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Mixed Emotions at Main Event

Switzerland's Bruno Bader burns out in his Corvette Pro Mod

1.6.06. European drag racing continues to develop and grow, as witnessed by the fabulous turnout of cars and competitors for the “Main Event” at Santa Pod Raceway last weekend.  Britain’s premier drag strip has also seen some improvements for 2006, with a massive expanse of new tarmac for competitors, plus other useful additions.  Traditionalists, however, will be pleased to know that the “barn”, which overlooks the pre-stage area, remains unchanged and intact. 

Sadly, what the organisers don’t have within their power is the ability to change the unpredictable nature of English weather, which for drag racers is the ultimate nemesis.  As a case in point, sudden downpours last Saturday culminated in a six-hour delay to the racing, from mid-morning to early evening, and meant that track officials had to run the meeting well into the evening gloom to catch up.  For those fans who decided enough was enough, however, they were given free entry to Sunday’s action.

Pro Stock action on Sunday

The situation was much better the following day, as the weather pattern had shifted.  It was cold, but at least the sun was shining, and the facility was heaving with fans, many of whom were returning after Saturday’s wash-out.  Early morning arrivals had to endure a one-hour delay just to get in, such were the numbers of spectators heading for the track, but fans can’t have gone away too disappointed in terms of value for money, as the racing ran through until 9.00pm.

It's about 9.00pm on Sunday evening and the staging lanes are still busy 

What makes the Main Event such a great drag racing showcase is the International flavour attached to an amazing selection of top-quality cars and bikes, plus highly competitive drivers and riders, all keen to show the Brits a thing or two about hardcore racing.  This was particularly evident in all of the Pro classes, (the fastest and most expensive in which to run), which would be decimated without the healthy influx of foreign competitors.  Nowhere could this be more clearly seen than in the burgeoning Pro Mod category, with 19 of the 24 competitors hailing from Scandinavia or the Netherlands – and it’s the same story in Top Fuel, Top Methanol Dragster/Funny Car and Pro Stock.

Urs Erbacher's crew hurriedly rebuild the car for the next round

But why is that?  “The more serious players with appropriate funding are to be found in Scandinavia,” says drag racing journalist and DRC contributor, Andy Willsheer, while Top Fuel racer, Andy Carter, adds, “The standard of living is higher in Scandinavian countries, and as a result, there seems to be more corporate funding available, which racers are able to attract.”  Various sources estimate that a realistic budget to put on a show in Top Fuel for a season is £250,000, although we understand that some teams are currently operating on both far more, and far less, than that. 

Fabulous paintwork on Seppo Saapola's Chrysler 300 Pro Mod

Suitably menacing from any angle

Whatever the budget, though, as long as teams in Europe can continue to find the support required, then drag racing fans can look forward to some great entertainment.  The sight of 24 Pro Mods in the fire-up road was almost as exciting as seeing them perform on track.  New to us this year was the fabulously turned out, multi-flamed Chrysler 300 Pro Mod of Finland’s Seppo Saapola.  Fittingly, the road-going Chrysler 300 was the first true American muscle car, and this ‘60s-bodied version was a real caricature of that big, bold American icon.  Seppo qualified the car 16th, running in the seven-second bracket, but unfortunately, exited the field early in eliminations on Monday, when his engine went bang mid-track. 

it was good to see and hear Ray White's Zephyr on track

Ray White’s amazing, Pro Mod 1960s Zephyr was another vehicle making its debut last weekend – and an all-British combination at that.  It was great to see the car performing on track after it proved to be one of the stars of last February’s Xtreme Wheels Show, where it made its first public appearance.  Ray was apparently very pleased with his off-the-trailer 7.81/169 charge, and rightly so.  It wasn’t enough to make the top 16 Pro Mod cut, but it hints at the car’s undoubted potential.

Urban Johansson was the cream of Pro Mod in his 'vette

 In truth, Pro Mod at this event was really all about Urban Johansson and his 1963, replica-bodied Corvette.  He qualified in the No 1 spot with a 6.29/221 charge, and then went on to take the event win with a new European record setting 6.25/225 blast while defeating Micke Gullquist in his bright red, ‘57 Chevy Bel Air.    Freddy Fragerstrom also rates a special mention here for qualifying a pick-up truck with the aerodynamics of a brick in second spot, with a 6.33/220 run.  Freddy rightly retains his title as driver of the world’s fastest pick-up truck and king of the Pro Mod burnouts.

Freddy Fragestrom's truck was sporting a new weathered paint job, complete with peeling chrome effect bumpers

Sammi Saapola's fabulously turned out Chevy Coupe

Top Fuel qualifying saw three cars hit 4.8 seconds over the quarter mile in qualifying.  Tommy Moller was in top spot with a 4.81/303, while Hakan Nilsson, who moved up to Top Fuel this season from Pro Mod, was just behind with a 4.86/306, and Lex Joon was a whisker away, in third spot, with a 4.87/239 blast.  It augured well for Monday’s quarter-finals.

Lex Joon adds a bit of warmth to the air en route to a 4.8 sec pass.
Photo courtesy of Gary Cottingham,

Ultimately, though, the Top Fuel show proved to be something of a damp squib for spectators, as car after car failed to live up to expectations.  Firstly, Tommy Moller’s car lost fire, and Urs Erbacher was called in as first alternate, but then he experienced a fire mid-track, which meant Smax Smith, who lost a blower belt, could progress to the semis.  Andy Carter defeated team mate, Thomas Nataas, when the latter’s car went up in smoke after overpowering the track.  Hakan Nilsson suffered the same fate while up against Mikael Kagered.  The only real race was between Hakan Fallstrom and Lex Joon, Fallstrom recording an excellent 5.0/283 to Joon’s losing 5.82/160 pass.

As the afternoon unfolded, it was to be Smax Smith versus Andy Carter and Mikael Kagered up against Hakan Fallstrom in the semi-finals – on paper, at least!  In reality, Andy couldn’t get his car started, and Smax trickled through the lights on tickover en route to the final.  Mikael Kagered failed to show, which left Hakan Fallstrom in a similar position, and he, too, decided to save his motor and idle up the track.  For drag racing fans who had made the trip especially to see and hear the awesome spectacle of Top Fuel, this was a major disappointment – but at least there was the final to look forward to.

Tommy Moller in one of two Pennzoil Top Fuel entries  
Photo courtesy Gary Cottingham

Hakan Fallstrom disposed of Smax Smith in the Top Fuel final.
Photo courtesy Richard Stirling

Unfortunately, judging by the mass exodus from the track that occurred after the heavens opened at about 3.30pm, it’s doubtful many fans, other than those of the hardcore variety, stayed on to see racing re-commence at about 5.30pm.   If they had, though, they would have seen a really excellent final between Smax Smith and Hakan Fallstrom, with the Swedish driver taking the win with a 5.02/282 against Smax’s close 5.08/288. 

Rob Turner made it to the final but lost out to Germany's Peter Schofer

Peter Schofer (far lane) stamped his authority in TM Dragster

In Top Methanol Dragster, defending Champion, Dave Wilson, had his work cut out in a six-strong field.  He made it all the way to the semis, where he lost out to eventual class winner, Peter Schofer – despite running a faster time than his rival.  Schofer, who was reading the lights perfectly all weekend, then met Rob Turner in the final, and again cut a great light to leave first and record a well-deserved event win, with a 5.46/258 to Turner’s losing 5.61/236.

Leif Andréasson's smart new Dodge was the event winner in TM funny car 

The final of Top Methanol Funny Car was an all-Swedish affair, which pitted Ulf Leanders in his Firebird against the Swedish Armed Forces-backed Dodge Stratus of Leif Andréasson.  A great holeshot by Andréasson, backed up with a strong 5.773/245 pass, was enough to beat Leanders, who lost with a 5.930/246.

Michael Malmgren's progress in Pro Stock ended in spectacular fashion - photo courtesy Gary Cottingham of

In Pro Stock, there were plenty of surprises.  Michael Malmgren’s weekend ended in disaster when his Pontiac Grand Am turned violently right and walloped the track barriers.  Fortunately, Malmgren was unhurt, but the same couldn’t be said for his car.  The major Pro Stock upset came in the final, however, when Finland's Eero Knihtila came up against last year’s winner, Jimmy Alund, in his ultra-fast Firebird.  It seemed a foregone conclusion that Alund, who had been dipping into the sixes all weekend, would take the win, but nobody had told Knihtila, who eased his Chevy Cavalier past the Pontiac in the final to take the event win with a 7.032/192 to a losing 7.151/194.

Eero Knihtila sneaked past Jimmy Alund in the final to take the win.
Photo courtesy of Gary Cottingham, 

One of the highlights of the entire weekend was undoubtedly Nick Davis’s masterful control of the beautiful Havoc Fuel Altered.  Inspired by those awesome cars of the ‘70s, with its short wheelbase, big blown motor and Bantam body, it must be a real handful to drive, but it didn’t seem to bother Nick, as he laid down some of the longest, most spectacular burnouts of the meeting.  Impressively, he then backed up the crowd-pleasing showmanship with a number of really solid runs – culminating in a best of 7.29/195.  As those who have seen this car will know, it is beautifully turned out and a real credit to all of those responsible for it.

The Havoc team put on a real show for the fans with plenty of demo runs throughout the weekend

Now a Fuel Altered may be a handful for its driver, but it’s the two-wheeled racers who are undoubtedly the real heroes of drag racing, and despite strong crosswinds in Monday’s finals, they put on a spectacular show for the fans.   In Super Twin Bike, Sweden’s Anders Karling took pole with a great 6.53/190 run.  He met current champion, Ronny Aasen, in the final and disposed of him with a 6.57/181, ending a perfect weekend for the Swede.

Anders Karling took the event win in Super Twin (near lane)

In Top Fuel Bike, Holland's Roel Koedam was on form with a 6.575/150 to earn top-qualifier spot, and went on to claim the class title.  Despite a strong showing by Tim Blakemore and Neil Midgley, who both ran well into the sixes, there was just no stopping Koedam on this occasion.  The final could have been a disappointment for the fans, as Koedam had a solo run, but he put on a real show and recorded a fabulous 6.10/227 on his way to the win. 

Reigning Super Twin champion Ronny Aasen lost out in the final 

While there was a predominantly British entry in Pro Stock bike, an all-Swedish final was always on the cards when Anders Abrahamsson began to blitz the field.  In the final, he met Anders Jakobsson, and the race was won at the start when Abrahamsson read a better light, left first and stormed down the track in a scorching 7.295/178 to a losing 7.785/157.

Despite the intervention of the rain gods, notably on Saturday and Monday, this year’s Main Event attracted an official four-day total of  over 20,000 spectators.  There were predictable results and surprising upsets.  There were scary incidents and sublime moments.  Above all, though, there was some great competition and real depth in virtually all of the classes, a fact that was clearly reflected in ETs and terminal speeds.  On the evidence of last weekend, there is every indication we could be in for a classic European drag racing season.

The Main Event certainly attracts an international audience

Story: Andy Kirk & Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk - unless captioned otherwise

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