Although my first contact
with drag racing came about after my father and uncle dragged Mom and I to
Blackbushe Airport to see the 2nd International Dragfest in 1965, my first real
involvement with the sport came in 1973.
To be more precise September 9th 1973 when the National Drag
Racing Club held their first ever drag race at Long Marston on the old market
I can remember the day as if it were yesterday. The one day event was the fifth and
penultimate round of the Castrol/RAC National Drag Racing Championship – a
series of races which had already visited Blackbushe, Wroughton, Fulbeck and
Silverstone. I got involved through my
father Gerry Cookson who then raced an F/Class Dragster with a blown 1071 cc BMC
engine called 'The Joker'.
Much earlier after attending the first ever
drag race at Santa Pod in 1966, my father raced normally aspirated BMC powered
dragsters under the racing name of 'Trouble Shooter', but that changed after an
unfortunate incident in the fire-up road at Santa Pod in 1969 when the push bar
broke. There were no self starters in those days. If you wanted it to go, you
push started it.
Back to Long Marston, while dad was racing I pitched a
small display of my most treasured drag racing models in the local club tent
which included a scratch-built start line featuring a Christmas tree and the
dragsters of Don Garlits and Tom McEwen.
Attracting a lot of attention
under canvas, the bigger more powerful stuff was attracting a spectator
attendance of over 5,000. The strip used
is the runway used today for the pits and the Sunday Market. In fact, the start line was opposite the
field which is now home to the airfield's aircraft museum.
attraction was a three-way round robin Top Fuel match up between the ex Kuhl
& Olson Castrol dragster of Clive Skilton, Dennis Priddle in the history
making Mr Six, and Roland Pratt driving the Accles & Pollock entry; the
former ride of Clive Skilton.
National Drag Racer reporter Kevin Rees
wrote, “to see Priddle blast off the line in the front engined car, slicks
smoking just like the ‘good old days’ was a treat for all long time Top Fuel
fans, but times have changed and it was the more conventional back motored car
which fared better under the conditions”.
Skilton was judged to be the quickest for the win at 7.23 seconds at 208
As to my dad's performance, well he carried on his winning ways by
taking the Middle Dragster eliminator win over Malcolm Locker's Midi-Witch
dragster with a brace of mid eleven second runs at 120 mph. Not bad for a four
cylinder powered dragster on rock hard circuit tyres!
At the end of the
day, and at most meetings, while Mom and Dad packed up the trailer I helped the
marshals pack away the makeshift drag strip into their customary NDRC tour
Commer bus which, as a heavy goods hauler, doubled up on the day as race
control. I made a lot of good friends in
that time. Guys like start line marshals John Fordham, big Pete, and top end
jockey Bomber, many of whom featured in the Castrol film 'Drag On A Summer Day'
Since then I have written race reports and features for
various club magazines as well as being a field reporter for Motoring News
(today's Motorsport News), UK Drag Racer, Drag Racing News, Street Rod &
Machine Monthly, and many others including the NHRA's house magazine National
As you will see from my first page I also edited, as well as
printed it, the much loved 'Fire Up' magazine, and after that 'European
Dragster'. Together with taking up commentary duties at Avon Park, working
alongside notable voices like John Price, Graham Beckwith and Steve Young from
Santa Pod and York Raceways, the last thirty or so years have been very busy for
me hence why I thought I would share some of my lasting memories of drag racing
with a few of my photos as well as some never before published gems taken by a
bunch of good mates of mine who, like me, are still very much active with the
sport they love so much snapping images at Santa Pod and Shakespeare
I owe a great deal of thanks to Mom and Dad for allowing me get
involved as I did at such an early age, to all the marshals I have known over
the years, friends of teams and racers, and to the late Alan Wigmore for letting
it all happen - the original commentating voice of Long Marston - thanks. It's
been a blast.