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Easter Thunderball marks 40th anniversary

21.4.06. Amazingly, it’s 40 years since Santa Pod Raceway opened its doors to the UK’s drag racing fraternity, and last weekend’s Easter Thunderball marked the official anniversary of that auspicious occasion.

Micke Kagered took the Pro Fuel event win

 If you were expecting to find banners at the track entrance, T-shirts and memorabilia on sale, or historic drag racing cars on show to mark the occasion, however, then you would have been disappointed.  The Pod’s 40th anniversary was celebrated in decidedly low-key fashion.

Ian Turboville's fab new 160 cu in Harley is said to develop 800hp, however, he lost out to Roel Koedam (far lane) who later went on to take the ACU Top Fuel Bike event win

What the organisers did manage to pull off on the Saturday, though, was a re-creation of those flag starts of yesteryear, with former Chief Starter, Stu Bradbury, flamboyantly waving off a couple of altereds and slingshot dragsters from the Wild Bunch circus.   Autograph hunters were also kept busy, with former four-wheeled racers, Dennis Priddle, Russ Carpenter, Gerry Andrews, Dave Stone, Pete Crane and Roz Prior, supported by two-wheeled racers, John Hobbs, Ian Messenger, Derek Chinn and Brian Johnson, all in attendance during the course of the day.  Add in former commentator, Brian Taylor, starter Stu Bradbury and JWR’s Dave Riswick – who must have taken the long-distance award, coming all the way from Hawaii – and you had the ingredients in place for a great trip down British drag racing’s memory lane. 

Top Row Left to Right: Brian Taylor, Brian Johnson, John Hobbs, Gerry Andrews, Ian Messenger, Derek Chinn & Peter Crane. Bottom Row Left to Right: Dave Stone, Roz Prior, Dennis Priddle, Stuart Bradbury & Russ Carpenter.
© Roger Gorringe - NITRO exposure.

As for the Easter Thunderball itself, so popular was the event with competitors that it was well over-subscribed.  A great turnout of cars swelled most ranks, and eight entries in the Pro Car category, comprising five dragsters and three funny cars, looked particularly promising – especially as they would be running together.

Five top fuel dragsters were entered, including Tommy Moller's projectile

As you might expect, a good many cars were making their debuts, the late-model Corvette of Dutch competitor, Robert Joosten, being one of them.  The yellow ‘Vette performed as well as it looked, and as Robert acclimatised to his new ride during the course of the weekend, the times tumbled, his best run being an impressive 6.71/211mph on Monday afternoon.

Robert Joosten's Vette & crew made a promising debut in Pro Mod

The fabulously re-painted Green Goblin Ford Crown Victoria-bodied Pro Mod of Mats Eriksson was also on form over the weekend, recording 6.34/227mph to make it the quickest Pro Mod of the event.

With paintwork this good, the bonnet of Mats Erilsson's Ford would look equally at home on the wall of an art gallery

One other notable newcomer to the Pro Mod ranks was the remarkable Mr Mopar entry of John O’Sullivan.  “Remarkable” is probably an understatement, as John’s drag racing recipe involves putting a 2000hp Hemi into a Ford Popular.  With a wheelbase shorter than a fuel altered, the formula is clearly in place for a wild ride.  The car looked truly fab, and came with the stirring audio track you’d expect of an alcohol burner, but was predictably outrageous off the line, even getting onto two wheels on one occasion.   This is going to be one very popular Pop with the photographers and fans.

Make a note to watch this car next time you are at the 'Pod - wild!

Then there was Matt Eley’s more conservative, but equally outstanding, Risky Trip Ford Popular in the Pro ET class.  Done ‘60s gasser style, with beautiful orange paintwork, gold leaf lettering and pinstriping by Neil Melliard, plus an equally special interior by Neil Tadman, it was beautifully turned out.

Matt Eley's fabulous gasser inspired Pop was a real nostalgia trip

Craig Gibbs runs this beautifully turned out Camaro

After a somewhat shaky start last year, the nostalgia Fuel Altered class came good at this event with a solid field of nine entries, headed in performance by Frank Bennett’s Topolino on 7.29/184mph.  Three more cars were running around the mid-seven mark, with Clayton Round recording a 7.36/182mph charge in his T-bodied machine, Bob Glassup’s Topo entry on 7.41/186mph and Nick Davis’ new Bantam-bodied, traditional short-wheelbase Havoc, built by the ICE men, recording 7.42/185mph.  The pairing of the latter two provided one if the highlights of the weekend, Bob Glassup taking the win in a catch-up race by just 0.3 sec.

Nick Davis had Havoc on full throttle all weekend and produced some wild burnouts, much to the delight of the fans

Frank Bennett's freshly painted Topo set the Fuel Altered benchmark for low ET - seen here holeshotting Clayton round's Rebel T

Tony Betts burns out in the T-bodied altered 

This was the first time the Easter Thunderball event had been run over four days, and predictably enough, the weather played a major part in proceedings.  There was a four-hour rain delay on Sunday afternoon, but fortunately, the track’s 9.00pm curfew meant that racing could continue well into the evening, which was just as well, since the day’s action eventually concluded at 8.30pm.  It was Monday, though, when the weather gods really got in on the act.  

Pleasantly mad Frenchman Eric Teboul ran his rocket bike to a best of 6.0/200mph on Saturday, although he has run it down into the 5s

There was sunshine and solid racing throughout the morning and early afternoon, but then sporadic showers set in, to the frustration of all concerned.  A pattern soon developed: the track dried, a couple of cars were run down the strip; it rained, we waited, the track dried, another couple of cars were let loose . . . and then it rained again.  It was drag racing’s equivalent of Ground Hog Day. 

Lorenz Stauble leans hard right to avoid the retaining wall

In between the showers, though, the conclusion of ACU Top Fuel Bike was decided when Roel Koedam streaked to a 6.14/224mph win over an off-par Lorenz Stauble’s 9.14/96, when he backed off to miss the retaining wall.  The Pro Fuel class was won by Micke Kagered’s dragster, which edged out John Spuffard’s Funny Car 5.18/230 to 5.63/190mph respectively.  Top Methanol was the domain of Rob Turner, when Dave Wilson rolled into stage with a damaged car, and Mats Eriksson took Pro Mod with the Green Goblin Ford simply by staging and then shutting off prior to another downpour.

Eriksson disposed of Bert Englefield's Ford coupe en route to the final of Pro Mod

Eventually, the meeting was cancelled just before 8.00pm, with all of the other finals succumbing to the weather.

Despite the showers, it was great to be back at Britain’s most famous drag strip, and the healthy crowd and impressive entry list ensured that Santa Pod’s 40th Anniversary was a memorable occasion for all concerned.  

Pro Fuel Final (mpg - 6mb)

Santa Pod organised plenty of side attractions to keep fans and family entertained, including these sky-high freestyle motocross riders

VW pick-up/coffee shop - now that's what I call vehicle utilisation

Brian Burrows owns this Cal-look Beetle on Porsche rims.  It looked the business and ran 12s quarters

Story & photos:  Andy Kirk


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