Roy Wilding

In 2019 BDRHoF inducted member Peter Crane selected Wild Bunch and Supercharged Outlaw racer Roy Wilding as recipient of the ‘Spirit of ’76 Award’ for his unyielding dedication, outstanding achievements and contributions to the UK nostalgia drag racing scene. Peter wrote, ‘Roy Wilding has become one of today’s established and more well-known drivers from all walks of British drag racing and has been involved with just about anything and everything.’

But 39 years ago, Roy’s hobby didn’t just start with Drag Racing because it started with the ‘glitz and glamour’ world of customising and cruzin’ in the late seventies; a hobby that way back then was sweeping the nation. Local custom car shows were springing up all over the place, and in Roy’s back yard; Birmingham’s Bingley Hall and the National Exhibition Centre spring to mind. Roy would enter his blue mirror flaked MGB 1600cc Ford Popular into shows such as this as a small, economical street rod for the car mad Brummies to admire and with considerable success. It didn’t take long for his V6 Pop to start straying on to the straight and narrow by finding its way to his local drag strip at Long Marston Airfield.

Photo: Uncredited

From that point on, his back seat driven V6 Pop competed in the NDRC and NDRA Street classes. This also led to Roy obtaining his first sponsorship deal with Custom Chrome, makers of the world-famous Cherry Bomb exhaust. Then it was the BNDRA’s ‘90’ classes for street cars at Avon Park leading to numerous eliminator wins with the purple Pop settling for a best ET of 14.9 seconds at 98 mph. Incidentally the Pop is still touring the roads today.

Roy’s competitive spirit had now begun. A few years on after building his first slingshot dragster Roy took under his wing a young enthusiastic 14-year-old Drag Racing fan by the name of Mark Luton who wanted to learn as much as he could about the sports engineering. Mark began by assisting Roy at the track after the build of his first slingshot dragster; a move which later in life proved very beneficial, as we will later learn. With motivation provided by a virtually stock 322ci ‘nailhead’ Buick, and with his own chassis rolling on aging Kelly Springfield ‘pie crust’ slicks Roy’s first Chariot of Fire ran as quick as 11.001 seconds at 131.4 mph.

With the urge to go faster another dragster was quickly under construction and to the same unique design that would later become his trademark in British slingshot chassis construction. Again, powered by another nailhead Buick, but this time with 430 ci displacement Chariot of Fire II achieved an on the edge 10.002s at 147 mph. The nines were calling!

Photo: Stephen Wexler

By now nostalgia racing in the UK had started to come into its own, especially at his home track at Avon Park and the National Street Rod Association’s unique and original Hot Rod Drags. To Roy’s way of thinking he could see a need for the formation of some kind of a nostalgic racing class to cater for new and older slingshot dragsters and competition altereds but on an affordable budget. Along with fellow Comp Altered racer John Guthrie the twosome presented the idea to the then promoters at Avon Park – Brian Burrows and Brett Hawkesbee from Goodguys UK – who immediately picked up and ran with it at the season ending ’94 Night of Fire. Although a huge undertaking the idea with the help of other likeminded racers the weekend turned out to be an unqualified success, and so the ‘Wild Bunch’ was born with Roy at the helm as chairman.  

After building race car after race car for new racers and friends who liked the idea of racing cars from the days of ‘how it used to be’, Roy finally took the plunge where upon the doors were opened for business at his Oldbury based workshop and the launch Roy Wilding Nostalgia Race Cars; a company that today is still churning out race cars and special projects but further north of the country.

While still racing his slingshot Roy bought back from Sweden, as a roller, to the UK the ex-Monica Oberg mid-eighties short wheelbase Top Fuel chassis with the idea of letting his wife and club secretary Angela race in Wild Bunch competition. Built with another trusty 454ci Buick with a 3 speed autobox Angela achieved a best of 10.000 seconds at 132 mph. In fact, it was a busy ‘ole’ life for the pair. The nines again were a knocking!

While Roy was racing at some of the bigger meets Angela would be seen in the background with paperwork, organising the events merit awards and the season ending presentations for which Roy is truly thankful for.

By now Roy’s part time chassis concern had built something in the region of fifteen or more chassis plus two more complete race cars for himself, all within his trademark chassis design. In fact, when any new car broke cover you would very quickly say to yourself ‘yep that’s from Roy Wilding’.

At the same time the day job was keeping him active working for short oval racer Kevin Clarke who, at the time, had took on the bruising world of V6 and V8 Eurocars and Pick-Up Trucks on some of the country’s bigger ovals and circuits. Often the cars would come back damaged for Roy to fix the following morning! This kind of work also led him to applying his self-taught metal working skills for locally based Futura Race & Design looking after the Rover Tomcat’s of champion driver Dave Louden and other circuit-based cars that happen to pass through Futura’s doors.

One of the more notable cars Roy acquired, restored and drove to considerable success was the legendary ‘Hemi Hunter’ originally raced at Santa Pod by BDRHoF member Gerry Andrews under The Stones Racing banner. Owned and raced, after the Stones, by Doug Bond, Mark Purslow and then Mike Kason in the first incarnation of the Supercharged Outlaws, Roy installed a blown 392ci Chrysler engine with a two-speed box and ran it to an impressive best of 8.001 seconds at 183 mph on methanol at Shakespeare County Raceway.

Straying from his slingshot fetish Roy also built a 10 second ‘23 T Bucket Altered for Wild Bunch competition with a 383ci Chrysler which Roy and Angela raced for several seasons and it’s still around in competition today.

By now, if you didn’t know it, Roy’s own cars were definitely starting to follow a pattern and a theme with their bright green livery and purple flames. This also extended to the trailers and haulers. The team also started to standout on the start line too with wearing custom made team shirts that adding extra professionalism wherever the cars were seen. 

By now, and after leaving the Wild Bunch in the capable hands of Chris Hartnell and Claire Meaddows, Roy’s interest in blown cars started to really gain momentum and with so many outlawed dragsters, altered and doorslammers still out there with no real class to fit into and no real competition to speak of, the inevitable formation of the Supercharged Outlaws as a class began to take shape in the late 2000s with selected races taking place at Shakespeare County Raceway.

Following numerous visits across the pond to the famous Famosa drag strip in Bakersfield; home to the March Meet and California Hot Rod Reunion races, Roy started planning the construction of a new state of the art nostalgia slingshot, incorporating all the latest technology now in practice on the American nostalgia scene.

Photo: Alan Currans

When the dragster finally broke cover the whole nostalgia scene in the UK looked on with admiration. Roy’s usual attention to detail had exceled once again and with seasonal development, the car to date, led by crew chief Mark Lutton, the blown 500ci slingshot has achieved a very respectable 199.1 mph in 7.16 seconds; Roy insists that the car has more to give.

While all this was going on Roy also worked on the restoration of three famous British altereds; the 23 T bodied altereds ‘Paranoia’ and ‘Helzapoppin’ raced back in period by Alan Loten & Brian Thomas, and Sue Coles respectively, and the Fiat Topolino altered ‘Thunderbird’ raced in Pro Comp by the Hazelton family at the request of their new owners. In fact, Roy took a turn behind the wheel of Helzapoppin at Santa Pod just to see how it felt back then!

Roy also got to work with former FIA European and 10 times British Top Methanol Dragster champions Rob and Steve Turner during events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Wrenching on the brother’s ex Jeff Carroll Chevrolet Monte Carlo TMFC Roy was learning the art of tuning Rob’s 526ci PSI blown Brad Anderson methanol motor on more than one occasion.

Throughout his racing career Roy has always had a soft spot for his local, and now lost track, Shakespeare County Raceway by offering assistance, materials and manpower. In fact, just about anything he could do to support the track Roy was a part of, which ultimately amounted to the construction of the track’s own jet dryer ably assisted by fellow Supercharged Outlaw racer Brian Gandy and crew man Jeff Brookes. A project which might never have reached the track if the Police had anything to say about it!

His dedication to other teams in the sport led him to drives in the S&K Racing Team Super Pro dragster for Roger Sinclair and Mike Kemp lasting for seven seasons as well as looking after his own race cars. Even now Roy can be seen in the pits advising and assisting other racers and teams.

A heart attack survivor, Roy is a true stalwart of the sport which is probably why he’s earned the mantle by his fellow racers as ‘Little Daddy Wilding’ and his admiration for his hero Don Garlits. And it’s for these reasons, and probably more, that we induct Roy Wilding into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

Profile By Jerry Cookson