boring”
Bruce has had a long and varied motorsport career but his time in drag racing is remembered by so many people, why is that? Well, he was a good racer, his cars were always quick, consistent, very well prepared and presented - and he won a lot of races! But, just as important, people liked Bruce for being a really nice guy, always helpful, good company and with no ego – Bruce did his talking on the track!
All these years later, it’s still the same Bruce, with his marvellous Suffolk accent and turn of phrase, a great guy to know.
National Drag Racer article by Tony Beadle
Gallery: click on any thumbnail for a large image.
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