Martin Hill

When you hear the name Martin Hill, you immediately think, “Jet Cars”. With over 40 years’ experience with all things jet, it’s easy to understand why. This year the FireForce brand celebrates 35 years since the original FireForce1 Jet Funny Car debuted in 1989. But where did it all begin?

Born In Mexborough, South Yorkshire, Martin’s first job was as a coal miner at Barnburgh Colliery when he was 16. In his spare time, he loved nothing more than taking to the Yorkshire roads on his motorbike. It wasn’t long before Martin ventured into drag racing. Aged 19, he built his first competitive bike. Based on a Kawasaki Z1000, Martin highly customised and modified the bike until it eventually topped 130mph. During the six years of racing in the Street class of bikes, he became the second fastest rider in the country.

In 1983 Martin moved on to a new project that was to launch a career spanning 41 years. During his time racing bikes at Santa Pod, Martin had observed the Hellbender and Vampire Jets. His interest piqued and an idea formed.

In his parent’s backyard in Mexborough, he started building a Jet Dragster – the first of its kind in the North of England. In just 16 weeks, the car went from drawing board to racetrack with Martin building the car totally from scratch. It debuted in August 1983 at York Raceway and several runs later had reached speeds just shy of 200mph. Martin soon realised this jet, by design, was never going to go as fast as he wanted so the whole car was scrapped with only the Rolls-Royce Viper engine remaining. Of course, Martin then set to work building a second Jet Dragster.

Mr. Ree, as this second jet was called, while more stable and aerodynamic than its predecessor, still didn’t hit the 200mph barrier that Martin was searching for.

The desire to go faster led to the next project: finding a Jet Funny Car! In1988, the opportunity arose when a car became available in the United States. Martin flew out to look at the car, then known as Northern Lights. The car was shipped over to England and was reborn as FireForce (race number JFC1). In 1989 FireForce debuted at York Raceway and became an instant hit.

Little did Martin know then that this ‘hobby’ would be lifelong commitment, leading to a stable of FireForce jet cars, performing all over the world, setting record after record, appearing in TV programmes and being consulted for numerous projects owing to his vast jet engine knowledge.

Despite all his achievements, Martin remains one of the humblest men in drag racing. Often shying from interviews and staying out of the limelight, this softly spoken Yorkshireman perhaps doesn’t comprehend the extensive impact he has had on the sport. Jet Cars are for exhibition after all and entertaining the audience. Few people will forget their first FireForce experience. Be it scared to death or mesmerised by every second, Martin is a true showman!

Martin’s dedication to Santa Pod does not stop with his jets. He is always willing to help a fellow racer out with parts, tools, advice, welding, fire bottles and so on, even when he is busy getting his own cars ready. He is also responsible for building the two jet driers that Santa Pod relies so heavily upon as well as the maintenance of many of the track support vehicles, from the tractor to the sweepers and anything in between.

It is for his lifelong service in entertaining the public with his jet cars, as one of the world’s great jet car exponents, for his continued commitment to Santa Pod and for his readiness to assist his fellow racers with advice and equipment, that Martin is inducted into Membership of the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

TOP LEFT: FireForce 1, The first competitive Jet Funny Car in Europe. Set many track records until an incident in 2006 caused extensive damage. The decision was made not to rebuild the car.  

TOP RIGHT: FireForce 2, Built with the sole intention of performance. More aerodynamic and lighter. Debuted in 2000 and the first jet outside the USA to break the 5 second barrier over the ¼ mile.
Photo: Neil Dilkes

CENTRE: FireForce 3, Built to competitively run two Jet Funny Cars at race venues. Debuted in 2004 at Santa Pod Raceway sporting Santa Pod livery. Quickest PB set in Iceland at 5.65 seconds.

BOTTOM LEFT: FireForce 4, Built with some innovative design features including the absence of a rear wing, a larger rear deck and a new style intake. Debuted 2011.

BOTTOM RIGHT: FireForce 5, Built with the intention of running side by side Jet Dragsters. Debuted 2013. Quickest PB 5.0639 seconds. Fastest PB 310.41mph. Photo: Ivan & Rose Sanson.

Profile By Donna Finnegan