I, like many others who partake in any way in our sport, was saddened to hear of the passing of Dennis Priddle last week on 28th April 2021. He was 75, and passed away due to breathing complications following a fall. I doubt that many people who are on the British drag racing scene haven’t heard of Dennis Priddle, also known as Mister Six, and his fame doesn’t just stop on our shores. He was a man of international success, having competed in Europe and the States as well.
My first introduction to Priddle was seeing a Priddle-built rail and trailer come up for sale a few years ago as a roller. At the time, I had rose-tinted glasses and begged my partner for us to buy it. For once, HE was the sensible one and said ‘no’ (it’s usually me who has to be the voice of reason when it comes to project cars; yes, my garden and driveway looks like a scrapyard at all times). It became apparent from the listing and the comments that Priddle was quite some dragster builder and driver. It’s clear from his list of achievements that Priddle certainly lived life at 100mph… well, 248mph if we’re getting technical.
From 2 Wheels to 4
At the time that Dennis Priddle was introduced to drag racing, it was in its earliest form in the UK. Because of this, it comes as no surprise that Priddle didn’t enter the sport with gusto; no one did in the early 60s. Everything was still very primitive.
The story goes that the young Dennis Priddle started with aspirations to become a motorcycle circuit racer. This changed once he was taken to a motorcycle sprint circuit by a friend: straight lines obviously were a lot more appealing to Priddle than roundy-roundy racing after this first introduction.
His first entry to drag racing was a sprint motorcycle (powered by a 500cc Rudge motor) with his pal Tony Gane at the second International Drag Festival in September 1965 at Blackbushe. Seeing the 8 top fuel car lineup at this event was the moment that the 20 year old Priddle became determined to have his own top fueller one day, with him recalling “perhaps a life changing moment for me was seeing Buddy Cortines smoke the tires for the full quarter mile and run 200mph in the finals against Danny Ongais.”
Having completed a five year technical apprenticeship with Westland Helicopters, Priddle became skilled in designing and fabricating with a keen eye for details. This experience undoubtedly turned him into the talented car builder he became.
For the following season, Tony Gane, with Priddle’s help, constructed ‘Wicked Lady’: a small but mighty dragster using the 500cc Rudge motor from Priddle’s bike. With Priddle on crewing duties, Wicked Lady hung on to a 2.1 second advantage at the first British Drag Racing Championships in 1966, beating Les Turner’s blown 1500cc dragster and winning the handicap title. This was also the first year of racing at the brand new Santa Pod Raceway.
Priddle’s next dragster was built with Rex Sluggett, using a Keith Black blown and injected Hemi. After Rex broke his ankle before the team were competing in Sweden, Priddle took over driving duties of ‘Tudor Rose’, subsequently setting the quickest Swedish 1/4 mile run at the time with an 8.54 ET. Later that year they set the FIA record for a standing start of 8.296 seconds, followed by yet another record-breaking 8.20 second run at Santa Pod. These record-breaking runs were to set the precedent for Priddle’s racing career.
For the 1969 season, Priddle teamed up with David Riswick and John Wolfe Racing to field a Reliant GTE running a 427ci Chevy big block motor on alcohol. The car was a state of the art competition altered called ‘Whistler’. Yet again, Priddle drove the rat-powered Reliant to win Top Competition Altered at the 1969 Spring Match Race, Big Go meeting, British Drag Racing Championships and Spring Nationals. In total, Whistler racked up 17 seventeen final wins.
In 1970, Priddle stepped up to the fuel arena and built the AA/Fuel dragster ‘Quartermaster’, with a Sid Waterman built supercharged Chrysler motor. In this dragster he set a 193mph record at Santa Pod, before crashing through some marker boards in the shut off area after oil splashed on his goggles. Dennis was unhurt however the car was a bit worse for wear. In my opinion, Quartermaster was one of the best looking nostalgia dragsters built in this era.
Up to know, Priddle had certainly been taking both the British and Scandinavian drag racing events by storm. His crowning victory, however, came on the 28th May 1972. At the Whitsun Big Go meeting at Santa Pod Raceway, Priddle blasted over the finished line stopping the clocks with a 6.995 second elapsed time, and into the history books with the first 6 second run outside of North America. From then on out, Priddle (and his new dragster) were known as Mister Six. This is undoubtedly the moment that Priddle is most famed for, and cemented his place in the minds of drag racing fans across the world, not just in Britain.
In 1973 Dennis Priddle and Clive Skilton made history and became the first UK drivers to race on US soil at the Winternationals in Pomona. They failed to qualify but Priddle returned with a great souvenir. Priddle and Skilton both went out to America with intentions of bringing back cars, and Priddle did just that, bringing back a state-of-the-art front-engined top fuel car.
In May 1973, Custom Car said “Anyone who’s ever complained about a lack of big fuelers should never have to worry again. This year they are almost coming out of the ground. First, reigning Champion Dennis Priddle will have perhaps the ultimate front-motor car. Dennis built this car in the States, using a Woody Gilmore chassis with Donovan 417 for power. This will be the first car to leave the shores of the US with the potent all-aluminium motor, and must start the season as favourite. As you will probably have seen, Dennis will carry the Revell name as well as 208 and John Wolfe Racing, while the Croydon based Queensway Travel Services will also be helping out, as if that weren’t enough, Custom Car will back the car too, making it somewhat of a mobile Billboard!”
This year he also debuted a blown Chrysler Avenger-bodied AA/Fuel funny car in addition to the dragsters he was running. He continued his record-breaking performances with this flopper.
In April 1975, Priddle broke world ET records for FEDs with a 6.04 run at 218mph in his Mr Revell slingshot; this record was unbeaten up until the 1990s.
For 1977, Priddle set a new speed record of 230mph in the ex-Garlits ‘King Rat’ top fueller at the Easter Springnationals. That same year he debuted a Chevrolet Monza funny car.
A British Drag Racing Legend
Dennis continued racing both dragsters and funny cars throughout the 70s and 80s, largely dominating the field. His list of accolades is astonishing, with claims to fame including setting pages of speed and elapsed time records throughout Great Britain and Europe (a lot in Scandinavian Countries), the first 6 second pass outside of North America, five season championships in a top fuel or funny car, two-time holder of the Federation International de Automobile/International Sprint Organisation elapsed time records, Custom Car’s 1977 Funny Car Driver of the Year title holder, the John Wolfe Racing 30th Anniversary Drag Racing Reunion Lifetime Achievement Award (what a mouthful) holder in 1998 and British Drag Racing Hall of Fame inductee in 2006.
Dennis Priddle’s contributions to both national and international drag racing have made a lasting impact on the sport, as well as in the memories of those who knew him or saw him race. For myself, a relative latecomer to the sport, I can only imagine what those early days must’ve been like with the likes of Priddle constantly pushing the boundaries of what both car and driver can do. He is immortalised in his physical work, career and in the memories of drag racing fans across the globe.
Written by Niamh Smith.
Images belong to respective owners