John Bennett

John Bennett joined the British Hot Rod Association in August 1962 and the following month turned up at the BHRA’s first get together with the most radically customised vehicle of the meet, a 1954 Austin A70 pick-up fitted with a Ford Zephyr grille, twin headlamps and reshaped metalwork all carried out at his Spa Engineering workshops in South Norwood.

John was interested in the organisational side from the start and at the end of 1962 joined a group of voluntary members to form the first comittee of the BHRA with John as chairman. Discussions began on the possibilities of organizing a custom show and a drag race in the UK. John offered his Spa Engineering workshops as an ideal location for a custom show and the first British Custom Car Show was held there in Easter 1963. John also began writing regular articles in the BHRA magazine Kool Kams about the more interesting goings on at Spa Engineering from fitting tail fins to Studebakers to chopping the roof on a Model Y Ford.

May 1964 saw the first drag race in the UK organized by the BHRA at Duxford Airfield and John entered his ’58 Pontiac Chieftain. Sharing the driving was John’s soon to be wife Ann Palmer who ran quicker times than John and from then onwards became the driver while John tuned the car and between them they got the times down from 17 seconds to 15 seconds. The Thames Estuary Automobile Club held a sprint at Graveley in August 1964 which wasn’t a drag race but they were timing two cars at a time and John came out as starter complete with Mooneyes stetson and flags to try and coax the die hard sprinters to race each other.

John soon realized that the growth of British drag racing was being held back by the lack of a permanent venue and it gave him great pleasure to announce at the 1965 BHRA AGM that five members including himself had been able to obtain a ninety acre site in Bedfordshire suitable for a permanent drag strip. John had formed a company known as National Dragways to develope the site which was to become Santa Pod Raceway and ambitious plans were laid out for a full season’s drag racing in 1966.

In February 1966 John took over the running of Drag Racing Magazine. He incorporated the BHRA publication Kool Kams and renamed it Drag Racing and Hot Rod Magazine making it more attractive to the show crowd as well as the go crowd. Increasing fields of competitors, TV coverage and American visitors made for a very successful first season at Santa Pod and by the end of the year the BHRA membership had reached 1000. At the 1967 AGM it was decided to change the name of the BHRA to the British Drag Racing and Hot Rod Association, the chief reason being that drag racing was now the largest of the club activities and an executive board was elected with John remaining as Chairman.

Santa Pod received a facelift and was resurfaced before the 1968 season which saw more new competitors and faster machinery and by the end of 1969 at the BDR & HRA AGM several members had conflicting ideas about how drag racing should move forward in the UK and John decided it was time to stand down as Chairman having achieved so much to get drag racing off the ground in the UK