Ray Baskerville and Pete Miller

Ray Baskerville and Pete Miller started racing within a year of each other at Santa Pod, on home-built bikes, and made contributions singly and jointly to the evolution of the sport through their desire to explore new ways to advance development.

Amazingly, Ray had three Studebakers and a DeSoto before he was old enough to drive! On these old cars he learned many engineering skills, while his father drove the repaired cars. Hot Rod magazine filled Ray with ideas – and the 1964 Dragfest helped even more. His first race bike was a 500cc BSA single. Changing to an injected 650 BSA twin, he was among the first few dragbike racers to visit Sweden in 1969. Ray made his own barrels, and redesigned and built twin OHC heads for a twin-engined BSA. Unfortunately a technical issue forced a change to Triumph motors. The crankshafts were altered to 180 degrees, to run like a four-cylinder engine. He made a motor gear-coupling drive casing assembly which would see copies used on many twin-engined machines. The bike ran a very competitive 10.0sec/146mph on methanol. An early first in Europe was the adaptation of a car overdrive unit for use in a drag bike. In 1973, the cut-down Wade blower was replaced by a home-configured centrifugal supercharger, using the compressor rotor from a Holset turbocharger. This was belt-driven at 90,000 RPM, which proved to be a limiting factor!

Ray was also involved in a project to design and produce sintered iron plates to work in a conventional clutch unit which was intended to bring improvement to racers struggling to prevent clutches burning out.

Pete Miller started racing in 1967 on a 500cc Triumph. He developed his racing skills, and race equipment, as he made rapid progress. An example of his innovation skills was shown in trials of two-stage supercharging, using both a Shorrock and Roots blower together in the early 1970s, to see if it was a viable alternative to using nitro. Pushing hard, he recorded 10.19sec/135mph on methanol before working the blowers a little too hard. Pete also reported on bike events for the BDR&HRA Kool Kams magazine.

Reverting to a nitro setup, he became the quickest 500cc rider while using the unfavoured Triumph 5TA unit engine with gearbox sawn off. Pete took the official 500cc world record in 1972 when he ran a two-way average of 9.93sec. A class-record best time of 9.56sec/142mph was recorded before he retired the bike at the end of 1973. The bike, called Mendusa, won many Top Bike races in 1972-3 against much bigger opposition. Peter won the BDR&HRA championship and the Motorcycle Drag Racer of the Year award.

Arguably, the UK’s first purpose-built Drag Racing engine, the ‘BM Elephant’. Inset pictures; Ray & Pete’s two speed transmission & slider clutch which were successfully used by top riders of the day. Photo: Mike Crisp

Ray and Pete had become good friends through racing, and with their complementary skills, teamed up as BM in order to build a completely new bike. It was powered by the first purpose-built Drag Racing engine in the UK which they designed and built: the BM Elephant 900cc motor. Utilising a Triumph head, the engine took three years’ hard work which included them making their own patterns for the various castings. The engine featured integral barrels and crankcase. If that wasn’t ambitious enough, the project also included the design and manufacture of their own slipper clutch and a two-speed epicyclic transmission. Pete was to be the rider as Ray had hung up his leathers. This one-off design showed much promise, and quickly ran 9.6sec on a low nitro load. Unfortunately, a piston failure led to major damage. To minimise time out of racing, the pair decided to take Ray’s twin-engine Triumph assembly and mate it to their new transmission, running mid-9sec times on methanol as the sport was rapidly moving forward.

Top: Pete Miller aboard the 900cc ‘BM Elephant’ motored machine during an event run by the NDRC at RAF Wroughton in 1975. Lower: After the unfortunate demise of the ‘BM Elephant’ motor, the pair decided to take Ray’s twin-engine Triumph assembly and mate it to their new transmission, with Pete undertaking the riding duties

The transmissions items were used in several top machines of the era. Most notably, the clutch and two-speed were successfully used by Stefan Reisten, the first racer to record a 7-second time in the UK. In his home workshop, Peter made 32 of the BM clutches and 16 two-speeds.

Ray revised and tuned Chris Stevens’ double Kawasaki to run on nitro and started working for the John Hobbs Racing team, until new rider Stevens was forced to withdraw from the team. Meanwhile Pete would go on to produce a three-speed transmission, to suit increasing track grip. Twenty-five examples went to other racers. 

Sad to say, Ray’s wife died in 1982 and it left him with two young boys to bring up. They would enjoy a childhood involved around drag racing and showing a Ford Mustang, as Ian and Neil learned about car mechanics.

Ray Baskerville riding his supercharged double-engine Triumph powered machine during a 1973 Drag Race event at Silverstone. Photo: John Rudling

Ray, now in his mid-seventies, has supported competitors at Dragstalgia for years with younger son Neil, providing and operating start rollers for the classic Drag Bikes. They have also devoted much work to helping revive the twin-engine bikes of old friend and fellow Hall of Fame Member, the late Dennis ‘Stormin’ Norman. Ray is also restoring and commissioning an unfinished Lancia-powered bike.

Most recently, Ray and Neil have been closely involved in resurrecting a major exhibit at the National Motorcycle Museum, the world-famous Hogslayer double Norton with which TC Christenson and John Gregory were near invincible in the mid-1970s. This was planned to run again as a tribute to TC, who had died in 2023.

It is for their successes on the track coupled with the breadth of their individual and dual innovations which so widely benefited their fellow Drag Racers that Ray Baskerville and Pete Miller are to be inducted into Membership of the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

Profile By Keith Lee