After a long winter of upgrades, bad weather and not seeing your Santa Pod family, all that a drag racer is hankering for is that first meeting of the season. Pair that with a global pandemic meaning you only saw two meetings the previous year and some of the most miserable weather for the last few months, that hankering turns into desperation.
After the cancellation of UK Nostalgia Superstock’s first round at the NSRA Nostalgia Nationals due to Coronavirus, the round was rescheduled to run alongside with Santa Pod’s VW Breakout event. After the horrid weather at Springspeed Nationals the previous weekend, everyone must’ve kept all their fingers and toes crossed for this weekend. It clearly worked, resulting in a glorious weekend for racers, crew, spectators, and Santa Pod themselves, with many people returning home on the Sunday with the dreaded ‘pod tan’ and not-so-dreaded personal best ETs.
Here’s my roundup of what turned out to be an absolutely cracking weekend of racing and catching up with much-missed friends.
Journey to the ‘Pod
After the alarm going off at 5am, hurriedly packing my clothes and forcing Jake to turn around after initially setting off as we’d left a birthday gift on the kitchen work surface, we were finally on the road heading towards Holy Ground. We spent a good hour of our journey talking about everything we’d missed about going racing and why we were so excited to see all of our friends.
We arrived at 08:40, and after being shown to our pit space next to our private duckpond (a huge puddle), we began getting Flag Jumper off the trailer and setting up our new-for-this-season gazebo (much to my chagrin – I don’t do tents), we started getting reacquainted with our fellow Super Stock members who we hadn’t seen for far too long.
The original plan was to not take part in the Friday ‘Run What Ya Brung’ session to keep costs low and just go for it on the Saturday eliminations. However, after speaking to our friends Billy and Stacey, who were taking part on the Friday, we managed to twist Jake’s arm to dash down to the signing on office to buy a ticket for the RWYB.
We were largely going into the unknown with the Dart this season; apart from a dyno day at John Sleath Race Cars’ on the Monday of that week (talk about last minute) we had no clue how the car would perform. Over winter, Jake had installed a new Holley 750cfm double pumper carburetor as well as an Edelbrock single-plane Victor intake manifold. After two failed attempts with other manifolds, the car staying in one piece for the dyno gave us some confidence for the track after a 306hp pull at the wheels.
The lanes weere much quieter than expected, and after the lunch break we cruised down to the pairing lanes ready for the car’s first run since the 2020 Nostalgia Drags. After watching Jake in for a big smoky burnout – as always – I was full of anticipation. Jake was convinced the car would run slower, likely the pessimistic side of him coming out.
After a nice hard launch and straight-as-an-arrow run, the car ran an 11.82 second elapsed time. We were chuffed with this as the previous year the Dart was running consistent 11.9s.
After letting the car cool down for a bit, we went for another turn. This time, it ran a ridiculous 11.66 ET; a new PB for the car, its previous PB being an 11.74 back in 2019. After another run and yet another PB of 11.62, I said that I thought there’d be an 11.5 in the car at the event due to being on the rev limiter as it went through the traps on the 3rd run. Unfortunately, the rain stopped play for about an hour and a half. The track crew dried and prepped the track, and Jake went out for two last runs, chasing that 11.5 but hotlapping round to run an 11.64 and an 11.70.
After the track shut, we ate our depressing dinner of Asda cold pasta salads and went round to the Santa Pod ‘pub’ area for a nightcap (or two).
We got an early start in the morning with the UK Nostalgia Superstock round 1 of qualifiers. After running an 11.72, Jake was number 8 qualifier after the first run.
The second round, however, was where we really had a treat. The hot sun meant the track was sticky and warm, but the air slightly cool from a very rare light tail wind, which made for good conditions. Flag Jumper ran a new PB of 11.5987 at 114.74mph, seeing us into the 11.5s where we had never been before. Of course it was a breakout, but no one cares about breaking out when you run a PB.
I didn’t even see the time and realise the run was a PB until I collected the timing ticket after watching our friend, Nick, in for his burnout with his Duster and stopping to watch the next round of Gasser Circus eliminations.
After a few more runs, and losing one run due to the schedule being pushed back for oil downs etc, we finished in 20th place for the qualifiers out of a 32 car field (some breakages meant the number was down from the original 34 car field).
Of course as well as Nostalgia Superstock some of the other regular classes from the nostalgia events were out in force after the yearly mass winter racecar hibernation. My other favourite class, Gasser Circus, had their first round too, with a few new cars in attendance like our friend Billy Jones’ Willys coupe and the beautifully turned out Tinseltown Hustler Ford Pop of Tom Margesson. The Pop was double classing in Outlaw Anglia, which is always a crowd favourite with Colin Millar, Simon Barlow, Jedd Guy and Jon Webster battling it out for the first 6 second run in their class. VWDRC were running a heads up championship this weekend with a mixture of classic, retro and modern Volkswagens making for an interesting mix. The Supercharged Outlaws were there, notably with an absence of European racers which always make the weekends so exciting. Lastly, there was Run What Ya Brung sessions all weekend as well as Wild Bunch dragsters en masse (however seemingly not in attendance as an official entered class).
After a brilliant day of racing, PBs and sunburnt spectators, we grabbed ourselves some food from the Pod café (special dietary requirements catered for) and gathered up a bag of cans to head down to the Gasser’s pits; it was Steph’s birthday so the Gasserettes had planned a little do for her and Patsy had brought a cake so we couldn’t miss out on that!
It was another early start for us on Sunday morning as Superstock were first on the track at 09:30. I was surprised to see that Jake was rather lively after watching him stumble back to the van the night before, and I think he was probably just as surprised that my head was okay after turning in at 2am like a dirty stop out.
We were up against Neil Francis in the first round, who was racing his ’73 Plymouth Duster. Surprisingly, Jake wasn’t first-round-fodder like usual and went through after Neil popped a cherry on the tree. Jake ran an 11.64 on an ambitious 11.57 dial in.
For the second round, we were taking on good friend Stuart Thompson AKA Kiwi in his Arlen Vanke 1970 Plymouth Duster (you’ve probably noticed a theme with Dusters here!). Despite a close 11.60 second run on an 11.59 dial in, it wasn’t quite enough as Kiwi took the win light. Seemingly the race was won and lost on the tree, and Jake’s 0.19 reaction time wasn’t cutting it. At least we made it to the second round for a nice change!
For us, drag racing is less about competition and more about having fun, so we never look upon getting knocked out early as a bad thing. We saw it as an opportunity to sit and watch some drag racing from the stands in the sunshine and (for me at least) to crack open a cider. After knocking our camp flat and loading up the trailer ready for after the finals, we got the chance to catch a few rounds, including an all-Mopar semi-final of Superstock.
For the final, Dave Billadeau, in his beautifully turned-out ’73 Dodge Challenger, was against Rob Tyrell in his ‘Revenge’ ’65 Dodge Coronet 500. Dave took the win and the first trophy of the 2021 Superstock season, after running consistently all weekend in his new car and also running its first 9 second pass the previous day.
For the Gasser Circus, it was ‘Wobbly’ Graham Barton in his Austin Devon taking on Nick Barnett in his Ford Falcon. We watched from the stands with the rest of the Gasser Circus drivers and crew in anticipation, as the two cars crossed the lines and the win light came on for Nick. We watched the prize giving ceremony for both classes, with Nick Brooke Langham, the ringleader of the Gasser Circus, summing up perfectly what an amazing weekend it had been.
The drag race Gods were certainly looking down on everyone that weekend. Save for a few unfortunate near misses on the track and a couple of cars breaking, everything was just so perfect and it was more than anyone could have wished for. Perfect weather, a great attendance and the Flag Jumper running so well all weekend left us driving out the gates with huge grins on our faces (despite feeling a little broken from exhaustion and adrenaline as we always are).
As we tucked the car away in the unit, we reminded ourselves that the best thing is that we get to do it all again in 6 weeks time when we’ll be heading down for Dragstalgia; one of THE best events in the European drag racing calendar.
Written by Niamh Smith