Rod started his involvement with drag racing in 1974 when he set up a Harley Davidson dealership. He saw an ex-Pete Grey Harley race bike advertised for sale by Jerry Mitchell, and the pair ended up running the bike together that same year. This would quickly be followed by the first twin-engined bike that Rod would race. He bought a lightly-raced, supercharged Triumph constructed by Barry Townsend, who also joined Rod in his race team. The 500cc motors were soon replaced by a pair of 650s, and the bike received a new chassis from John Clift.
With ambitions to go quicker, a very much revised twin-engined bike was first shown in early 1978 at the Custom Car show, when the familiar LA Hooker name was first launched for Rod’s bikes. Power came from a pair of RPM special Kawasaki motors, with the whole plot being force-fed by a rear-mounted supercharger. Not being too happy with how this arrangement was performing, they ditched the blower for the following season and a Hilborn injection system was fitted. This combination was raced over three years. During the final season with the bike, Rod also came out on the amazing V8 Rover-powered monster – Heavy Metal – which was Barry’s idea. The unblown, black heavyweight contender had some nitro tipped in for the first Transatlantic International meeting at Long Marston and it saw Rod ride the monster into the 8-second zone. There was actually a rear-engined version being built – but while the bike was having bodywork built by John Harpum, the engine and running gear were stolen!
Twin-engined bikes created a lot of work to keep them running, but Rod was not done with them. Inspired by the Carl Ahlfeldt-built Orange Crush, Rod threw everything he could into his new double-Kawasaki machine. He spent some time out at Carl’s shop in Oklahoma during this period. This would be Rod’s favourite build, despite a single engine now being seen as the way forward. Coming in at 2400cc, and fed with a large dose of nitro, this new LA Hooker was a spectacular sight in 1982. After breaking both engines at Easter, Rod quickly rebuilt, and ran 8.25s in July, making it the quickest unblown bike in Europe. The double Kawa was a crowd favourite, but it was hard on parts, as the bottom ends of the day were just not strong enough. For the following year, the bike was converted to a blown single Kawasaki, as Rod fought in Top Fuel Bike. A new bike, optimised for the single engine, would appear in 1984.
While Rod was racing, his wife Anne was also at the races with their young son, Carl. Anne also became heavily involved with the organising club, by taking on the race secretary role for the BDRA. She also took on the treasurer’s role. Anne continued until the club closed.
Rod was always ready to oblige by taking part in demos and appearances to help promote the sport, and to help out other racers. This was certainly well demonstrated at the 1985 Transatlantic race, when Elmer Trett came over to headline the event. Unfortunately, Elmer broke his crank. Rod had the only one in the country, purchased from Elmer, and drove back home to get it, so that the fans would not be disappointed. It meant Rod himself giving up his own chance to qualify for the biggest bike event of the year! This would be the year that Rod saw a complete change from his usual black and orange – to red and white. The reason was that he had secured sponsorship from Penthouse magazine.
In late 1986, Rod got involved with HoF Member Pete Davies, when he took on the Puma Yamaha XS1100 project, with Puma bottom end, which was built for John Clift who had since moved over to Pro Stock. Times kept getting quicker, with many trips across Europe to race. By 1987, Rod won the World Finals with a 7.56s pass, having set record terminal speeds of 196 and 193mph.
Rod sold his shop in 1988 and continued working out of a large workshop at his home. In 1988 Rod was announced as President of the BDRA. Three years later, his racing was hit by a devastating blow. A compressor overheated, which caused a fire to break out. With fuel, oxygen and propane bottles located in the workshop, a major blaze ensued. It was a total disaster, which wiped out the bike and Rod’s equipment with it. With much help from a number of drag racing friends, in particular Mick Beaumont and Bill Mears, the workshop was eventually rebuilt. With such a setback, it took time to be in a position to build a new bike. A chassis from American racer and constructor Sam Wills formed the foundation for a planned return to racing.
It would prove to be a painful and frustrating end to Rod’s riding career. Having managed to put together a new bike, with help from friends along the way, he suffered a freak accident at home. When removing a caravan awning, it dropped and smashed Rod’s ankle, which required a number of operations over the next three years after worries that his foot might not be saved. The new bike was completed and later sold to Dave Newbery.
Rod and Anne emigrated to Spain, but Anne came over to help unlock the dormant BNDRA bank account, which had proved difficult to release. Rod suggested to late Hall of Fame chairman Stu Bradbury that those funds could best be used to set up junior racers’ awards at the Gala evenings, which duly began in 2014. As for Rod and Anne, they are still very much a team, and are looking forward to celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in October.
Profile By Keith Lee