Gerry Belton's involvement in organising the 1964 Drag Festivals - Part 2

As told exclusively to

This year is the 60th anniversary of the First British International Drag Festival which was organised by Gerry Belton who thankfully kept all his correspondence leading up to, during and after the Drag Festivals and Part 2 includes letters which relate to requests for magazine, press and newspaper advertising or film coverage before, during and after the Drag Festival.

Allen Friedrich who lived in England and was a British editor of the American Motor Sports Illustrated was looking to do a feature on the Drag Festivals. Southern Television wanted to feature the series on their programs 'Here and Now' and ‘Day by Day’ and the BBC were also interested. American Rodding magazine ran a competition in their first magazine to fly the winners to the Festival as well as a stay at the London Hilton. Not only that but they were planning to have over 2000 trucks throughout America with posters on their sides talking about the Drag Festival in London, England, and they asked Gerry to get Sydney Allard to give them one of his Dragsters in kit form to give away free in their next magazine contest!

This story was produced by John Hunt from Gerry's letters, edited by Nick Pettitt and published by editor Simon Groves. Simon Belton, son of Gerry, and Allan Allard, son of Sydney, have given their kind permission to publish letters and other paperwork.

Following on from the very successful visit by Dante Duce and Mickey Thompson in 1963, an even more ambitious series was organised one year later to be known as the First British International Drag Festival. The six one day events at five different venues starting Saturday 19th September at Blackbushe Airport and returning there Sunday 4th October was possibly the most publicised and reported Drag Racing series.

Quote from Gerry in his letter 13th March: "It has now become clear that the Festival could well assume the mantle of the most important motor sporting event that the world has ever seen". Using Google Maps we can see the route from Southampton Docks to all the venues but of course it would have been a very different road system in 1964. And we have a copy of the travel movement from Blackbushe Sept 19th to Blackbushe 4th Oct from the Allard Archives.

The following are letters from Gerry Belton's collection which relate to requests for Magazine, Press, Newspaper advertising or film coverage before, during and after the Drag Festival. Articles continued to be written through all the decades since with Anniversary reports right up to 2020.

We've used Gerry's collection of letters in a way which we hope will make interesting reading as we very much believe this chain of events were so important in the start of Drag Racing in England and Europe. The size and complexity of the 'First British International Drag Festival’, organised and promoted in such a short time with very few inexperienced personnel was such a huge accomplishment and despite all its pitfalls was a huge success.

January 4th: Allen Friedrich who lived in England, wrote to Sydney Allard. I'm a British editor of the American Motor Sports Illustrated. I also do regular ''Stateside'' features for Motor World and contribute to a number of other publications in this country and the US. I'm interested in the news of you introducing a car specifically designed for Drag Racing.

I'm presently doing articles on the subject which I think has a good chance of becoming very popular in this country, particularly if the planned trip by Mickey Thompson in 64 comes off. I did a report on the Brighton Speed Trials dual between yourself and the American drivers, this received a big reception in America. Please send details of the new Drag Racing car of yours, as many photographs as possible. I want to do a write-up in M.S.I. Any additional news of your Drag Racing activities or plans would be of great interest to me.

January 31st: Southern Television, received details of the International Drag Festival 1964 and am very interested you'll be visiting Chichester area in September. I very much hope we could feature in our film series 'Here and Now' which we transmit to London and Anglia, alternatively in our regional magazine programme 'Day by Day'. If we could have the earliest information on dates, time, exact venue as they will concern the Chichester event.

10th Feb: Reply from Sydney, see full letter below, we will be in touch as soon as we have more details. Our Public Relations Officer for the Festival is Mr G Belton.

5th Feb: Gerry wrote to Brian Foley, enclosed a Press Release of our plans for the Festival. I understand you're very interested in this form of Motor Sport and you are the Eire correspondent to Autosport. If I can do anything to assist you, don't hesitate to contact me directly.

February 6th: Castrol Ltd, Thank you for the short film of the American Dragster Event. This was useful in demonstrating a sport which few of us know anything about so far as the American style is concerned. As explained to you at the Racing Car Show, we have no definite plans to support Dragster events as a sponsor but the competitions manager tells me that he is most interested in developments. Thank you for obtaining photographs of Mr Allard's original Dragster, I'm delighted to tell you that it will be the basis for a sketch by the artist Michael Turner in the annual Castrol Achievements book, 1963 version, coming out soon, I'll send you a copy. If the longer American Dragster film which has now arrived from the US, shows signs of sitting on your shelves, we'd be very interested to borrow it. We produce two or three motor sport films ourselves each year for distribution to car clubs and the British Dragster event might have possibilities.

14th Feb: letter from the BBC, you remember at the Racing Car Show I mentioned we might be interested in the possibility of television coverage of the International Drag Festival in September. The film you mentioned would help us to consider the visual possibilities, can we borrow it for a few days.

5th Feb: Lyle Kenyon Engle wrote to Noel Shorrock. I met you at the Racing Car Show and took a number of colour photographs of your 64 Dragon Dragster. I explained I was the Executive editor of a new publication catering to the rodding field, called American Rodding and the first issue March 15th going on sale to news stands, bookstalls in America in the middle of June. With colour inside and the front cover, being distributed nationally throughout the United States and Canada.

The first issue of American Rodding will contain a highly publicized contest in which the winner will fly via BOAC to London, stay at the London Hilton and attend the First British International Drag Festival (FBIDF). American Rodding will be sending two photographers and writers to England in order to cover our contest winners at the Drag Festival as well as covering the Festival itself for an upcoming issue.

I'd like to work with you and the Allard Owners club for our contest winners to meet Sydney Allard and other great drivers at this event. Also interested in a feature on Allard driving the Dragster Dragon also the installation of the Shorrock Supercharger. Very interested in promoting the Festival and organising with BOAC special excursion flights from America for Dragster fans. This is highly confidential at the moment. kindly reply immediately and let me know how we can work together to increase the promotional values of this project.

Feb 20th: Kyle wrote to Gerry, enclosing a copy of the previous letter sent to Noel which was not answered. We're closing the first issue of American Rodding in the middle of March, we need to know the essence in establishing the extent with which the Drag Festival or the Allard Owners Club will work with us. There is no cost involved in your participation in this promotion. We merely wish to say in American Rodding that you're working with us and extending your hospitality to the winners of the National contest in the magazine.

American Rodding will be published by Popular Library Inc, publishers of many outstanding magazines and paperbacks. I met Wally Parks recently and had a long conversation regarding the sending of Dragsters to England to compete at your Drag Festival. He said how interested he was in the Festival and was awaiting correspondence from you about your future plans.

We're keeping in touch as it's quite possible, American Rodding magazine could work with the NHRA in promoting this event. Please let me hear from you, also send a letter to me at the office in New York, welcoming our contest winners to the event in which the finalists will participate. Also send a little information about the Allard Owners Club and what you want to accomplish at the FBIDF, we will write this up in the first issue provided you get it to use by March 9th.

April 24th: Lyle wrote again to Gerry. Enclosed are photostats of our issue now going to press on the contest in American Rodding, sending covers on to you next week. Over 2000 trucks throughout America will have posters on their sides talking about the Drag Festival in London, England, also making up news-stand cards and window streamers. Our first issue goes out on sale June 11th in the United States and will be handled in England by Atlas Publishing and Distribution Ltd in London.

We want to run another contest in our second addition and have a lot of colour inside. Can you get Allard to give us one of his Dragsters in kit form to give away free in our next contest. Devoting one page in full colour and a technical story for at least another page, if he will agree to this, let me know.

Gerry did then reply March 13th. I'm sorry you had to write a second letter regarding your interesting plans, Noel who you first wrote to is no longer with us. We're gratified to read of your plans for tying-in your new publication to the Drag Festival and wished we'd met your March 9th deadline. Things have moved so fast here and only now I'm able to react to your proposition.

It has now become clear that the Festival could well assume the mantle of the most important motor sporting event that the world has ever seen. We have formed the British Drag Racing Association as the work involved is beyond the capabilities of the Allard owners club. Gerry explains in brief their plans for the Festival, pleased to cooperate with your proposed contest and I'll send material on our other activities. Full details in the letter below.

May 11th: thanks for photostats featuring your contest, look forward to seeing the first copy. We've considered your proposal regarding an Allard Dragon explaining in the letter below why we're unable to join with you in this interesting venture. Enclosed is a road test of the works Dragon featured in Autocar one of our leading automotive weeklies. We now have a preliminary list of America cars and drives.

May 19th: Lyle wrote to Gerry, enclosed copies of American Rodding just off the press going on sale June 11th. Will send truck banners and newstand cards. As you're unable to supply us with an Allard Dragon can you give us an Allard Hop up kit or allow the winner of the contest to have their choice of any 'hop up' kit manufactured by Allard.

We're not only sending the winner of the contest but a team of photographers and writers to cover the Festival in September for about two weeks and they hope to cover the last 2 events. Please send me details and the dates for these.

While the team are there they hope to cover extensively British speed equipment for the American market and can work Allard into this having a step by step photo story showing the complete installation of one. Anything further you can tell me about the Festival? You must keep me posted.

June 9th: Lyle, Next issue of American Rodding goes to press June 23rd. Please air mail me an answer to my letter of May 19th also any information we ought to have re Festival. I'm trying to set up transportation for 10 Hot Rods to England for Wally. Give me a listing of all major cars definitely set for the event and how many divisions there will be and what the requirements are.

May 28th, Cycle World, California, Joseph Parkhurst wrote to Len Cole. I'd be very happy to extend whatever publicity we can to the event through the magazine. I'm anxious to see the increase in International competition. I will submit the names, address complete with information, photographs of at least 4 maybe 5 machines that could compete from 650, 800 and 1000cc motorcycles.

Obtaining International licenses should be no problem from either MICUS or the United States motorcycle club. Spares should not be a problem for the 2 Vincents and the Triumph but the Harley-Davidson may have a problem. The 3 week stay might be a bit long for some of them. I'll check with the individuals and keep you informed.

Your proposal for the running of the events sounds excellent and should be acceptable. Naturally they would be interested in possibly more money as the trip will be expensive for each one but they are highly excited at the prospects.

Briefly they are, Rich Richards and his son Gary, Triumph 650cc and have turned 142mph in 10.80 et. Dick Rios twin engined Triumph totalling just over 800cc. Clem Johnson the fastest at 151mph low 10 et on his beautiful Vincent delighting the Vincent enthusiasts in your country. A Harley from the Eastern US, not able to make contact but told it runs over 150mph. Shall I send you names, addresses, photos and information so you can contact them?

I'm leaving for the TT next week, spending a week in your country, perhaps we'll meet in our travels. I will visit Triumph, BSA, Matchless, Greeves, Cotton then travel to France. I look forward to hearing from you.

July 8th, E.M.I Records Ltd wrote to Gerry. Following our conversation you'll be pleased to know our scheduled release of our Capital Drag Racing recording "The Big Sounds of The Drags" for October 2nd to coincide with the Festival. It's redesigned front cover in full colour photographs of hot American drag machinery and equally illustrative back cover. The recording is produced by Jim Economides. Soon as possible send me full details of the Festival and venues. I will advise our representatives to encourage local dealers to make suitable displays in their windows in the surrounding areas.

I'm also interested in information for programme and banner advertising on the course where available. Please send me a good supply of posters to furnish our own depots, staff locations, factory boards, throughout the country. Will send a copy of the record later when we have British masters produced. This may be useful for your P.A.

Big Sounds of the Drags recording on Youtube (click here)

June 16th, Vaughan Morris wrote, No objection to 'Eagle' magazine running a competition in the issue coinciding with the first meeting planned with prizes of free admission to the first meeting. It means only a few complimentary tickets but the publicity value will be quite substantial.

30th June, Vaughan has booked the viewing Theatre at the Royalty House, W1, Wed July 1st. To watch the film of the Dragster meeting which Gerry will make available. I'll bring my press relations colleagues along to ask questions to get first hand details to the plans in Sept/Oct. Is the film 16mm or 32mm to advise the projectionist in advance.

8th July. Wood & Webster ltd, Charles Fothergill wrote to Gerry. Thank you for all your help in connection with the article on Dragsters in the Boys Own Paper. Please look through the enclosed draft and correct me if I've made some awful bloomers. I've made some panel space to record the September Festival. Please send me details of this so we can insure thousands of boys will at least be among your supporters. The issue of Boys Own carries this feature on Dragsters midway in August, it should be a useful media.

13th July, Gerry replied. Your article is first class and gives full details of the Festival and the Americans who are coming over. See full letter below. 9th July, Kensington Palace Hotel. Book 22nd July for 2nd Press conference same as Jan 7th, showing film again. We think it was the 2nd film sent to Gerry. Aug 6th, Motor Cycling, London, wrote to Gerry, confirming our special advertising rates for clubs.

August, Modern Rod, Drag Racing, California. Michael Doherty sent 20 colour transparencies for use with the Festival. Many of our cover-sharp colour shots are on loan to major US magazines so the selection is limited. Black and white will follow, if used credit Drag Racing Magazine. I very much want to personally cover the Festival for Drag Racing and Modern Rod magazines and others such as True, Sports Illustrated, Mechanix Illustrated who I've done previous work with.

10th August, reply from Gerry to M Doherty, thanking him and saying ''Motor'' have already chosen a transparency for their front cover issue for Wed 23rd Sept. We found it very difficult to obtain suitable pictures which has sadly held up our publicity. We'd be very happy to see you at the Festival and let us know how we can help you, see full letter below.

10th August. J C Greening. Reply from Gerry, thanking him for his letter of the 6th Aug and that you will be covering the Blackbushe events for the US motorcycling press. Passes for the press and photographs will be sent as soon as they come available. 10th August, D Measor, Manchester Evening News, sorry we couldn't attend the Press Conference. Pleased you'll be attending several of the meetings, will provide passes nearer the time.

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Gerry Belton's involvement in organising the 1964 Drag Festivals – Part 1

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