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Jet Power Rules at Easter Thunderball

Martin Hill on his record breaking run

Jet Power Rules at Easter Thunderball
30.3.05. Jet power brought an explosive start to the new drag racing season at Santa Pod’s Easter Thunderball over March 26-28 with a new world record top speed for jet funny car driver Martin Hill, who literally blasted his way into the history books with a  336.10mph terminal speed (5.793 seconds).  In doing so, Hill beat the previous 330.90mph figure held by US jet dragster pilot Bill Mattio.

"We've done lots of testing recently and everything we've been working on seems to have finally come together,” said Martin. “The cool atmospheric conditions of the Easter weekend here at Santa Pod have helped to get maxim power and enable the jet to operate at optimum efficiency."

The jet powered funny car wasn’t the only aviation powered device to warm up the fans over the weekend - it was a case of jets galore with Ronnie Picardo’s VW Beetle flame thrower and Michael Kooy’s seriously mad quad bike providing entertainment for the fans.  If the insane notion of a jet quad bike doesn’t grab your attention then how about Eric Teboul’s rocket powered drag bike which whooshed up the quarter mile in under six seconds.

Ronnie Picardo turns up the heat in the Blue Max bug

Though the weather may have been cool and dull over the Saturday and Sunday, the on track action was definitely hot, with numerous records being set in the various classes.  Come Monday’s eliminations and the spring sunshine pushed through the clouds to record a heady 15deg C temperature, making it a far more pleasant experience for racers and spectators alike as well as putting some warmth into the track.

So what’s new for fans and spectators at Santa Pod this year?  New tarmac sections in the paddock and food mall area on the other side of the track now feature, plus there’s more of the black stuff in the VIP and hospitality area - including a new car park.  This will hopefully mean an end to the muddy quagmire of a Santa Pod downpour for both racers and spectators alike.  Track safety improvements include new 1.2 metre concrete barriers extending beyond the quarter mile and continuing right through the shutdown area. 

Track owner Keith Bartlett was understandably upbeat about the recent changes.  “We’re pleased with the progress we’ve made but in truth there’s still a long way to go.  The knack is to keep improving the facility while keeping it a profitable venue. We’re expanding gradually and sensibly, it’s been my attitude all along since I bought this facility. Later this year we’ll tarmac the staging lanes and more in the pit area too."

"As for the Easter Thunderball, we've put a lot of effort in to making this event more of a spectacle for all concerned with improved on and off track activities, and we’re pleased with the result – It’s a step up from last year’s event,” Keith concluded.

The changes to Santa Pod’s facilities appear to be universally welcomed.  Drag racer Jon Webster said that the walled shut off area made him feel much safer – especially when one of his ‘chutes failed – "and the car bounced a foot in the air and ended up 10ft from the end of the track.”  Stu Bradbury, former Chief Starter at the ‘Pod said that in all his time at the facility he’d never witnessed such investment – “which has to be great for the sport.” 

In the paddock, it was hats off to Andy Carter for securing the support of B&Q - probably the biggest brand name to enter UK drag racing.  “This two year deal means an awful lot to us,” says Andy.  “We now have the stability to go forward with a two year plan.  This deal will ensure we have the best possible parts to run on the car, which in turn will ensure it remains competitive.  Part of the B&Q deal includes taking the spare car to 15 B&Q outlets throughout the year and this will provide a great attraction for shoppers as well as bringing more spectators into the sport.”

Andy goes into Cossack mode in celebration of his new sponsor
photo: courtesy

Guy Burtenshaw B&Q’s Project Manager explained how the deal came about. “I first came in contact with Andy about two years ago. By chance we asked him to attend an initial roadshow to promote B&Q products and it went down very well.  We have remained in touch ever since and when the opportunity came in October of last year to put together a full programme in support of Power Tools, it seemed a logical progression.  Strictly speaking we don’t sponsor individuals (Ellen MacArthur being the exception) but we can see this partnership having great mutual benefit – a Top Fuel dragster in a B&Q car park along with a support trailer and our own demonstration trailer will be a great attraction for our trade customers and the public.”

B&Q unveiled the biggest power tool of them all - a Top Fuel dragster!

Back on track, Andy continued his winning ways by taking the orange and black liveried B&Q Top Fuel car into the final on its first outing and was only narrowly beaten at the finish line (by nineteen inches) by Norway’s Tomas Nataas driving the Batmobil car – 5.05/283 versus Andy’s 5.04/274.62 charge.   However, quickest car of the weekend was Jon Webster’s Canto Recruitment backed Top Fueler which came on form at the 2004 European Finals and has progressed steadily since.

A sticking gear after the burnout brought frantic action from the Jon Webster crew

“What we didn’t realise in 2004 was that we had a computer malfunction on the clutch which meant it wasn’t locking up,” explained Jon.  “After we cured it we ran a 5.5 sec e/t at the European Finals and this allowed us to progress the car. We used pretty much the same settings for the Easter meeting but we also addressed a couple of other issues.  It was disappointing that we didn’t qualify in Top Fuel over the weekend – we had no oil pressure (later diagnosed as a kinked oil line to the gauge) so we had to shut off.  However, once cured the car ran clean and strong.  On Sunday we ran the fastest e/t of the weekend with a 4.97/290 charge and backed it up on Monday with a 5.02/296. The car ran on the edge of its clutch and tyres all the way up the track, but it felt great and the car is so easy to drive.”

Lex Joon debuted the fabulous new MPMoil fueler but had problems dialing in to the track. A weekend best of 8.60/94mph being the end result  

Andy Robinson could be found with the American Car Imports team for much of the weekend.  "We're moving to blown alcohol in Pro Mod this year so Dave Wilson has been offering useful advice," said Andy.  Danny Cockerill, owner of the Robinson-built '57 Pro Mod had a highly successful Easter debut and went as low as 6.61/211.05.  Despite his inexperience in the class, Danny looked odds on to take the event win, but was thwarted on Monday's final with a broken valve spring and lost out to Roger Johansson's 6.533/193 pass.  Colin Lazenby's Robinson-prepared '56 Chevy struck gold first time out this year, winning Street Eliminator with a healthy 8.42/173 to defeat arch rival John Sleath's 8.53/176.

Danny Cockerill was straight into the groove

At the other end of the performance spectrum, Junior dragsters are gaining in popularity year on year and Geof Hauser, who campaigns cars for his sons Jay and Scott, says that at least five new cars put in an appearance over Easter to swell the paddock to 19. “The rules for the class have been updated for this season but the cars must still run a single-cylinder side valve engine burning either petrol or methanol.  We’re limited to an index of 7.90 and 85 mph – any faster and you’re out,” explains Geof.  “Some of the fastest junior dragsters can accelerate to 60 mph from rest in just 3.5 seconds and slowing the cars down so as not to “break out” is becoming more of an issue for some teams - cured by a combination of ballast and throttle stop." 

Despite being pleased with the performance of the new motors in the cars, "it wasn’t our best weekend’s racing," says Geoff. "Jay red lit in the 2nd round and Scott was beaten by a hole shot.”  Eventual winner was Ross Norris who defeated Collin Morrice with an 8.825/74.24mph against 9.327/69.56mph.  

The final word from the event must go to the Santa Pod crew who, in the face of numerous oil downs – including one motorcycle competitor whose bike seemingly dumped the entire contents of its sump on the startline – managed to keep the show rolling and the track in great shape throughout the extended Easter weekend. 

Story & Photos: Andy & Steve Kirk

Dave Wilson narrowly defeated Rob Turner in the TM final with a 5.50/248 against 5.54/251

Richard Gipps Pro Stock Suzuki (left) gets a holeshot

Sweden's Roger Johansson took Pro Mod honours in this Mustang

Fabulous paintwork on this 67/68 Camaro

Chris Isaac's outrageously quick Vanguard

Keith Herbert's 440 powered Plymouth Sport Fury

Jerry Denning's altered wheelbase gasser gets airborne

Shockwave funny car gets a final check with driver Gordon Smith ready to go

Andy Kirk's (no relation) great looking Camaro lost out to Kev Perkins in the final - 7.77/177 to Andy's loosing 8.28/162

Pat Talbot awaits the final run off in the collecting lane.  A red light from Pat saw Ian Tubb take the Pro  ET win

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