Dave Lee Travis spent most of the 1970s driving a Chevrolet powered Escort called Tender Trap that ran 10s and a Top Fuel Dragster called The Needle that got down to mid six second runs at over 220 mph. As a Radio and TV presenter he was able to give drag racing a huge media profile; a major factor in broadening the sport’s appeal. He was a great ambassador for the sport and it is for this constant and never matched high level promotion of the sport that he has been inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
In the late 1960s Dave Lee Travis was broadcasting on the pirate radio stationCaroline North that was moored just off the Lancashire coast and the car cruises and shows held in his home town of Manchester during that time fired his initial interest in American cars. He did a spell as tour manager for Herman’s Hermits when the group played USA venues and he saw the occasional hot rod around the beach area whilst hanging out with Bobby Vee and Freddie Cannon who were on the same tour (how’s that for name dropping?). This increased his interest.
On returning to the UK his first drag race meeting was at Blackbushe in 1970. By this time he was broadcasting on Radio One. He had started to readCustom Car Magazine and others of the same ilk, being drawn by the customising aspect rather than any racing activity. He loved the radical nature of those involved and slowly became drawn into the scene. He was asked to open the Crystal Palace Custom Car Show in 1972 (he had walked the show in the previous year) and then started attending Santa Pod on a regular basis. He just loved the whole atmosphere. He felt as if he was with like-minded people who loved all these mad cars. He recalls it being great fun with the music, the racing and the ‘messing about’.
He obtained a monkey bike to run around the pits. He always remembers the reaction from the crowd when he tried to do a burnout holding the bike against the gantry post as most of the competition bike riders did at that time to warm up their rear slicks. When he opened up the throttle all that happened was the rear wheel bouncing up and down – an early example of tyre shake you might say. The crowd roared and he knew he could add a different dimension to the drag racing show – ‘messing about’ DLT style. Hence, pogo stick racing, bar stool racing and so on. The flame burnout on roller skates is one episode he can never forget. The most worrying thing was that the man with the cigarette lighter in his hand and squirting the lighter fuel over his feet was Ronnie Picardo. Now that was scary.
His first experience of driving a drag racing car was in John Ledster’s Mustang. It was a great thrill and John, along with Dennis Mutton who let him drive his Torino, was directly responsible for what followed. He just wanted to go faster and new he had to drive in competition.
He loved being a member of The Stones Racing Team and driving the Chevy powered Tender Trap. They were such a great bunch and when it came to preparing the car there was nobody better. Backed by Santa Pod Raceway he then moved on to The Needle Top Fuel dragster. He recalls taking the car to Brands Hatch to do burnout demonstration at a Radio One Road Show event. The car was surrounded by lots of knowledgeable circuit racing folks – drivers, pit crew, posers – all looking at the car with knowing smiles as if to say it can’t be much if it’s being driven by a DJ. Before they fired it up Dave warned,
“I wouldn’t stand too close when we fire it up because it’s a bit noisy”.
They didn’t move much and indicated that they knew what to expect. They fired up the car. Did they run for cover? He loved it.
By that time the DLT Road Show was the regular entertainment at the BDR&HRA Annual Champions Trophy Night. He also took the Radio One Road Show to broadcast live from Santa Pod with the stage just behind the start area in front of the barn. Wrong!!! It caused great problems for the producers back in London because the cars were also running and there was no way they could deal with the sound levels or vibrations. Listeners were phoning up complaining about the sound quality. Oops!!
By this time Peter Crane was heading his pit crew. Dave recalls what an honour it was that the driver who had put down the first 5 second run in Europe was now helping him. The 6.6 second run in The Needle was a highlight. It felt like a good run and he knew when the team came down to pick him up that it was. They were going mad. He was really pleased because he felt he gained a bit of extra respect from the other racers after that performance – something that was important to him. At the time, not many people in the UK had run as quick or as fast.
But after the 6.6 he thought the time had come for a return to the spectator banks. The only place to go as a racer was to be as good as the likes of Dennis Priddle, Allan Herridge, Owen Hayward, etc, and he knew he could never give the time to get to that level. In later years drag racing was featured on his ‘This is Your Life’ tribute with the Stones Racing Team on stage.