Mister Six - the story of drag racing legend Dennis Priddle
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.