FOUNDING CHAIRMAN - STUART BRADBURY 1945-2020

‘Dragstalgia’ to Mark 60 years of UK Drag Racing

It is Diamond Anniversary time for British drag racing. When Europe’s premier historic Drag Race, Dragstalgia, takes place at Santa Pod Raceway in July, its focus will fall on the events which gave birth to the sport in Britain six decades earlier. 

Two American dragsters which featured prominently in those nascent years are being shipped once more across the Atlantic. Reflecting the drag race tradition of naming rather than numbering cars, Mooneyes and Dos Palmas will enjoy starring roles at Dragstalgia. 

The American pair will be joined by Sydney Allard’s original British dragster, the Allard-Chrysler, on a rare outing from its present home, the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, for a unique reunion of cars that were truly ‘in at the birth’. 

In 1964, the British sportscar manufacturer, racer and rally driver Sydney Allard had joined forces with Wally Parks, president of America’s National Hot Rod Association, to bring leading US drag racing stars to race on airfield sites across Britain. Blessed with fine weather, the 1st British International Drag Festival was a resounding success and drew plentiful crowds. 

One year earlier, word had reached America that Allard had built a dragster, Britain’s first. A Las Vegas speed shop owner and racer known as ‘Dante’ Duce challenged Allard to a race on British soil. An industrialist, Dean Moon, offered Duce the use of his dragster, and Mooneyes was shipped to Britain to undertake the challenge. A second American, Mickey Thompson, arrived unexpectedly and the trio competed at the Brighton Speed Trials and on airfield runways. The venture’s success impelled the Allard-Parks partnership to create the 1964 Festival. 

2024’s Mooneyes is a faithful replica of the 1963 original, now housed in a US museum. Its methanol-burning engine is a 350-cubic-inch/5.7-litre Chevrolet V8 boosted by a front-mounted Potvin supercharger, a relic of the era. The car’s 96-inch-wheelbase chassis was built by Dode Martin of the Dragmaster company who constructed the original model. It’s expected that Mooneyes will be fired up during Dragstalgia and may perform burnouts. Today the Mooneyes Speed Equipment & Custom Accessories company is headquartered in Tokyo and Los Angeles and owners Shige Suganuma and Chico Kodama will attend Dragstalgia. 

Dos Palmas, on the other hand, is the original vehicle. The Goodnight/Keith/Williamson Dos Palmas Machine Special has a chassis built by early drag racing legend Tommy Ivo and was brought to England for both the 1964 and 1965 Festivals and driven by Bob Keith. Bought thereafter by a British consortium, the car was then acquired by a US Air Force serviceman, Bill Weichelt, who campaigned it at Santa Pod during the early 1970s under a new name, Asmodeus. Posted back to the USA, Weichelt took the car with him and it vanished from sight for 40 years. 

Another figure of recent legend, the championship-winning NASCAR crew chief Ray Evernham, found the car and restored it to perfect working condition under its original name before selling it to a fresh British consortium under whose auspices Dos Palmas will take pride of place at Dragstalgia. 

1965’s 2nd Drag Festival was beset by rain and 1964’s profits were washed away, yet these two events had kick-started the sport of Drag Racing on this side of the Atlantic. Santa Pod Raceway opened on Easter Monday 1966 as Europe’s first permanent dragstrip and Sydney Allard, stricken with cancer, died the very next day, never to know the legacy his pioneering ventures had bequeathed. 

Dragstalgia’s display of distinguished American iron is not restricted to the four-wheeled classes. This year’s star turn among a host of vintage two-wheelers is a bike known as Hogslayer. Propelled by dual Norton engines on nitromethane, the mount of owner-rider TC Christenson, a native of Wisconsin, was the scourge of the US Top Fuel Motorcycle scene 50 years ago. Norton were so impressed by Christenson’s achievements that they shipped him and his bike to race in England no fewer than three times, and with a tip to the bike’s British mechanical heritage, Hogslayer nowadays resides at Solihull National Motorcycle Museum. ‘Hog’ is a nickname given to one of Wisconsin’s most famous industrial products, the Harley-Davidson motorcycle – hence Hogslayer, the Norton-powered slayer of Harleys on dragstrips across America. On temporary release from its static spot in the museum, Hogslayer is being prepared for action once more. At Dragstalgia, the bark of twin Nortons on nitro will resound across the countryside for the first time in half a century. 

Dragstalgia 2024 takes place at Santa Pod Raceway, near Wellingborough NN29 7XA, from Friday 5th to Sunday 7th July. For full event information and to book tickets, visit  https://santapod.co.uk/dragstalgia.php or telephone 01234 782828. As ever, access to the pits is free for a close-up view of Dragstalgia’s unparalleled array of historic racing machinery.