What a difference a year makes! With the weather playing such a crucial role here in the UK the early season meetings such as this championship opener at Santa Pod Raceway can sometimes suffer. Take last year’s Festival of Power for instance, the four day meeting became a one-day meeting suffering three days of persistent heavy rain. This year though was the complete opposite and we were blessed with glorious sunshine, packed spectator areas, pits full to capacity and a packed programme, it was looking a whole lot better.
In addition to over 20 classes of two and four-wheeled machines, fans were treated to a Jet Fest with no less than eight jet-propelled vehicles on the premises. This year Santa Pods resident jet car pilot, Martin Hill, has been running his FireForce branded cars for 30 years and to celebrate all four of the remaining cars came out to race with only FireForce 1 unable to attend as it is no longer in service due to fire damage. Driven by Martin of course, and with the help of fellow jet car pilots Julian Webb and Lee Dennick, the jets made numerous exhibition passes including side by side match races to 1000ft. Still on the subject of thrust powered vehicles crazy Frenchman and Santa Pod favorite, Eric Teboul, was on hand with his hydrogen peroxide powered rocket bike running into the 5.3’s at almost 260mph.
In preparation for the first round of the FIA European championship, which will be held at Santa Pod next month, there were three Top Fuel Dragsters in the program for a Nitro match racing shootout driven by Yorkshire man Liam Jones, Norway’s Maja Udtian and Sweden’s Susanne Callin. Maya, who is 21 years old, forms part of the Islanders team and having made her competitive debut at the 2017 European finals will contest the full 2019 FIA Championship. Susanne returns to Top Fuel after a 13-year break when back in 2002 she became the world’s first teenager to run 300mph. This weekend it was Liam laying down the numbers with consecutive 3.9’s all above 300mph.
The Nitro Funny Cars were also out to contest the first round of their European Series. Jason Phelps at the controls of Mark and Jackie Hawkins Dodge Stratus sporting a gorgeous new Gladiator tribute livery and having a wild ride with the front wheels heading skyward as he neared the eighth, Jason’s experience paid off and the incident was avoided. With Steve Ashdown’s Undertaker Funny Car having mechanical problems number one qualifier Kevin Chapman took a bye into the final where he would meet Kevin Kent. Both John ‘Bodie’ Smith tuned cars thundered towards the 1000-foot finish line, Kevin Chapman taking the win by just 0.0126 at the stripe and Kevin Kent setting records for both ET and Speed with 4.236/286.49mph and going through the top end on fire!
Making a very welcome return to Pro Modified was Dutchman Marck Harteveld with his Voodoo Hemi team after last year’s crash and subsequent fire at The Doorslammers event. With a few runs under his belt, and Adam Lambert advising, Marck had the stunning Superbird running straight and qualified in second position. He then made his way through eliminations to the final where Kev Slyfield would take the win, not bad considering they were testing. Also making a welcome appearance was Nick Davies with the fresh ICE Automotive Turbo powered Firebird, the car showing huge potential as Nick gets a handle on it and already into the low 6.2’s despite an unscheduled trip into the field after his chutes failed, the damage was mainly cosmetic.
Street Eliminator racer Graham Smith had good reason to celebrate when he and his race car, Snow White, ran the UK’s first eight- second pass for a street legal Chevy. The ’57 model made the eight-second pass in the final but was defeated by Joe Stevens in the tiny Sunbeam Stiletto. It is mandatory that after qualifying, but before eliminations, all Street Eliminator participants complete a cruise around the local roads, refuel at the gas station and successfully complete a hot start, failure results in disqualification.
On to two wheels and Steve Venables was the star of the show running in the crowd-pleasing Super Street Bike category. Steve and his D.M.E. Racing built machine ran both the quickest and fastest ever in Europe with a 6.8154/218.28 pass. Steve went on to win the event backing up his ET record when Garry Bowe, also a six-second runner, was shut off with a fluid leak.
Also adding to the record books was ACU Top Fuel Bike racer Steve Woollatt with a 6.062-second pass in qualifying. Steve would go on to win the event when Neil Midgley, also on form and running a personal best in qualifying, sadly failed to make it to the start line for the final.
Four full days of racing, a huge selection of bike and car categories, more jets than ever before, and the first sniff of Nitro for the year……. what’s not to like? Off the track, there was also plenty going on such as The Variety Marquee and The Live Action Arena with Stunt Shows, Monster Trucks and more. With four days of perfect sunshine and some awesome racing, the season couldn’t have got off to a better start. Many said it was the best Easter Event ever although I also heard it said that the 1976 Easter event was pretty good too, I wasn’t there but a certain Mr. Garlits was.
Many thanks to Eurodragster.com for access to race data.