Wally Parks' story of his involvement in British Drag Racing - Part 1

As told exclusively to

Throughout his long career developing hot rodding and drag racing in the United States, Wally Parks kept a detailed journal relating his candid thoughts at the time. That journal was obtained and edited by his son Richard who has kindly given permission for Eurodragster.com to publish extracts from it relating to the period when British drag racing was being founded. The opinions are those of Wally, who is referred to by Richard as ‘Parks’ or occasionally ‘my father’.

This year is the 60th anniversary of the First British International Drag Festival and this part includes the British Hot Rod Association and their publication Kool Kams, the 1963 Yankee Invasion of England when Dean Moon and Dante Duce brought over the Mooneyes dragster and Mickey Thompson arrived unexpectantly with his AA/Fueller and the initial steps to organise the 1964 Drag Festival.

The story was produced by Richard Parks, photos, images chosen by Nick Pettitt and John Hunt and published by editor of Eurodragster.com Simon Groves. We all thank Jim Miller of the American Hot Rod Foundation for scanning the photos and adding captions.

15 August 1963 Henry Blankfort and the Yankee Invasion of England

Henry Blankfort of the Blankfort Group, wrote to Parks on August 15th and proposed a radical project that caught my father’s attention immediately; the Yankee Invasion of England. Dean Moon and Mooneyes were going to England in September to race their dragster at the Silverstone track north of London and then four days later at the Brighton Beach Time Trials, something my father had dreamed about since the early 1950’s.

Dante Duce of Las Vegas will drive the Dean Moon dragster sponsored by the Revell Company. He will face the Sydney Allard built British dragster for bragging rights. SEMA, the newly formed Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association will organize the race and trophy. Allard stated the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) will telecast the race to the British and American public. This is the first mention of the tour that became more famous in 1964 and ’65.

The British Drag Racing Association (BDRA) has kept this event alive with a Hall of Fame ever since. Henry Blankfort sent out a flyer or bulletin inviting the media to a Press Showing of the Revell Mooneyes dragster that will be flown to England to participate in the first international drag race. The date of the Press Conference was September 6th and was sponsored by the Revell Corporation, Dean Moon and Mobil Oil; to be held in Los Angeles near the LA Airport.

The Mooneyes dragster, driven by Dante Duce, will race against Sydney Allard’s Chrysler-powered dragster on September 10th at Silverstone, on the 14th at the Brighton Beach Speed Trials and three additional drag races in England. The SEMA trophy will be awarded to the winner.

To read about the founding of SEMA, click here

SEMA President Ed Iskenderian and the impressive SEMA Trophy.

Revell sponsored Mooneyes dragster.

Press photos before Mooneyes is loaded on the Pan Am Jet for England. Photo courtesy of MOONEYES archives.

KOOL KAMS is a nifty little publication of the British Hot Rod Association (BHRA) and it was equivalent to the American Timing Associations or Hot Rod Councils, in that it brought together drag racing enthusiasts from six districts in Great Britain. The total number of drag racers in the British Isles belonging to the BHRA numbered somewhere around 276 members.

The districts of the BHRA were Scotland (5 members), North England (40 members), Midlands (36 members), Central and London (162 members), South England (24 members) and Overseas (9 members). Those drag racers or street racers not affiliated with the BHRA probably numbered less than a thousand.

Why were there so few drag racers and hot rodders in a nation as big as Great Britain? It had to do with the Socialized Governments that taxed income, business and personal taxation so high, as much as 90% or more, that it was prohibitive to buy cars, parts or anything else for that matter. The same was true in Canada and New Zealand where the VAT (valued added taxes) could quadruple the cost of manufactured goods.

Since the Brits tended to stop buying local goods and try to smuggle cheaper American and European goods the penalties were horrifically high. The British government had been fighting smuggling since the Tudors and possibly before. That's why drag racing in England was stymied and much of every other consumer goods until Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and pulled the country out of its third world dependence on cradle to grave socialism and Gestapo- #like Unionism.

Drag racing in Great Britain was primitive compared to the United States; you would swear that their cars looked more like early 1950’s drag cars than what was available in 1963. The BHRA officials were J. C. Bennett (Chairman), Brian Coole (Secretary), Vic Outen (Press Secretary), Pete Bartlett (Treasurer), Brian Sparrow (Competition Secretary), Allan Herridge (Assistant Competition Secretary), Rick Goodale and Dave Lynch (Editors of KOOL KAM), and Miss D. C. Terry (Typist).

What the Brits lacked in parts, racing venue sites and money they certainly made up for in enthusiasm. The carping, complaining, moaning, bitching, rumor-mongering and backstabbing of their American cousins (drag racers) was almost completely lacking in the British drag racing community. The Brits were so delighted to have any opportunity to develop their own drag racing that they simply enjoyed the sport and were excellent sportsmen as well.

I noticed that at Black Rock in 1997 when I went up to the desert to help out for seven weeks; the Brits were simply ladies and gentlemen and a thrill to be around. The jaded attitudes of American drag and land speed racing was absent in these well-mannered and delightful people. I suppose they have their problems too but that British stiff upper lip, resilience to suffering and overwhelming desire to conquer whatever problems they face makes them so easy to love and appreciate.

G. B. Belton, Public Relations Officer for the Allard Motor Company penned a letter on October 10th to no one in particular, but he felt it was important to correct the erroneous reports in American publications about the recent American drag racing team’s efforts in England. Now can you believe that, someone felt the American press was biased? The point should have been; when was the American Press ever UNBIASED?

Dante Duce of Las Vegas, Nevada wrote to Sydney Allard on July 23rd and challenged the British dragster and Allard accepted. Duce brought over the Mooneyes 375 cubic inch dragster owned by Dean Moon for the challenge, with sponsorship of Revell and Mobil Oil. SEMA offered a trophy to the winner of the match. The Royal Automobile Club (RAC) gave permission as long as they were classed as demonstrations between the two cars.

The first race was held at Silverstone on September 10th and Duce ran the fastest time to date in Europe at 166.60 mph at 9.48 seconds. The second race was held at Brighton Speed Trials on the 14th and no runs were timed due to the bumpy conditions, but three runs were made in front of 30,000 spectators.

Mickey Thompson came over with his dragster and now there were three contestants; the third meeting took place at Church Lawford, Warwickshire with Thompson running 10.64 ET at 141 mph to Allard’s 11.34 ET and Duce’s 13.25 ET.

The fourth race was at Debden RAF base on the 22nd in front of 5000 spectators and Duce ran a 9.99 ET to Allard’s 12.85 ET, and Thompson blazed to a speed of 178 mph at 8.84 ET and claimed the fastest European and British land speed record ever. However, the Brits held to the two-way average and Malcolm Campbell set that mark of 174.883 mph in a two-way average and Thompson could not go fast enough to break Campbell’s two-way average. A single run was not considered legal and Thompson’s other runs were much slower and failed to break Campbell’s record set in 1927.

Ed Iskenderian, President of SEMA, had sponsored Thompson and decided the one-way record was sufficient to award the SEMA trophy to Mickey Thompson but the BHRA and Dean Moon recognized Dante Duce as the SEMA trophy winner. Belton felt the commercialism of American sponsorship had nearly ruined what the British felt was meant to be an amateur contest among sportsmen. Parks would have agreed with him.

Belton then wrote to Parks on October 11th and enclosed a copy of the letter that he had sent to the American Press. Belton sent copies to ND, Drag News, SEMA, Revell, Mobil, Ford Motor Company, Harvey Aluminum, Royal Automobile Club, Mickey Thompson and Dean Moon.

Mickey Thompson at Brighton. The Motor pic.

Mooneyes at Brighton. Photo courtesy of MOONEYES archives.

Sydney Allard at Brighton.

Mickey Thompson takes on Dante Duce at Debden.

Parks had wanted to send a dragster to Brighton Beach back in the 1950’s and his love of land speed racing meant that the very earliest British attempts were almost sacred to him. Dante Duce and Dean Moon, with help from Mobil Oil and Revell had beat him to this prize; but his lust for land speed racing and an expedition to Great Britain now began to fester in his soul. No matter how busy he was he would find the time to devote to sending a racing team to England in 1964.

G. B. Belton sent the December issue of KOOL KAMS to Parks and the small, but avidly enthusiastic drag racers of Great Britain were shown to truly love their sport. The Brits idolized the American cars and drivers and their hospitality was unmatched by any other racing group that I have ever been associated with.

Belton sent Parks a telegram on December 29th that he would stay up until 8 PM London time to call Parks at 8 AM Los Angeles time. Parks was there to take the call and afterward he asked his secretary to send Belton a five minute tape, 1962 US Nats film, negative film of cars from the US Nats, ODS and other pamphlets and a 1964 Rulebook. He then scribbled out an itinerary and estimate of what it would cost and who would sponsor a tour of American drag racers and their cars to Great Britain for an exhibition.

It would be on September 12, 1964 after the US Nats; he would also need fuel and transportation. It would cover 6 races from September 19th to October 4th, racers had to commit in writing, sponsorship was needed, and publicity in magazines and newspapers. He also wanted to send a contingent to Italy to race in the Monza event. He was on fire and wrote down a five-page speech which he transcribed on tape to be played in Great Britain at all the auto clubs there.

December 1963 Kool Kams.

Hot Rod coverage of 1962 US Nationals.

On 22 September 1963 Mickey Thompson was awarded the SEMA Trophy. SEMA had put out a bulletin sometime in 1963 creating an award called the SEMA International Dragster Perpetual Challenge Trophy and gave it to Mickey Thompson. The secretary of SEMA, Ed Elliott was not clear if the trophy went to Thompson or was named after Thompson as it appeared Lee A. Iacocca, of Ford, received it.

The award reflected the tour of England by Thompson and Dean Moon, who “challenged” Sydney Allard, the British owner of the Chrysler-powered dragster at Debden, England, on September 22nd. Dante Duce drove the Thompson/Moon Chevy- powered A/D to a fast time of 178 mph at 8.84 ET. What was Ford’s Iacocca doing honoring a Chevy power plant?

On December 31st he made the tape, “My name is Wally Parks. I am the President of the National Hot Rod Association whose headquarters are located in Los Angeles, California. As the pioneer organization dealing with the sport of drag racing, this association regularly sanctions events at more than a hundred strips within the United States, plus other meets in Canada and Puerto Rico.” Parks then described the size and scope of what the NHRA achieved in 1963, as he normally did toot the horn for drag racing of which he was so proud of.

G. Belton contacted Parks and asked if he would coordinate an American team of drag racers to exhibit during the British drag racing season in September of 1964. That was fine with Parks, who would go after sponsorship in order to defray the costs of shipping and other expenses.

Parks would choose drag racers of good character who would be an asset to the American team. Parks also would include Belton and Sydney Allard in the project and looked forward to working with them. Parks apologized for not representing the American team in person but the Winternationals in Pomona was taking up all his time. He invited any of the British teams who were in the United States to be his guests at the upcoming February race.

This “international” race would give him credentials and experience that he could use to help his application to join ACCUS and the FIA. He was out to make more friends and network with more people and knit together another part of the drag racing world with the NHRA. This was further proof that Parks could play by the FIA rules and respect the international racing community and in turn they could trust the NHRA to remain loyal and obedient to their international goals.

But he was lighting the candle at both ends and adding a huge burden on an already overworked staff and especially himself. There had to be a limit to his boundless energy and health? Parks simply wouldn’t slow down and his vibrant mind kept envisioning new and complicated challenges.

As far back as November 19th, 1963 Gerard “Gerry” Belton of the Allard Motor Company and the BDRA had written to Parks regarding the First Annual International British Drag Racing Festival to take place in England in September and October 1964. Parks had known about the Dean Moon and Mickey Thompson exhibition runs and would have loved to participate but time had run out and the 1963 US Nats were consuming all his time as usual.

Sydney Allard had asked Belton, who was the Public Relations Officer for the Allard firm to write to Parks and enlist his aid and the assistance of the NHRA in helping to coordinate the Festival. The Allard Owners Club would be the sponsor, but before September, 1964 the BDRA would take a leading position.

Belton predicted the Festival could offset $1000 in travel expenses and sponsors could be found to add to that. Parks replied to Belton on November 22nd and in his normal exuberant manner he commented, “I can’t tell you how enthused I am at this prospect, and we’ll be happy to cooperate in any way we can. It has long been a hope of ours that we might one day send a qualified contingent of cars and personnel hand-picked for such an occasion. We are regretful that some problems developed with the two teams that came over this year, but at least the first step has been taken.”

The dates chosen by the Brits presented a problem for the NHRA as the US Nats were in progress; the Brits would have to change that if they were to get any American drag cars to come. Parks would screen and procure ten cars for the US Racing Team and he saw no problem with raising the money; famous last words he would come to regret. He saw the ability to race in England as a chance to run for FIA International records. Then he ended with, “Consider this our confirmation of interest in lending our full, wholehearted cooperation.” That was my father; committed before he even knew what he was getting himself into.

If my father wasn’t quite exhausted enough after the US Nats in early September he threw himself into going to England as the organizer of the “British Drag Racing Festival” of 1964. It was a continuation of the G. (Gerard) Belton and Dean Moon British and American drag racing triple event exhibition of 1963. My father had always dreamed of traveling to Brighton Beach for the Time Trials and visiting other “sacred” land speed racing sites where such racing began just before the turn of the Twentieth century.

His first inclination was to “assist” the men involved but when they saw how easily he was motivated into assuming more duties they happily made him the Vice-President in charge of arranging the entire American team.

John Bennett wrote in Kool Kams newsletter, published by the British Hot Rod Association (BHRA) that, “The Allards owners club held a Press Conference on Tuesday, 7th January at the Kensington Palace Hotel in London, to announce a series of five Drag Racing events to be held at different venues around England. These events will take place between 10th -27th September, and NHRA have offered to field at least ten Dragsters and three Motorcycles direct from the ‘Nationals’ at Indianapolis. BHRA Members will be kept closely informed with progress, and further information will be published in Kool Kams as soon as it becomes available.”

Letter to Hot Rod Magazine April '64

Parks wrote to “George” Belton on March 3rd and later corrected the name to Gerard Belton; who worked for the Allard Company and had sent Parks a tape of plans for the “British International Drag Festival.”

It was a far more complex problem to produce such an event as it sounded. In Socialist Great Britain there were rules that made it difficult for Americans to comprehend and afford. Would the events charge admission, who would pay for shipping, would there be entry and exit fees, would big American firms be stopped from participating and many other issues that had to be resolved.

The NHRA was unable to foot this expensive expedition, but it could provide the expertise, guidance and organization needed to pull off this drag race. There was also the problem of timing; the British wanted to go on the 10th but the US Nats weren’t over until September 7th. Parks also did not want to be responsible for the motorcycles and asked Belton if the AMA could be in charge of that function.

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