The idea for UK drag racing’s Wild Bunch first saw the light of day in 1994. After many years competing separately at hot rod events, nostalgia enthusiasts Roy Wilding and John Guthrie both had visions in forming a class to cater for those slingshot dragsters and competition altered owners who were racing for fun on a budget. Towards the end of the season Roy and John presented the idea to then Avon Park Raceway promoters Goodguys UK and the class with an invited eight car field was given a chance at the season ending Night of Fire.
A partial season of events for the club was run exclusively at Avon Park the following year, which led to more new and historic cars joining the club. The first full season came in 1996 with an ambitious series of events taking place at the club’s home at Long Marston Airfield. Averaging around 15 to 20 teams at any one event, the inaugural series win went to Roy Wilding and his ‘Chariot of Fire’ slingshot.
For the first nine years the club ran its events within the track’s run what ya brung meetings but this then grew, as many wanted to also run at RAC/MSA level and at rounds held at the newly renamed Shakespeare County and Santa Pod Raceways. At these races, instead of running to the club’s traditional time trial format, teams would race in bracket-style eliminations at MSA events.
In the 1990s the nostalgia scene in UK drag racing was evolving with events like the Hot Rod Drags and the Nostalgia Nationals. The Wild Bunch committee constantly came up with fresh ideas to make their class more appealing. One such idea arose from a letter written by Roy to the ‘King of the Dragsters’, Don Garlits, to have an annual award presented at the season’s end in the great man’s name. A few days later, Roy received Don’s enthusiastic endorsement, and so the Don Garlits Spirit of Drag Racing Shield was born in 1996; a fantastic accolade for any individual or team who gets to be nominated, and especially for the winner. The award recognised the recipient’s sporting values and virtues, dedication and achievements, all in the spirit of nostalgia drag racing.
Since those formative years, the Wild Bunch has grown from strength to strength with a fantastic line up of racers and machinery and a huge fan following. In 2001, Roy retired as Chairman to concentrate on developing his chassis building business while forging a new racing career with the Supercharged Outlaws but he will always be affectionately known to the Wild Bunch as ‘Little Daddy Roy’.
In 2002 ‘Crazy’ Chris Hartnell, owner and driver of Backdraft, the restored ‘Malibu Express’ slingshot dragster from the late sixties, was elected chairman, and together with partner Claire Meaddows, oversaw the running of the club until the end of 2014 when he retired. Since then Claire, along with a very supportive committee, has overseen the day to day running of the club.
The Wild Bunch have come a long way during the last quarter century and ensured that nostalgia drag racing continues to thrive in the UK. Everyone who has been involved has a passion for the sport, a burning desire to go fast safely but, most importantly of all, preserving our sport’s history. Even now, more vintage dragsters and altereds are being brought back to life, while new recreations are being built. Competition with a fun element is always at the forefront of every Wild Bunch racer’s mind, and it’s for these reasons we have inducted the Wild Bunch Nostalgia Drag Racing Club into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
Profile by Jeremy Cookson