The LA Racing Story
As a youngster it was motorcycles that first grabbed my attention - and my first recollection of drag racing was Alf Hagon appearing on the children's TV programme "Blue Peter" in the mid to late 1960's.
By my late teens I had moved on (?) to sports cars and joined the local Custom Car club the "Yorkshire Street Freaks" (what a name!) - within this club there were some hard-core drag racers - Paul Stern, Martin Cowell and the late Dave Grady
As a direct consequence of being in this club - in 1976, clutching my "Hot Car" discount admission ticket (little did I know how much that "discount" would cost me over the next 20 odd years!) I was bundled into the back of a 440 Dodge Challenger and taken to Santa Pod to see some "real cars" - I was hooked - and what follows is my roller coaster affair with drag racing............
After hanging around the tracks and doing a bit of crewing I took the plunge around 1982 and bought an injected small block altered - whilst preparing for my first race and trying to sort out the fuel injection system - I had a "big time" fire, very serious - almost burnt the house down - not a very good start!
After rebuilding the house (fortunately I lived on my own) - undeterred (but broke), I then raced my Jensen Healey street car in the brackets at York - this is when I realised (as everyone does) how something that seems quick on the street is embarrassingly slow on the strip! Something a lot quicker had to be found - preferably with a V8!
Around 1987 I fell in with some local lads in the Halifax area who were die hard Mopar men and Run What Ya Brung racers which resulted in me buying a 1970 Dodge Challenger rolling shell (the 1976 experience obviously had an effect). After building an engine and auto box literally from boxes of bits I had a good looking and very reliable 12 sec. street/strip car (the LA Raider) which was a lot of fun - I used to drive 150 miles to the strip, remove the exhaust system change the rear end gears bolt on the slicks, race - then put it all back again and drive home. Unfortunately when I beat the local guy who habitually won everything at Long Marston, it all went sour - after he complained bitterly, the organisers eventually ordered a re-run because his slicks were cold! - I never turned up for the re-run and this was the end of bracket racing for me.
I then decided the way forward was to go "Heads Up" racing and was on the lookout for a 7second(ish) supercharged Altered/FC. In 1990 I tracked down the car I wanted (blown BBC funny car) in the States, I went over to see it at the racetrack, only to be told by the guy selling it that I could not afford it (I had the money in my pocket) - talk about a lost sale! - I was then introduced through a mutual friend to Gary Christensen who I visited to talk to about running blown big block Chevys - Oh dear! - it just so happened that he had his Rodeck TAD for sale for just what I had in my pocket - I can remember sitting in an LA Diner that night thinking what a big step this was - moving from a 12 sec street car to a 6 sec TAD! - I came home, consulted with a friend (Clive Gregory) who had crewed on Top Alcohol cars and the deal was done.
Unfortunately after our first disastrous outing Clive and myself parted company - I then made what I regard as the biggest mistake of my life - I enrolled at the Drag Racing School in Florida in an effort to speed up the learning curve - what a disaster - I came back intending to sell everything but,I had a rethink, decided to give it one last shot - regrouped with some old friends (Andy Mapes and Tony Preston) and decided we would throw out everybody's advice and do what we thought was right - so in 1992 we went to a "Run What You Brung" at Long Marston with a throttle stop (which all the "experts" said could not be done) and on our 3rd run, ran a 6.7 and 202mph - mission accomplished!
then continued as funds would allow, to run at Long Marston and Santa
we never won anything we did ok, then at the 1994 Summer Nationals (Santa
Pod) the transmission lost pressure at half track and zinged the motor
kicking out the rods and totally destroying the block (we won the race
The car was soon sold locally then went on its travels - on to Malta then back to the UK into the hands of two of our crew, Chris and Clayton - it's now fitted with a blown small block and runs with the Supercharged Outlaws.
By 1997 I could stand it no longer - it's amazing how much money you can save when you don't race for a few years (but it is never enough). So I put out a few feelers and although I nearly bought Barry Sheavill's old car (the one Doug Bond raced in 2002), I went for a little known US car that seemed to have all the right elements - buying this car was a story in itself! ............
How To (or not to) Buy A Racecar From The USA
After making the decision to resume racing I had to find a suitable racecar! - as I had imported the Rodeck from California some 7 years earlier with no problems I looked to the USA again as the source for a competitive car. One thing you must have if you are considering importing anything is to have a good reliable, honest, local contact. I was very fortunate in having a good friend in California - Jim Scott - I met Jim by sheer coincidence at Santa Pod when we were racing the Rodeck and he was on his Honeymoon! (a true racer) - Jim has raced everything in his time and was a National Event winner and NHRA World Champion in Pro Comp (the forerunner of Top Alcohol) so he new what it was all about. So Jim was recruited to look out for a suitable TAD (5 sec. screw blower car). After a few months I received news from the US of a car that fitted the bill.
The car had history - It was a Bob Meyer car originally built for Roger Primm - if you don't know who that is - travel by road from LA to Las Vegas, when you get to the Nevada State Line there are two massive casinos (Buffalo Bill's and Whiskey Pete's) guess who owns them? - the car then went to Bernie Plourd in whose hands it won an NHRA National event - so worth a look - we packed up and headed out to California to give it the "once over" - the car had been stripped down and viewing it was "an adventure" as we travelled all over the Monterey area at night going into various lockups etc. looking at the parts of an expensive jigsaw puzzle. Although a bit "unusual" everything seemed to be in order and all the disassembled parts that I saw were of good quality - a deal was negotiated and I was to return to pick up the assembled car after seeing it run at the racetrack and a date was set.
To cut a very long story short when Tony and myself arrived in California not all the car was there but our man was on his way - sure enough he arrived with the rolling chassis on a (short) borrowed flat back trailer - an unfortunate set of circumstances had ensued - our man's dad had borrowed his "Dually" pickup to go into the mountains for the weekend and got snowed in! - so the 5th wheel enclosed trailer that the car usually lived in could not be used for transport - and to cap it all one of the cylinder heads was also in the pickup! - by this time all thoughts of seeing it run at the track were "out the window" and the best had to be made from the situation we now found ourselves in - another problem was that the bellhousing was at McKinney's on the other side of the country and despite having been sent weeks earlier for re-cert, they still hadn't got around to it - after lots of frantic phone calls that week, we were promised it would arrive the next day - needless to say it didn't - so the car was assembled sans bellhousing and fired up - it looks very scary seeing that clutch fly around with no cover! - I am amazed not one of Jim's neighbours complained (he lives in a very nice area).
The car was then loaded up the next day to be taken up to LA (we were about 150 miles away) on the very dodgy trailer which was to play a big part in what followed - but just as we were about to leave, the UPS man came around the corner with the bellhousing! - could this be the start of everything dropping into place - don't you believe it - what was to follow was reminiscent of a Monty Python sketch!
As I said earlier, the trailer was not the best in the world - but despite this, the combo was battering on up the freeway at 70mph with us following in its wake - then the inevitable happened - smoke started pouring from one of the wheels - we all pulled off the freeway to discover a wheel bearing had totally collapsed and welded itself to the hub - then we found out there was no jack or wheel brace! at this point our man sat on the kerb put his head in his hands giving all the symptoms of someone about to have a nervous breakdown - apparently the pickup/trailer combo was not his and should have been returned to the owner 500 miles away the previous day! - then someone stopped by our stricken scene to say that there was a trailer shop on the next street - saved! - everyone perks up - could it be another stroke of luck (2 in one day?) - No - life's cruel - it was closed! - maximum depression sets in again - big time - Tony and myself decide enough's enough and beat the offending wheel off and persuade everyone to carry on with 3 wheels - we had to get to the shipping depot by 5pm - it was now 3pm and we were still about 100 miles away! Our man displayed a complete disregard for the previous events and continued with the tripod trailer all the way to LA at 70mph - fortunately and somewhat defying logic - no more disasters ensued on the journey and we made it to the shipping depot by the skin of our teeth.
The car then shared its uneventful containerised journey to the UK with an E-Type (not mine!).
Despite our constant flirtation with disaster there were heroes as always, who managed to keep us out of the asylum -
Krister Johanson (Gary Burgin Ent)
Mel (California Shipping)
If anyone out there in Cyberland has any good photographs or video action of any of the cars please contact us.