John Whitmore was born in Leicester. He started his career as an electrician by getting a Silver Medal from the Electrical Contractors’ Association for coming in the top three in the UK in his exams. Work for industry gave John experience of constructing electrical systems using conduit, which would soon prove useful in racing. In 1967, on a visit to Santa Pod John saw Bud Barnes from the US run a full track length smoker. It converted John to the sport and on seeing Harold Bull’s Stripduster it inspired John himself to build a front engine dragster powered by the four cylinders BMC A series engine.
John’s first car ran at the start of 1968 and its chassis was made out of the thin yet incredibly light electrical conduit. A new mild steel tube chassis that could take rather more power was brought out in 1969 and in 1970 the car was named Drag-n’-fly. Many parts on Drag-n’-fly were homemade including a fuel injection system with an oil pump from the ubiquitous BMC A series engine converted into a fuel pump. The gearbox was based on an overdrive from an Austin A35 although with all the power John made out of the engine it developed a habit of knocking gear teeth off after 2-3 runs.
A three-speed Borg Warner 35 auto gear box was modified and shortened, a manual three position control valve was used to change the gears: this replaced the A35 gear box. A 7½” friction clutch replaced the torque converter.
One advantage of using British parts is that spares were relatively easy to come by. Even the supercharger on John’s engine was able to be replaced by another unit previously in a machine used for melting the road surface that was manufactured by Nobby Hills’s company. A visit to BMC Special Tuning Abingdon resulted in more race-ready parts being acquired that could withstand nitro loads of up to 65%. Times fell and speeds increased; in 1973 he ran over 150mph for the first time and dominated the Middle Dragster class with low nine second passes.
The constant quest for quarter mile performances from the venerable A series engine that would have astounded its original designers led John to build a rear engine chassis for 1974 and he again, later converted a Borg Warner automatic transmission (this time a larger one) to a three speed clutch operated racing gearbox. This helped take the car deep into the eights with many wins in 1975 and 1976, times which will probably never be beaten.
As well as running all the meetings that took place in the UK in the 1970s, John went to Sweden in 1976 to 1978, won or came runner up in each of these events, and later visited Zandvoort in Holland. He also had sponsorship from British Leyland in 1977 following an introduction from Brian Taylor.
In 1980 John took a different path with a new Daimler powered dragster. He had got support from Jaguar spares dealer G H Nolan who supplied him with the mechanical parts for the car. John used all his mechanical ingenuity on the new car which went well from the start and in 1981 ran his first seven second time.
A career in designing automotive test systems, particularly rolling roads, with rollers up to six feet in diameter, and wind tunnels, one up to 20 feet in diameter, with a 3½ megawatt fan motor, was taking up more of John’s time in the 1980s and 1990s and he travelled the world to help install them.
In a racing career spanning almost twenty years and many wins, John never red lit. But it is for his mechanical skills in developing cars using British parts where possible, and achieving outstanding performances, that John is inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.