Gerry Belton's involvement in organising the 1964 Drag Festivals –Part 3

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 3 includes more offers of magazine coverage as Lynn Wineland wrote ‘I shall be covering the meetings for a number of magazines in this country, principally, Hot Rod, Car Craft, Modern Rod, Drag Racer, Hot Rod parts illustrated, Cycle World and the Motorcyclist. In addition I will be shooting some movie film, including the use of a 16mm helmet-mounted camera. Several TV news stations and one major network have expressed an interest in this material.’

Four shows were planned in London, Leeds, Manchester and Bristol but not all went to plan. The Automobile Club Di Milano, confirmed four participating Dragsters for demonstration and show at 35th Italian Grand Prix which Moonbeam, two Allard Dragons, Tony Nancy's slingshot and George Brown's Vincent motorcycle would attend.

Gerry received many thank you letters after the events, although they had received some criticism during the events there was a lot of positivity and gratitude after the Festival and there is a link to some Drag Festival eyewitness accounts along with a list of American drivers who are still with us and those who have passed.

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.

11th August: Lynn Wineland, California. In a conversation with Dante Duce this evening he suggested I contact you immediately in regard to the International Drag Festival. I understand you're in charge of public relations for the series of events. I shall be covering the meetings for a number of magazines in this country, principally, Hot Rod, Car Craft, Modern Rod, Drag Racer, Hot Rod parts illustrated, Cycle World and the Motorcyclist. In addition I will be shooting some movie film, including the use of a 16mm helmet-mounted camera. Several TV news stations and one major network have expressed an interest in this material.

My background as former editor of Rod and Custom magazine, Managing Editor of Car Craft, Editor of Petersen's Automotive Books and currently Associated Editor of Hot Rod. In addition, free-lancing might qualify me to do something for the British Press giving our views on the events. Should there be interest in such please let me know. I'll arrive in England on 23rd August, pursuing the activities of the United States team for the International six days trials and back in England 15th September.

Hot Rod, Car Craft and Modern Rod Magazines 1964 Dragfest coverage (click here)

12th August: Programme Publications, London, List of firms sent to Gerry who are interested in advertising in the programme. 13th Aug. Reply from Gerry to above letter sending more names of firms who are interested in advertising in the programme. See letters below.

1964 Drag Festival programme (click here)

27th August: Warren Seymour Co, London. List of publications booked for advertisements, seven in all. 9th September, Practical Motorist, London. Copy sent of October issue, hope you're interested in the story on page 187, also request for 6 press tickets for each of the Blackbushe meetings.

15th September: Odhams Press ltd, confirmation from BBC that they will carry out an OB at Blackbushe, Saturday 19th in connection with the programme 'Wheelbase' and agree a facility fee of £150. 30th Oct. BDRA, Vic Outen, misinterpretation in Car Craft and that you do not consider BHRA as rivals.

Shows: There were originally 4 shows planned in London, Leeds, Manchester and Bristol. This proved to be one of the trickier projects to get sorted. We understand the Americans didn't want to be away from their Dragsters. Also, some wanted the time between events to work on the cars and not have them sitting at a show.

July 24th: Gordon Cooper wrote to Gerry. Further to our discussion, if I would be able to assist you in the promotion of a series of static displays for the American and British cars competing in the Festival. I would be willing to carry out this work on the basis of a fee for 20% of the gate money and reasonable out of pocket personal and business expenses. Calculated after running expenses are paid but a minimum of £200.00 plus out of pocket expenses to cover effort and expenses should the exhibition not be so successful.

I would be responsible for all the organisation of each display in all aspects related to this task and materials required within the displays. Look after the press in regard to the exhibition and arrange advertising in local newspapers on your behalf. Pic 06

Progress to date with the locations, I've provisionally reserved the Queens Hall, Leeds, one of the most prominent exhibition halls in the area. In Bristol I'm trying to obtain a reservation on a TA drill hall in Market Street, has a total of 12,000 sq ft but I'm awaiting approval from the officer in command. I've investigated Liverpool as it's close to the Southport, Wood Vale venue but all of the exhibition facilities in the town appear to be booked or not available for the dates required.

I suggest we should hold the exhibition in Manchester, the next largest and nearest city with good road facilities to Southport. The really sticky one is London. None of the regular or well known exhibition centers are available. I'm now investigating TA centers, Town and Church Halls, otherwise it means Alexander Palace although you consider it too far out of London.

As it turned out there was only one show and this was the Queens Hall, Leeds. These pics were taken by Brian Sparrow.

25th August: Automobile Club Di Milano, confirmation of 4 participating Dragsters in demonstration / show at 35th Italian Grand Prix. Which Moonbeam, 2 Allard Dragons, Tony Nancy's slingshot and George Brown's Vincent motorcycle attended.

September 4th: United States Liners. Dante Duce handed over a cheque for £3,928. 12s with his own cheque for $3,000. Confirmed already having paid £178.10s and £792.14s.3d. Including Exchange Orders covering the amounts. This was to pay for the shipping of the American team and their trailers with race cars on 'The USS United States Liner’.

The following group of letters covering other areas in organising the festival.

6th January: Vale Press ltd printed 350 International Drag Festival Folders, probably for the press party on the 7th Jan.

3rd February: Overlord Executive ltd, personal travel and management. Read the initial Press Release and tremendously impressed with the provisional arrangements and your enterprise in organising the proposed Drag Festival. Offering our service especially for the visiting Americans.

4th February: Mr Deadman, writing a Thesis on Drag Racing and Gerry's reply. 13th Feb. Soundtrack, seen in 'AUTOCAR' you're planning a Drag Festival. We supplied a Public Address system last year at your Debden meeting, pleased to quote you for PA in the South East area.

19th February: Heron & Company. Have already supplied Trophies to the BDRA and the RAC. We'd like to supply you with Trophies for your Festival. Gerry's reply, we'll place your letter on file, it's a little early to consider the selection.

25th February: Carquip, saw Drag Fest advertised in the motoring press. We'd like to display our mobile Show Room in the sale of motor accessories particularly those with race and rally associations and we specialize in gifts with a motoring flavour, reply from Gerry see below.

28th June: George Wells, offering his services to the festival as he'd worked on drag strips in the USA. He's in the USAF and stationed in Finland. Gerry replied 28th August, accepting his offer of help, what about being the starter using flags for the start, see full letter below.

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

George Wells in Ivo’s smoke. Stephen Wright pic.

July 2nd: Ian Smith, resigning my directorship to Drag Festivals ltd and should I sell my Dragster back to Allards to save face. Gerry replied 3rd July see full letter below.

July 2nd: BJH Crowe wrote to Gerry explaining Greenham Common is available and could be a very good facility for Drag Racing. Gerry's reply 20th July see full letter below.

10th July: Vale Press 250 Invitation cards for the second press conference. 16th July, Gerry to E Riley, memorandum- arrange cheque £271.3s payable to Pan American World airlines. Dante Duce, return fare from Las Vegas, see full letter below.

18th July: cable received from Almotco, W E Dismute equipment on rigives 80 and rigives 160 megacycles not available in the US. You got the ball, run with it, see the full message below.

30th July: Warren Seymour company, as promised we took up on a fairly grand scale the prospective Agfa sponsoring one of the events in the Festival. I'm sorry to say that they would not buy it.

5th August: J Baynes, attended the Kensington Palace evening. The film was well worth seeing, I had a long and interesting talk with George Brown, and enclosed a cheque for £100. Gerry's reply 10th August see full letter below, thanking him and giving his opinion of the Americans coming over was very amusing.

11th August: Vale Press 750 letterheading and 250 membership cards. August 11th, Muir Beddall & co ltd, to Mr Appleby, from Gerry, phone call all about insurance for the Drag Festival. Gerry sent details as requested of the meeting. policy covering all risks on the American Drag Racing team from 15th September to 9th October also on display at 3 public shows £30,000 cost £112. Legal Liability insurance cover confirmed for £7.10/- for £50.000 any one accident.

13th August: D Smith, Gerry sent photos of ''Moonbeam'' and technical run down. Need to know if Dean Moon needs an FIA licence before I can send you Duce's entry for Brighton Speed Trials. If you want more copies of these photographs let me know. Duce left hundreds of copies which I don't know what to do with. (What a shame we don't have them!)

The following group of letters cover the equipment, materials and staffing for the events.

14th August: Mills Scaffolding co ltd. Concerning possible grandstand, control barriers provisions at various parts of the country between 19th September and 4th October we confirm our best offers were communicated by phone yesterday 13th. Since there is very little time in which to make the necessary arrangements for the availability of plant and labour, we'd be grateful for a detailed enquiry from you within the next few days and issue a firm quotation.

14th August: Gerry wrote to Joe Gardner, names for supply of portable conveniences, public address system to arrange, our permanent commentator Ken Best but a relief commentator will be essential. Delivery of steel barriers but we need to supply our own labour. Arranged grandstand with 1200 seats, charged at a premium of 15/- per seat to charge, earmarking some for VIP's. Spectators paying in advance, this is a knotty question. Good news about the trophy but a shame the Hotel could not offer us some preferential terms for the 50 visitors. Drawing up a list of competitors, look forward to your list of exciting machinery from your part of the country, see full letter below.

2nd September: British Legion co ltd. Quotation to supply 12 men for Chelveston to take admission money, total cost £48. Gerry's reply see letter below.

18th September: Atlas Display. Delivery note for 4 trackside banners.

Thank you letters Gerry received after the events although they had received some criticism during the events there was a lot of positivity and gratitude after the Festival.

5th October: Letter from not known, expressing how much myself, my wife and step daughter and 2 guests enjoyed our afternoon at Blackbushe. From the number of the crowd, the remarks we heard were just behind where we were sitting. It seems to me that given some proper facilities this particular form of sport should be here to stay. Among the proper facilities I include the importation of the bigger American engines and their 'hot rod' standard equipment at a reasonable price. Please know how much I thank you and Mr Allard for allowing me to be present and also my great admiration for the work you and your organisation must have done at least twelve hours before to get everything ready.

6th October: from David Haynes, Haynes Ford Dealers, I would like to thank you for your kindness in letting my wife and I have tickets for the Final of the Festival. We both thoroughly enjoyed the day and were most impressed with the organisation and fantastic turnout from the public. The trouble that you took in giving us tickets with all the headaches which you must have had in organising such a large venture is particularly appreciated.

4th October: from Bruce Ropner. Thank you for your letter of the 12th October. I find it most interesting that 120,000 people attended the six meetings. I would like to have further talks with you at some convenient time about the possibility of opening a small Drag Strip on Croft Airdrome, having this opportunity at your party if I can make it.

15th October: B Gibson, I must say I enjoyed the Drag Festival and hoped to compete next year and go a little faster. I'm delighted to hear the Festival has been so successful. Please convey my thanks and best to Mr SH Allard. I enclose a cheque for £45.

15th October: from Denis Jenkinson. Thanks for the letter of 12th, I look forward to the reception. I would like to put on paper my grateful thanks to you for loaning me the Dragon for the Festival and I hope to have a car of my own for the next one.

15th October: Transatco. Thanks for membership, tremendous success of events and all those responsible deserving the highest praise. We're working out the cost of an all out Dragster for next year.

25th October: Dave Page. Thanks for £20 cheque, I very much enjoyed the 3 events I attended but was unable to attend the 2 Northern meetings for financial reasons but hope to go faster next year. Hope to meet you all at the reception. THIS group of letters from individuals wanting to enter the Festival with a race car or motorcycle.

13th July: A F Rivers-Fletcher, Owen Organization. I Want to show a four wheel drive BRM at the Festival and send full details of the Festival. 14th July. Waye Racing Developments, Howard German (motorcycle) I had hoped you could offer something definite with out of pocket expense to attend the Festival.

14th July: William Bragg, Membership application to BDRA and want to enter a 650cc supercharged Triumph engine motorcycle called Blue Peril. Fastest time for the 1/4 is 11 74 at 117.4 mph.

20th July: Transatco. Authentic American style Harley Davidson blown dragster motorcycle to enter some events. We also field a Harley Davidson mounted aerobatic demonstration team and we're prepared to put on a show at the same time to further improve the programme. We want to join the BDRA. Gerry's reply 24th July see full letter below.

29th July: BHRA Northern division, from Paul Hicks and Clive Lingard, building 2 Dragsters, 1 of which we hope to have running in time for the Festival. This will be the baby of the 2, powered by a 3.4 Jaguar engine with the driver seated to the front of the engine to allow for more streamlining. If any meets are to be held in the North we are offering covered accommodation for approx 5 dragsters and trailers at our garages. Gerry's reply 6th Aug, see full letter below.

10th August, D E Baldwin. Dragster under construction and wanting details to join the club and hope to enter. Alan Burgess wrote, I can confirm that I can run a twin Jet Kart named 'Beetle Crusher' on October 4th at Blackbushe. I'm leaving for the World Kart Championships Sept 16th returning on the 29th.

UK Drag Racing Pioneer Gerry Belton video (click here) ...

Link to 1964 Drag Festival eyewitness accounts

Feature ©

Gerry Belton's story

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

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

Back to pioneers index

Back to pioneers index

Back to News page