…1980 Hot Rod & Custom UK Funny Car Eliminator
The wild and sometimes unpredictable world of nitro Funny Car racing has been a particular fan favourite here in the UK since the days of Petersen Publishing Internationals of 1973 when touring pro American racers Don ‘The Shoe’ Schumacher at the wheel of his Cuda based ‘Stardust’ and Paula Murphy with her ‘Miss STP’ Duster put down some stunning side-by-side passes that’s still talked about today.
Above: The 1980 Hot Rod & Custom UK Eliminator trophy with it’s ‘saviour’ Matt Seamarks
However, that said one of the greatest British, and possibly European Funny Car races of all time took place in September 1980 at Santa Pod Raceway’s International World Series Finals where no less than 20 nitro burning Funny Cars populated the premises coming from America, Sweden, Norway and the UK, ready to qualify for a 16-car eliminator sponsored by Hot Rod & Custom UK magazine. Months leading up to the big occasion the magazine adverts read ‘More nitro will be used this weekend than in all of last season…’, and they weren’t far wrong.
After three gruelling days of blood, sweat and oil, the final came down to what turned into an anti-climactic affair when Gene Snow’s ‘Snowman’ Plymouth Arrow lost all of its might and fell silent after backing up from the first burnout; a bitter blow for Snow’s tired crew. With one car left and sounding strong, American racer Harlan Thompson at the wheel of the ‘Tre Kroner’ Plymouth Arrow, stood on the loud pedal hard to please his European fans and cruised into the sunset for a 6.32/196 mph uncontested win, kisses from the SCCA show girls and the 1980 Hot Rod & Custom Funny Car Eliminator trophy.
But who would have thought that 43 years later that very same trophy would turn up in an American garage sale, get purchased by a drag racing fan and then placed on Facebook page ‘Ground Pounding Funny Cars’ in the hope of learning some more of the trophy’s true history.
Equally, what were the chances of a couple of UK racers logging into that particular Facebook page and contribute some information about the trophy’s history! Well it happened and thanks to Georgia resident Mark Robbins, UK’s Jon Crawford and Matt Seamarks, we were fortunate enough to have that very trophy on display alongside the SEMA Challenge Trophy and other great artefacts of the past in the historical marque with the BDRHoF at Santa Pod’s Dragstalgia in July.
But let’s turn the clock back for a few paragraphs and jump back into our time machine to September 1980 with the assistance of BDRHoF Historian and ‘Time Traveller’ Nick Pettitt to see how BDRHoF member Harlan Thompson won his prize.
Heading qualifying was Allan ‘Bootsie’ Herridge with a fantastic 6.21/228mph with the ‘Gladiator’ Trans Am. This stood as low ET of the meet. Headlining the meet was visiting American legend Don ‘The Snake’ Prudhomme and the ‘Army’ Plymouth Arrow. After a smoke engulfing eighth-mile burnout Prudhomme blasted to a 6.22/227mph to take second spot but at the expense of a damaged crank. Gene Snow was back over in the ‘Snowman’ Arrow grabbing third spot with a 6.31/215mph while Dennis Priddle ran his best ever in the ‘JWR’ Monza at 6.41/217mph to put Yeovil’s speed merchant fourth in the standings.
Super Swede Lee Anders Hasselstrom ran a 6.47/210mph in the ‘Red Baron’ Monza for fifth followed by fellow Swede John Andersson with a 6.50/190mph in his Monza. Owen Hayward took the Nobby Hills owned ‘SLDO Houndog’ Challenger to a 6.62/221mph while American Harlan Thompson drove the Swedish owned Tre Kronor Arrow to round off the top eight with a 6.70/210 mph. Nineth spot went to the ‘Landlubber’ Mustang driven by Norway’s Rune Fjeld with an incredible 239mph top end charge in 6.74 seconds. Just behind was first time American visitor Tom Hoover driving Raymond Beadle’s ‘Blue Max’ Arrow with a 6.76/193mph while Dave Stone was the last of the six second runners at 6.87/204mph with the ‘Stardust’ Mustang for eleventh spot. The rest of the field was made up of Ronnie Picardo in the ‘Force’ Monza, Paul Manders with the ‘Time & Motion’ Mustang and from Sweden Hasse Fromm driving the famed ‘Ragnarok’ Mustang, Lief Daback with the ‘Cannon’ Challenger and Stigge Hansson at the wheel of the ‘Rogers Custom’ Camaro.
First out to race in round one was Gene Snow taking on Dave Stone who red lit handing the win to Snow. Then Owen Hayward crossed the centre line giving Ronnie Picardo an easy 7.14/182mph win. Next John Andersson ran a best ever 6.38/215mph beating Leif Daback’s 7.88. Stigge Hansson pulled a red against Dennis Priddle who got out of shape and crossed the outside line sadly eliminating both cars. Then followed another upset as Rune Fjeld pulled a super holeshot on a sleeping Allan Herridge. Rune’s 6.74/239 was enough to beat Bootsie’s strong 6.28/217mph who must have been kicking himself all the way down the quarter. Everyone was looking forward to a good race between Tom Hoover and Don Prudhomme, but the Snake suffered a broken fuel pump before staging handing the win to Hoover’s 6.60/192mph. Hasse Fromm red lit with a 6.94/201mph to Lee Anders Hasselstrom’s 6.61/223mph and finally Harlan Thompson faced Paul Manders who broke on the line as Harlan shot to a 6.67/205mph solo.
With so many top runners out in round one the organisers decided to run a division two eliminator including any round one losers or non-qualifiers. There were a lot of breakages; the result of a very hard three days action including the Snake who again broke in round one. The eliminator then fell into disarray and never reached a final. The only ones smiling were the ‘Houndog’ team after running a best ever 6.41/216mph.
Meanwhile it was time for round two of the race proper and Gene Snow pulled a terrific holeshot over Ronnie Picardo who lost with a 7.36/153mph to the Snowman’s 6.39/193mph. Then Rune Fjeld lost fire to allow Lee Anders Hasselstrom through with an easy 6.60/198mph. Race of the day saw John Anderson shutdown Tom Hoover with an excellent 6.26/223mph to Hoover’s 6.38/221mph. Then Harlan Thompson had another solo run after both Priddle and Hansson had been eliminated in round one.
The semis witnessed death smoke trailing from Snow’s car after a long smoky burnout, but he needn’t have worried as Hasselstrom got out of shape very nearly hitting the barrier as Snow eased through for a lucky win. John Andersson ran another super strong 6.40/224mph but got beaten by Harlan Thompson by mere inches with a 6.35/223mph.
With the trophy on its way to the States (or so we thought!) little did we know that its appeal would end up in a garage sale only to be found 43 years later. Mike, being a racing fan, just knew it had to be saved.
Within days of December’s post appearing on Ground Pounding Funny Cars and the fact that Mike had taken and posted a photo of the base plate with Santa Pod Raceway on it, Jon Crawford recognised it instantly and posted back all he knew about its origin.
Matt takes up the story, “I messaged Mike after Jon’s reaction and asked what his plans were for the trophy. I said I was from England and explained I live only a stone’s throw away from the track and at which point Mike informed me he wanted the trophy to come back to England.
“We spoke some more and before I knew it he had it all packaged up and in the mail in two separate boxes. After 2 weeks of it being found the trophy was now back in England for the first time since 1980!
“The funniest part to this story though has to be the fact that Harlan had no interest in the trophy and said he never took it back to America as he always took the prize money over the trophy. So how did the trophy end up in America? This is the part nobody knows, so if anyone does know anymore please do get in contact as I would love to find that last piece of the puzzle! This is now the most prized piece of drag racing history I own and I would like to thank Mike for entrusting me with this amazing piece of history for all of us to enjoy now its back in England”.
What a great story, and the BDRHoF were pleased to have showcased it in the historic marque, and tell of its remarkable story here in HoFTalk. The BDRHoF would like to thank Matt Seamarks for the loan and display of the ‘1980 Hot Rod & Custom UK Funny Car Eliminator’ trophy.