Mister Six - the Story of Drag Racing Legend Dennis Priddle
Time for another update on progress with the Mr Six book, which is now starting to move forward apace. The important news is that I have been busy doing the real work of actual writing, and making real inroads into the task of actually getting to put some flesh on the proposed chapters. It is hard to do a lot of writing at one hit, as there are always new queries to resolve along the way.
It was a real pleasure to be present when Dennis met up with his old friend Andrew Hares again, after more than four decades. They had a lot to catch up on, and shared a few amusing stories with me, which included a brush with the law on their way back from Sweden with Tudor Rose. Unfortunately, not long after our meeting, Andrew suffered a heart attack. Happily he is now recuperating, following a major heart bypass operation as I write this. Dennis has kept me updated with his progress, and I did talk to Andrew by phone just a couple of days ago. We wish him a speedy return to full fitness.
There have been a number of conversations with notable figures since the last entry, which have been very enjoyable, as well as useful for the book. Apart from more time spent with Dennis himself, they included Barry Sheavills, Roz Prior, Gerry Andrews, Stu Bradbury, Tracey Boden, Mike Matthews, Pip Higham, Roy Phelps, and none other than Mr Sixes old rival - Clive Skilton. More team member chats included Chris Powell and Edwin McKnight, to add to the list. It was good timing to go and visit Chris when I did, as he had just got his new roadster back after some trimming work had been completed, and he fired it up for me in the garage.
The British Drag Racing Hall of Fame held their annual presentation gala event on November 18th. Dennis was one of the invited panel in the enjoyable bench racing session held during the afternoon. Following this I got the chance to have a talk with well known American racer and tuner, Dale Emery, who was with Raymond Beadle when they raced against Dennis in Funny Car eliminations at Santa Pod in the late 1970s. It was also a great opportunity to meet up again with a number of other faces from the era.
One item that I have begun looking at more seriously, is the initial process of selecting which pictures to include. At last count I had totted up over 150 likely ones, with many more still to be added. Rest assured that the finished work will not be short of visual treats to accompany what is shaping up to be an entertaining and informative read, even though it will keep me busy cleaning up and repairing a lot of these old memories! Time is not always kind to old pictures; but time spent, helped by long years of experience in computer imaging should help to bring out the best of these important mementos. There will be a good percentage of previously unseen images included in the book, which I feel is very important. Some of the iconic shots of the cars also must be included, as they are well loved memories of the era for those who remember the excitement of the times. One of those unseen shots has come from someone who has been spectating at Santa Pod since the beginning. Bob Sargent has kindly sent a picture of the first Tudor Rose race against Commuter to use.
I have had some interesting chats with Mike Collins in recent times, with a view to adding to the book. It was Mike who christened Dennis ‘Pretty Boy’ Priddle, and Rex was ‘Sexy Rexy’! One of drag racing’s most colourful characters, going right back to the early days, Mike still doesn’t look or act any different from when I first remember chatted to him, back in 1967.
I have been chasing up details of some of the cars that came out of Dennis Priddle Racing, which has proved quite entertaining, with the odd surprise in the process. Sometimes you make choices that you wish you hadn't. If I had known how much effort was going to be involved in tracing the history of the old cars that were built by Dennis, then I might well have skipped that idea for a chapter in the book! There is a lot of incorrect information floating about concerning old race cars, often started by those with no knowledge of the history, that it ends up totally skewing reality. It does not make it easy finding out the truth of the matter, as the cars evolve.
I am pretty confident that when/if I ever get to the end of it, that it will answer some of the questions - but due to the passage of time, and other factors, there will no doubt be the odd gaps. It has proved to be both interesting and entertaining though, talking to those involved in the ongoing history of the cars.
Finally, the burning question that people have been asking, is when will the book be published? When I had the advertising flyers produced back in July, they said ‘Planned for publication in 2018.’ With where I am now, it will definitely be completed next year, with publication in the latter part of 2018. I do not want to unduly rush the process, as it has to be right. The layout and printing stage needs adequate time spent on it, to do the subject justice. The finished work will be in full size hardback format, and very fully illustrated. I am expecting the book to contain at least 200 pictures to accompany the tale of Mr Six - the story of drag racing legend Dennis Priddle.
Happy Christmas to all drag racing fans - and more updates on progress will follow in the new year. Until then, please join in with the discussion group on facebook.
The facebook group, ‘Mr. Six - the Dennis Priddle story’ can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/398554693879332/
Time is marching on quickly. Hard to believe it is six weeks since Dragstalgia. If only the to-do list was decreasing at the same rate!
The Dragstalgia weekend was excellent, as always, made all the better by the company on route this year - and the amazing breakfast baps that Dennis prepared to keep us going on the journey - and in my case for the rest of the day! It was a full-on weekend for both of us over the 3 day event, with no shortage of old friends and fans getting a rare opportunity to chat to Mr Six on his first visit to Dragstalgia. This event will act as a fitting cut-off point point for the book, with Mr Six able to enjoy watching the current 6 second methanol slingshots of Bob Hawkins and Doug Bond fighting it out on track.
One thing Dennis looked forward to was watching old team member ‘Star’ racing his beautiful roadster in the RWYB section. It ended up in an unusual role reversal, as the car suffered an electrical connection problem at one point. “It was strange having Dennis acting as gofer for me, instead of the other way round. He was off, got the parts needed, and fixed it in a flash for me!”
Thanks to Darren West of Power Race Graphics for quickly coming up with a great A5 flyer design to help promote the book. They were very popular, with more than a few now also adorned with autographs over the weekend!
I was going to do an interview with Dennis on Nitro FM during the rain hold on Saturday, but Darryl Bradford hot-footed it over to take the opportunity for a face to face chat with him on air. That allowed me to enjoy the exchange, and get a couple of pictures. Apologies that we had to finish early, due to the imminent special British Drag Racing Hall of Fame award presentation to Stu Bradbury. After that came an interview with Colin Theobald, the other half of the dynamic commentator duo, for the event video, before Dennis was off to the first of the legends signing session.
A slightly nervous Ian Turburville got to fire up his slingshot during the weekend; not surprising given his audience! The dragster is now fitted with the Donovan block No 144 that Dennis originally used in the Mr Revell dragster, and it was appropriate that he was on hand to watch proceedings.
I have had a number of long chats with Dave Riswick in the past month, which has provided a lot of very useful first hand information, given the long association that the John Woolfe Racing boss has had with Dennis over many years. Those early trips to Sweden were pretty hairy, but then towing a race car with an E Type Jag was always going to be an exciting proposition!
Starting the Facebook page has proved to be an interesting exercise, and has opened up some unexpected avenues, including making contact with a very early team member in Andrew Hares, who happily I noticed requesting to join the group. It has been many, many years since he and Dennis lost contact, so it was good to be able to put them in touch again. Looking forward to sitting down with him in the near future to talk over some Tudor Rose adventures.
My intentions for picture content were initially pretty well focused early on, given my own collection of images and those taken by Dennis, plus a couple of other sources. However, I have more recently changed tack in this respect, with additional input to be incorporated that will add greatly to this story. More on this development, and the people involved, in a future blog.
The facebook group, ‘Mr. Six - the Dennis Priddle story’ can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/398554693879332/
Dennis Priddle will be making his first visit to Dragstalgia next weekend. Europe’s first six second drag racer, and a member of both the BDRHoF and IDRHoF, Dennis will be taking in the atmosphere at this great nostalgia drag racing event over the 14-16th July. He is particularly looking forward to being able to watch one of his old team members, Brian Savidge, in action during Friday’s RWYB session in his beautifully prepared black 32 roadster.
His own racing career started more than 50 years ago, and exactly 40 years back Dennis was in the hot seat of the well loved Olavi Knuutinen Monza funny car that he had just completed building down in Somerset. He was busy setting records, and had some fierce battles with the late Bootsie Herridge in Sweden and at Santa Pod during the month of July in 1977, which were a major highlight for race fans. All these years on, Dennis might also get to see that self same Monza body still in action at Dragstalgia in the hands of Wild Bunch racer Phil James.
The Slingshot Showdown will be something to catch his attention at Santa Pod, as it was in this class that he set a World quickest elapsed time of 6.04s in his Mr. Revell dragster - a mark that remained unbeaten for so many years.
I will be chauffering Dennis to the event, so I will have an expert navigator in the passenger seat! During the weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, Dennis will be joined by a number of other drag racing heroes in the signing sessions organised by the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
Realisation set in a while back as to the scale of writing this book, and it has proved a little daunting, to be honest. That has not stopped me scouring for more information to add to the story over the time since my last blog entry, which seems a long while back now! Happily I have pulled enough information together to now know how the chapters will sit together - so they just need filling in now! Well, it sounds like a plan, anyway.
By not rushing things, it has allowed memories time to focus back on events that might other-wise have been missed. The most enjoyable part of the whole process has been the interviews, which in reality are very often more a case of long conversations that meander across shared recollections of past events. Among those visited was a member of the super crew, Barry Dufty, who filled in some useful areas of the story, as he played an important part in the team over many years.
A number of the stylish paint jobs on Priddle cars were carried out by Jeff Glasser, helped by his better half, Ro. A session with him and Dennis a while back had us all in stitches, and his contribution to the book will be a very memorable part of it, given his natural wit.
Tracking down the history of some of the cars built by Dennis is proving to be an interesting excercise. The quality of the builds meant that they have been very long lived items. One thing the team shared was a total commitment to quality, which is unsurprising given the fact that most of the people involved worked at Westland - an aviation company with a long and distinguished history. It is a company that I have learned a lot more about over many hours spent with Dennis!
It was great to catch up with Steve and Heather Read during a long distance chat. Steve is still campaigning in the Australian Top Fuel series, and remembers well his times helping out Dennis whenever he was available at the races - and of course driving the first rear-engined dragster that Dennis built.
Annie and I enjoyed a great evening recently with Dennis, meeting up with Donna Garlits. There were some interesting and amusing stories that came out during an entertaining time, that flashed by all too quickly before realising that the landlord was waiting to go to bed!
Thanks to all those who have helped out so far along the way. Annie has been ever busy finalis-ing the timeline, and sorting documentation. The ever helpful Jerry Cookson has supplied some useful reference material to fill in a number of gaps, as has Dave Grabham.
There are a number of people that I need to speak to, in order to produce a well rounded account of the life and times of Mister Six, and I am currently looking forward to a few sessions with Dave Riswick, head man at John Woolfe Racing.
I am very pleased with the new heading produced by Darren West of Power Race Graphics. He has also agreed to produce the book cover graphics, which will ensure it is an excellent job.
Finally, in addition to the blog, I have just started a new facebook page to act as a discussion page. The facebook group, ‘Mr. Six - the Dennis Priddle story’ can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/398554693879332/
Just in case anyone should get the wrong impression that I am not keeping busy on my book project; I have just had another long session with Dennis Priddle, to add to my ever growing armoury of background information on his drag racing career, as the most important part of the preparation for the book I am writing about him.
We did not get off to the best of starts initially, as just before the announcement of the project commencement, Dennis was laid low by a particularly nasty bug, which totally floored him; but he has made great efforts to feed me with a lot of excellent material,despite not feeling up to the task. Having now spent many hours together, one thing is sure, that however much I thought I already knew about Dennis was just a tiny amount indeed, as he comes out with a detailed account of his life and times.
I have also started talking to some old team members - to capture their important contributions to the story of a highly successful drag racing career. First session was actually with Brian Savidge - or Star as he is often better known. A long time member of the team, and someone who I still stop and have a chat to at the drags, we had a great afternoon going over old times. He was lamenting not having taken hardly any pictures back in the race days, but he did come up with a couple of excellent mementos for me to see. Tony Gane was next on the list, as it was Tony who was pretty much the man responsible for getting Dennis into the sport. It was on and in Tony’s machines that he experienced a first foray into drag racing.
Mentioning photographs, or apparent lack of earlier, I obviously have an extensive collection of my own to draw from, but have also been promised use of other images from some old friends, who are always very supportive - in particular the ever helpful Brian Sparrow.
The icing on the cake for me came last week. When visiting Dennis, I was handed some amazing old colour slides - all previously unpublished - which will make this story truly come to life in a visual way. They need work to restore them, due to the ravages of time, but that is nothing new for me to play with - and it will be well worth the effort! More on these in a future update, but suffice it to say that I am more than pleased with this unexpected bonus. There are still some more pictures to track down, but now I will be in the happy position being able to choose the most fitting images to fully complement the story of this country's top drag racer.
A lot of ground has to be covered to do the subject justice, which has been greatly aided by Annie's invaluable research work on the time line of events. She too is struggling with health issues at the moment, but has made excellent progress on this lengthy exercise.
There are quite a number of other people that I want to talk to as the book progresses, in order to tell the full story of Mister Six. The problem is going to be in knowing when I have finally exhausted the man himself’s seemingly endless capacity for coming out with yet more stories to add!
Thanks to Alan for again offering to host a blog on his excellent site, which will highlight some of the items turned up along the path as I take up the challenge of writing this long overdue book on a true legend of the sport, Dennis Priddle.
2016 was a memorable year for Dennis, more than 30 years after he hung up his firesuit. One of the first inductees of the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2006, a delighted Dennis flew to Florida where he was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in March 2016. Following an enjoyable trip to the European Finals at Santa Pod, he capped the year off by being re-presented with the IDRHoF award at our own Hall of Fame gala last November. The standing ovation he received was a measure of just how highly regarded he is. It struck me that I really must persuade Dennis to let me write the story of how he left his mark on the sport, having known him for so long.
He made a massive contribution to drag racing, with a number of memorable cars during his illustrious career. He will always be known as Mister Six, as his sleek slingshot dragster was named after becoming the first six second racer in Europe back in 1972.
More to follow as the story unfolds. Aided by my better half, Annie, it will be an interesting ride given the characters involved, in reliving and pulling together this story of a true drag racing hero.