Santa Pod Raceway
The finish line at Santa Pod Raceway
|Location||Poddington, Bedfordshire, England|
|Major events||FIA European Drag Racing Championship, UEM European Drag Racing Championship, British National Drag Racing Championships|
|Lap record||03.58 seconds (Sammy Miller, Vanishing Point Rocket, 1984, Funny Car)|
Santa Pod Raceway, in Bedfordshire, England, opened at Easter in 1966, is Europe's first permanent drag racing venue. It was built on a disused World War II American air base, RAF Podington, once used by the 92nd Bomber Group. It is now the home of European drag racing and has grown substantially over its 40-year existence. It hosts both the first and last round of the FIA and FIM/UEM European Drag Racing Championship, along with the British National Drag Racing Championships.
It is leased and operated by Trakbak Racing which is based in London. Santa Pod regularly takes its promotional units to major events in motor sport and contributes much to the local community.
Santa Pod is the venue in which the current world drag racing record, a time of 3.58 seconds at 386.26 mph (621.61 km/h) was set by Sammy Miller in his Vanishing Point rocket-propelled funny car in July 1984. Another record has also been set at Santa Pod, the world's fastest jet car (notably Santa Pod's "resident") Fireforce 3 piloted by Martin Hill broke the record in Easter 2005 with a terminal speed of 336.10 mph (540.88 km/h). Several other European drag racing records have been set along with records unsurpassed outside the USA. In May 2010 Top Fuel dragster driver Urs Erbacher set a class speed record with a terminal speed of 314.87 mph reached in less than 5 seconds. At the same race meeting Eric Teboul set a time of 5.23 seconds at 249 mph on his Hydrogen Peroxide Rocket Bike, which he further improved to 5.19 seconds at the European championships in September 2010.
Santa Pod remains the fastest all-asphalt dragstrip in the world since most North American tracks are partially or entirely concrete in construction.
The history of UK drag racing and Santa Pod
Tucked away in the village of Podington, Bedfordshire near the town of Rushden, Northamptonshire, Santa Pod Raceway has earned the reputation as the home of European drag racing. It features the most powerful car and bike engines in Europe.
The early days of drag racing took place in California on the west coast of the United States. Hot Rodders had been participating in speed runs on the dry lakes organised by the Southern California Timing Association prior to World War Two. However, it is generally accepted that drag racing began following the end of the war as GI's came home to the USA looking for some excitement. With little money and much ingenuity, many invested in modifying their cars, stripping them down to build a hot rod for more speed and acceleration. This led to street racing taking place between two cars at stoplights, from intersection to intersection, as portrayed in many exploitation movies of the 1950s. Often clandestine races would take place outside of town, with racers shutting off rural highways and racing over a measured quarter mile, which lead to conflict with the police. Wally Parks, founder of the NHRA, played a major part in establishing drag racing as a legitimate motor sport at sanctioned tracks. As the sport grew a speed equipment industry grew up with it, with companies like Edelbrock and that of Dean Moon burgeoning in California, leading to the establishment of SEMA in 1963. For reasons of safety and business the sport needed to operate within the law.
The UK already had a long history of racing in a straight line, going right back to the Bexhill Speed Trials of May 1902, the Blackpool Speed Trials of October 1904 and the Brighton Speed Trials of July 1905. When interest in drag racing grew among the British motor sporting fraternity in the late nineteen fifties and early sixties it was able to draw on established practice in sprinting, hillclimbing and record-breaking. Drag racing was also able to attract racers on a very low budget who had no background in other forms of racing. Denis Jenkinson did much to promote drag racing in the pages of Motor Sport magazine. Sydney Allard, a former hillclimb champion, and considered by many to be the father of British drag racing, built the Allard dragster in 23 weeks between January and June 1961 at Adlards Garage, Clapham, in London. The car featured a 354 cubic inch Chrysler motor with front-mounted 6-71 GMC blower. Some speed equipment for the car was imported from Dean Moon in California.
Drag racing took off in the UK during the 1960s when, as in the USA, many of the old disused airstrips around the country were pressed into service. They were often rough and unsuitable for the increasing speeds. Allard was instrumental in bringing Dante Duce, accompanied by Dean Moon, and Mickey Thompson to England in 1963 to demonstrate their dragsters. Duce appeared at Silverstone on September 10 (press demonstration); with Thompson joining in at the Brighton Speed Trials on September 14; Church Lawford, near Rugby, on September 21 and Debden, Essex, September 22, 1963. Sydney Allard was awarded the SEMA trophy for his performances at the races. He followed this with the International Drag Festivals held in England in 1964 and 1965, featuring US dragsters and drivers. The 1964 Drag Festival was held at the following venues: Blackbushe Airport, nr Camberley, Surrey, (twice: Sat 19 Sep, Sun 4 Oct), which was still an operational airport; RAF Chelveston, Northants, (Sun Sep 20); RAF Woodvale, nr Southport, Lancashire (Sat 26 Sep); RAF Church Fenton, nr Tadcaster, Yorkshire, (Sun 27 Sep); RAF Kemble, nr Cirencester, Gloucestershire, (Sat 3 Oct). The Second International Drag Festival was held at Blackbushe Airport, Sat/Sun 25/26 September 1965, and RAF Woodvale, Sun 3 October 1965. That there was keen interest in drag racing was beyond doubt as hundreds turned up at Blackbushe Airport on September 25, 1966, to see a non-existent race.
Meanwhile the search was on for a permanent home. Podington airfield, near the villages of Hinwick and Podington, was formerly a wartime airbase used by the USAAF during the Second World War. In 1966 permission was obtained to use the airfield as a drag racing complex, the ¾ of a mile main runway being used as the drag strip. The track was named Santa Pod after the Santa Ana strip in America, combined with the name of the local village of Podington. Since then the name Santa Pod has become synonymous with the sport of drag racing in Europe. Today the raceway hosts events throughout the year including the FIA European Drag Racing Championships and the 'Run What You Brung' (RWYB) events where anyone with a valid driving licence can have a go and put their own vehicles and skills to the test. This also serves as a "grass roots" recruitment ground, as many who start by running their road vehicle on the track for bragging rights often progress to the next level and become competitors in National Events after obtaining a licence from the official sanctioning body MSA. The sportsman classes, also very popular with fans, are enriched by this inflow of new racers who fall in love with the sport after a fun weekend in their every day vehicles.
47-year-old Briton Perry Watkins achieved some celebrity status in September, 2010 when his racing vehicle, decorated as a formal dining table complete with tablecloth, chairs, place settings, food and various vessels and dubbed "The Fast Food" performed 2 runs at Santa Pod, topping out at 130 mph and achieving an average speed of 113.8 mph. He hopes this achievement, which bested a 92-mph sofa setting the world record in 2007, is officially recognized by Guinness World Records.
- "Eurodragster Website: Easter Thunderball 2005 Event Coverage".
- "Eurodragster Website: European Bests".
- "SantaPod Website: Season Review 2010".
- See: Heart Like a Wheel, a 1983 movie about Shirley Muldowney, the first woman to reach the top in the macho world of drag racing who became a three-time NHRA Winston world champion in top fuel cars, the ultimate machines in the quarter mile world. Historically her career began as a street racer, which is shown in the film, but beware of Hollywood embroidery.
See: Rapping with the Don, an interview with "Big Daddy" Don Garlits on his return to the UK to race at Santa Pod in 1976, published in the UK's Custom Car magazine that year. Also see Don Garlits’ book King of the Dragsters.
See: Robert C Post's High Performance, The Culture and Technology of Drag Racing, 1994. Mr. Post, curator of the Smithsonian Institution of Natural History, states: "sometime close to the midpoint of the 20th century an activity was invented – or again for precision, an activity invented previously was endowed with formal sanction." Mr Post's book has remained the most informative publication available on our sport, and from the first of many readings I have agreed with the quote from "Big Daddy" Don Garlits on the back cover of the book: "This will be the bible of drag racing for future generations." (Mike Collins, British drag racing pioneer, writer, photographer)
- Wally Parks, Drag Racing: Yesterday and Today, Trident Press, New York, 1966.
- Note: The Allard Dragster is in the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, Hampshire, England. An effort is underway in 2009 to restore it mechanically so that it can take part in "cacklefests." See: Allard Chrysler Action Group: 
- Motor Sport, September 1961, Page 756; Hot Rod Magazine, March, 1962, Pages 76-79.
- Motor Sport, November 1963, Page 864.
- The Times, Sep 26, 1966 - "Non-meeting was rather a drag."
- "Man takes dinner table to 130 mph".
- Crazy horses: the history of British drag racing by Brian Taylor, foreword by Don Garlits, Haynes Pub., 2009, ISBN 978-1-84425-425-5