All of the pictures on this page were  taken by Roger Phillips,
I am very grateful to him for the opportunity of reproducing them here.

(CLICK ON AN IMAGE TO SEE A LARGER VERSION)

 

 


 

To take us through this latest collection of Roger Phillips’ work, we have invited Ian Messenger and Jim Reynolds to act as co-hosts and share with us their thoughts and memories as they peruse these photos from the early ' 70s.

As a member of the UK Drag Racing Hall of Fame selection panel, we are privileged to welcome Ian Messenger’s contribution to this feature.  Alongside his on-track achievements, Ian was a drag racing correspondent for National Drag Racer, The Motor Cycle, Drag Racing News and Custom Car magazine, and worked at John Woolfe Racing for 14 years.

‘Uncle’ Jim Reynolds’ beginnings go back to 1959 and his first trophy at the Witchford Airfield Sprints.  Throughout the 1960s Jim raced an assortment of sprint bikes before becoming involved as a commentator with the NDRC in 1973.  In the same year Jim became Motorcycle News Drag Racing and Sprint columnist and later worked with MCN and the NDRC and BDR&HRA to organise and promote the British National Drag Racing Championships.  Jim also added Long Marston and York Raceway to his commentary duties. In the 1980s Jim became a full-time freelance journalist and has since published three books on British motorcycles.

Also joining Ian and Jim at various stages, is a name that will be very familiar to many drag racing fans - Keith Lee. Once a drag bike racer himself, Keith went onto become Drag Racing News' longest serving reporter as well as doing duty as a commentator at Santa Pod Raceway.

We shall also been joined along the way by a distinguished list of guests . . .

Before moving onto the photos, we asked Jim Reynolds to write some background as to why drag bikes have always been such an integral part of British drag racing and to give us a brief history of events leading up to the 1970s.

Bike drag racing in the UK – strong from the first green light

Bike drag racing took off like a rocket when it arrived in Britain because we already had a lot of quick men on well-developed bikes.  Standing quarter mile sprints were a long established branch of the sport, with specialist bikes of all sizes and types developed for that totally focused dash down the 440.

Brighton’s annual speed trials along the sea front dated back to the early years of the century, while old airfields and country house drives were in regular use.  Vincent and JAP v-twins ruled that roost, but supercharged Triumphs were getting quicker and beating all but the quickest of the established stars.  The scene had been dominated by ex-road racers like George Brown, Basil Keys and Ernie Woods, but there were fast young men emerging when the 1950s came to and end and the nervously swinging ' 60s began to awaken.

Alf Hagon was a grass track star who dabbled in sprinting, starting with a 500cc Rudge when he was a teenager and making a big mark when he rode Gordon Colqhoun’s supercharged Moto Vincent at Witchford Airfield in the spring of 1958.  First time out on the bike, Hagon wound it up, dumped the clutch and rode the spinning rear wheel in a cloud of tyre smoke.  His best time was 11.28 seconds, the quickest ever in the UK, and the classic road race starting technique suddenly looked out of date.

The old school weren’t ready to lie down and surrender to the upstart from East London, and competition got hotter. By the mid 1960s George Brown was running low tens, and people were beginning to think that single figure quarters on British soil might be possible.  Hagon had experimented with a two-speed 650 Triumph with moderate success, then went quiet until he wheeled his new bike out.  A supercharged 1150cc JAP v-twin in a minimalist chassis, single geared and awesome.  The motor grew to 1260cc with Matchless G50 racer pistons and in 1967 Alf powered down 440 yards of Duxford Airfield runway in 9.93 seconds, to stun the crowd and grab the front page of MCN.

In 1964 and 1965 the Americans had came over and impressed with their friendliness and speed, although the British weather rather dominated those historic Dragfests.  But they left an impression that was to last, as promoters realised that the simple formula of straight line racing could attract big crowds to venues like Blackbushe Airfield.  From there it could only grow, as Podington Airfield in Northamptonshire blossomed to become Santa Pod Raceway and another new generation of riders and engineers spent late hours working out how to beat the great Hagon.  Inevitably they did, and nobody in this dynamic sport can say he or she will dominate forever; it is racing with minimal rules and maximum original thinking allowed to flourish.

Great racing, great people.

Jim Reynolds
(Old Fart, but still in love with the sport)

 

 

 

 

Ian  Where better place to start - Dennis Norman - you could write a book on him!  He was - and still is - one of the real characters of British Drag Racing.
One of the queries that constantly used to crop up was his true age - of which, he always told everyone something completely different.  Current estimates range from 75 to 83 years old - up until very recently he was still riding his double engined bike at Classic Sprints.
I remember when we competed in the NHRA Nationals at Indy in 1970, the Yanks were completely captivated by him - even if they couldn't understand a word he said - only joking Den!  Derek (Chinn) tells me Dennis was a Bren gunner in the Second World War - but I thought he was a trainer for Dispatch Riders!  He used to run an Ariel Square Four then he abandoned that project to build his double engined Triumph, which differed from most peoples as he ran a single large Wade blower - as opposed to the popular Shorrocks.  He had a ready supply of Ariel timing gears which everyone who was building a double at the time (including ours) bought from him to link their engines together, instead of the old traditional way with chains.
Jim  Dennis `Stormin' Norman is from Hemel Hempstead and was out again at RAF Woodbridge in 2005, riding his double engined 1300cc Triumph and still capable of smoking the rear tyre for most of the quarter mile.  That first bike, the supercharged 1000cc Ariel Square Four used to go bang with expensive frequency, so he switched to Triumph.  Stormin's son Gary used to compete on a Triumph, but I haven't heard of him for yonks.

 

 

 

Ian  The rider on Quasimodo is the late great Don East.  He was cast in the same mould as Dennis Norman - a fabulous character, larger than life.  To use a modern euphemism, he had a 'wicked' sense of humour.  No one was spared his pee taking; invariably he would round on anyone who had a shiny bike - say no more!  Again, there are so many stories . . .
One that springs to mind was when a very well known racer decided to pay Don a visit and popped round to his South London terraced house.  Said racer was absolutely gob-smacked to find Don rebuilding the engine of his competition bike out in the street.  It turns out he was on a very limited budget - and that didn’t include a workshop!
As well as racing at the drags, he also competed at the traditional sprint meetings of the 1960s and ' 70s.  That’s Brian Smith - not to be confused with Pete Smith - in the other lane, on the “Cheltenham Flyer”, obligatory supercharged Triumph.  The race venue looks like Wroughton.

 

 
 

Jim  Talking of Pete Smith, that’s him in the far lane in this photo.  He came from Canvey Island and went onto buy John Jacques’ 750 supercharged Triumph and won a lot of Top Bike finals at the Pod.  Runner up to John Hobbs in the MCN British Drag Bike Championship one year as well.
Ian
 And nearest the camera Tom Quinn, the bike was called Shere Khan, or should that be Shier Khan?
I didn’t know Tom very well, but he ran a very neat 'workhorse of the early UK bike drag racing scene; i.e. Shorrock supercharged Triumph with the cylinder head reversed.  I’m not certain here, but that looks like a Hagon frame.
Jim  Tom Quinn's frame doesn't look like a Hagon to me, but why don’t we try asking Alf himself?
Martin Hagon (Alf's son)  "The frame is similar to a Hagon, but is not a Hagon in our opinion!  By the way Dad is planning on restoring his legendary bike in 2007. We’ll let you know how the restoration goes."
Ian  
I guess the other black and white shot was taken at the Custom Car Show, probably at Crystal Palace*. The bike in the background is Dennis Allen’s “Ram Rod” blown Triumph - a top runner in late sixties/early seventies.
The slick on both bikes was made by the British Avon Company, this was the only 4” wide slick available at the time so everyone had to run it.  That was until 1971 when yours truly (while working for John Woolfe Racing) introduced the 4” M&H motorcycle slick from the States.  This was a superior product, in a choice of compounds - before long everyone had changed to the M&H.  I used to supply Alf Hagon with 100 slicks at a time
 - for resale.  These were ridged wall construction, not like the slicks of today.  But then, as the bikes started to put out more power we all moved to much wider car-type slicks.
(* The 2nd International Custom Car Show Crystal Palace February 1972, to be precise)

 

 
 

Jim  Ray Feltell on his “Penetration Too”.  Ray was from Great Barr, Birmingham, and managed a diamond merchant's office in the Jewellery Quarter in that city.  He came to fame with his first home-built 650 Triumph “Penetration”, and was the first to try the Morgo 750 barrel.  He ended up working with Pete Davies of Puma fame, who built his later bike chassis.  Ray then went the twin engined route and found the bike slower, so back to single engine before switching to an Austin-engined dragster that cost relative peanuts to run.  He became disillusioned when some rotten skallies nicked all his clothing and tools from his van one night at the Pod.
He was a serious asthmatic and was taken ill in Holland at a baking hot Zaandvoort meeting when racing his dragster, he discharged himself from hospital and drove home, where he collapsed and was back in hospital.  It was too much for a very slim and slight frame and he died after some days. Smashing bloke, a great loss to the sport and I believe his son Ian was going to carry on racing the car.
Ian 
 Yes, the late Ray Feltell.  It was 1983 when Ray died but you don’t forget guys like him.  A real gentleman - one of the nicest guys in the paddock.  Very straight dealing.
Leading drag racing photographer and journalist, Mark Gredzinski, also knew Ray Feltell and crewed on Ray’s dragster.  He recalls:
“My first meeting with Ray Feltell was on an MDRA stand at a custom show.
  I discovered he lived in the same district in Birmingham and coincidently we both worked in the jewellery trade, myself as a silversmith.  Ray needed an extra crewman on his blown MG dragster and I could then spend weekends at the track, learning about drag racing from the inside viewpoint as part of a team.  Ray himself was a gentleman with a dry sense of humour.  As a racer, he was very focused and was only ever concerned with beating the guy in the other lane; he’d only be aware of the crowd after the race was over.  He understood engineering principles and could always work though a problem intelligently and was good at explaining things.  I can recall him with his elbows on the steering wheel of his camper, showing me the workings of some part with his hands, together with a verbal description.  It was only his physical affliction that made his actions slow as Ray had a very quick mind and though very slim, I always thought Ray cut a dashing figure with his chiselled features and his red firesuit.  Ray really was one of the nicest guys in drag racing and it was a privilege to have known him.”

 

 
 

Ian  I must admit I didn’t know Norman Hyde that well; he was part of the Midland Mafia along with Ray Feltell etc.
He’s running the Trident triple engine here.  I don’t know if everyone knows but he worked as a development engineer for Triumph when they were in business. He now runs a very successful motorcycle parts and accessories business.

Although he may disagree, I think its fair to say he was more successful Sprinting & Record Breaking, than Drag Racing - holding records for both solo motorcycles and sidecar outfits.
Jim  Yes Norman's early supercharged Trident - basically the frame he used when attacking world records sidecar and solo, with a full streamlining that he hadn't tried until he turned up at the NSA Records Meeting at Fairford Airfield where they used to test Concorde flights.  There he took a whole rack of records.  That included the absolute World Sidecar Record with a two-way average of 161mph, that run got very exciting when he tried to stop from a 160 mph with a Tiger Cub (a 200cc commuter bike) front brake . . . more weight with the sidecar and an efficient streamlining . . .  that meant very little wind resistance. He ended up on the grass at the end of the runway, did an interview for Gardeners' World, then turned around and did it again.  Very brave indeed.
Norman later campaigned the Trident in serious drag racing trim with Castrol backing.  At the Silverstone drags in ’74 the canny old devil took the Top Bike title and MCN's prize money of (I think) £500, which was a whole lot more than you could pick up at Santa Pod for a similar win.  It was also at the Silverstone drags that Norman borrowed the legendary `Slippery Sam' Trident production racer; I was bike commentator and had a grandstand view of Norm.  He popped the clutch and the bike leapt up and went sideways and dumped him on the tarmac.  All those TT races and no problems, but an amateur at a drag meeting and you have trouble! (Only joking!)  `Slippery Sam' was the bike that won five successive 750 Production TT races and was only retired because the ACU brought in an age limit for bikes of five years.  There were rumours that Honda had pulled strings on that one, but nobody's ever confirmed it, so it's no more than a rumour.

Norman did have a talent for getting press coverage, and MCN did a three-picture series of the bike going to earth, which made one racer say: "Even when he falls off, it makes news."  Norman retold the story recently in `Classic Bike' Magazine, so keeping the publicity advantage on the boil.

He's still in the bike trade, making parts for Triumphs old and new, and supplying parts around the world.

A thoroughly good guy.

 

 
 

Ian  "Shotgun" is Dave Clee, one of the many riders hailing from north London who was a regular competitor in the 1970s.  Interestingly, after many years away from the sport, he got the bug again (it never goes away!) by rebuilding a 900cc supercharged Puma Triumph powered drag bike which John Hobbs maintains and rides at the aforementioned classic sprints, while Dave has now moved onto a riding a turbocharged circa 1980s Suzuki Funny Bike at the same events.
Jim  Yes Dave came from Enfield and was a strong runner; he later progressed to a double engined Triumph.  I think he was another sprinter from the ' 60s who discovered Santa Pod and made the move to drag racing.

 

 
 

Ian  You say this is John Ellson on “Little Varmit”?  Sorry I don’t remember him or the bike.  I do recognise two regulars of early ' 70s drag racing, photographer Peter Quinn and journalist John Dickson.  They don’t seem to know what to make of John’s static burnout.  I think it is true to say we introduced this technique to the UK after witnessing it at the US Nationals in 1970.  The American riders used to bring their tow vehicles to the startline and burn out against the back of them, often pushing the vehicle along in the process.  It was mighty spectacular when you had two guys doing this at the same time.  The crowd used to go wild.  What made it even more surreal was the fact that a couple of the guys used black hearses to burn out against!
Jim 
 Static burnouts always puzzled me.  You have bikes built for lightness, with skinny front forks, then you stick that front end against something pretty solid and try to ride your bike through it . . . that must have caused all sorts of stresses going through the frame.
The man with a logical answer was Jim Balchin, whose 350 Gold Star BSA ran a best of 9.63 and hit 170mph at a World Records meeting.  He had what looked like a grappling iron on a stout rope and would hitch it around the wheelie bar axle, the other end around the barrier, and burnout with the bike restrained from behind.

 

 
 

Ian  The guy receiving the trophy is the very personable Pete Miller.  He was responsible, along with fellow racer Ray Baskerville, for designing and manufacturing the first commercially available slider clutch for drag bikes in Europe.  We used one on the Pegasus Norton.  Pete and John Hobbs are still big friends, they’ve just undertaken a 3,000 mile bike ride in the States along with wives.  Of course my work colleague and then Chief Starter for Santa Pod Stuart Bradbury in the background - hogging the women as usual!
Jim  Pete Miller is from Northampton and Ray Baskerville from St Albans and they rode a 500cc Triumph and 1300cc double Triumph respectively, and as they were both engineers there was a mutual respect.  Miller took the 500cc World Standing Quarter off John Hobbs in the early ' 70s, so clearly was no mug. Baskerville cast his own pistons to get the right compression for his engines
They got together to build a 900cc twin, using a Norton crank and Triumph cylinder head, with the barrels and crankcases to their own design and manufacture.  It never realised its potential before the engine exploded and they realised that they had to start all over to manufacture bits – they didn’t.

Instead, they developed the first two-speed drag bike specific transmission in Europe (George Bewley’s earlier one was an adaption of his grass track unit) and that was used by Sweden’s Stefan Reisten on his 970cc Honda when he ran Europe’s second-ever seven second run at Drachten in Holland, about half an hour after Henk Vink did it on the 2000cc Kawasaki Big Spender (ex Carl Ahfeldt `Orange Crush’).

I don’t think Pete and Ray ever offered the slider clutch commercially, but they did have one on the home built twin. The first unit made commercially for sale that I knew about was the AP Lockheed unit John Charlton developed on his 1800cc blown VW bike.

The last I heard of Ray, he was still in St Albans and making pattern parts for Bugatti racers, while Pete Miller’s business in Northampton produces equipment and programmes to plan the most effective use of sheet materials for F1 cars’ complex curves.  It was all a bit too technical for me when we talked.

 

 
 

Jim  Hard to see the bike for smoke - rather appropriate for a cigarette sponsored bike!  Of course it is Phil Drake, famous for lifting drag bikes to a new level of sponsorship when he persuaded French cigarette brand Gitane to support him on his supercharged 750 Triumph.  He was known in the paddock as The Flying Fag End, but he did a good job of raising both Gitane’s and bike drag racing’s profile.  Ben Tye, marketing manager of the fag company actually got his French MD to a drag meeting at RNAY Wroughton, near Swindon, where the man was well impressed at his reception.  But all big companies have a schedule for expenditure and their drag racing involvement came to an end and Phil wasn’t seen again.  But while he was racing, we all got plenty of free gaspers in those days when it wasn’t considered dangerous and lighting up didn’t make you a social pariah.
Ian  
We nicknamed him “Fag Ash” Phil, but we were just jealous of the cigarette sponsorship.  Phil invited Derek and I to officially open his superb motorcycle shop, along with Road Racing stars Steve Parrish (of BBC TV MotoGP coverage) and World Champion Phil Read.  And a brilliant day it was too, apart from Phil Read being a total snob - and you can print that if you want!

 

 
 

Jim  Isn’t this the original Pegasus Panther? The guy wearing the jumper looks like Eddie Keightley who was a regular crew member with you guys on Pegasus.
Ian  I do admit it looks a bit like him - but it’s not Eddie Keightley.  It may also be a Panther, but not our “Long Rod” - as we had christened it.

Eddie didn’t come on board until Derek and I had built the Pegasus Norton.  It was Mick Butler, Derek & I who put the Panther together.

Jim  Didn’t Eddie sell his Bultaco trials bike to help finance the Pegasus Norton?

Ian  He did help us out when our funds ran out, which contrary to popular belief was a regular occurrence.  I don’t remember him selling his trials bike to help fund our habit  - I hope he didn’t, that makes me feel really bad!  But Eddie is a real good guy – the best.  You couldn’t meet nicer guy.

Jim  Yes, smashing bloke, very quiet and still an active member of the Vintage MCC.

Ian  Still don’t know who that is in the photo though!
Jim  Me neither!
Ian  There’s only one person to ask.

(In unison) Keith Lee!
Keith Lee  “Well apart from identifying it as John Miles and the bike was oddly named “Corvette” there is nothing else I can add.  A number of sprint bikes from various parts of the country used to do the occasional race at the Pod, but unless they stood out you did not find out much about them.  Definitely not Eddie though.”

 

 
 

Ian  Who’s going to go first on this one?
Jim  I’ll give it a go.  The legendary Pegasus team Ian Messenger, Derek Chinn and Mick Butler . . . first came to public notice as three young lads who’d built a 650cc Panther single (50mph pulling a huge sidecar was its normal life) that ran a Jaguar piston and some pretty hot cams to get down to 13sec ET’s - that was the performance level of a V12 Jaguar E Type in the ' 70s . . . very popular with the bike press.  Graduated to a supercharged 1000cc Vincent running a single gear, US style, with big smokey launches as the 4-inch rear slick spun for 100 yards to give a fundamental clutch.  Brilliant bike, beautifully turned out and produced some of the best action pics ever.  Crowd favourites, hands down.
That was followed by the twin-engined 1700cc Norton version, a regular eight-second runner that was backed by `Bike’ Magazine in its early days; the hot dog stalls never did any business when Pegasus raced John Hobbs’ double Weslake . . . the burnouts, the psych outs, the careful staging and then the race.  Those match ups were full of tension and drama - great days.
The team split when Mick Butler went on to a double 500cc Norton `Cyclops’ and finally the prototype Weslake 1000cc vee-twin with blower in a light drag frame; a TV show of the bike finals at Santa Pod showed what a frightening handful that twin was.  Chinn and Messenger continued with the big Norton until demands of work and lack of pennies came out on top.  The Norton encouraged remarkable loyalty from those around it.
The big Norton is now in the National Motor Cycle Museum, a reminder of the best turned out bike in British drag racing.

Ian  I said all that without moving my lips!
Just a couple of corrections if I may.  It's true John Hobbs had always been our long time nemesis, but in the late ' 60s and early ' 70s 'Stormin' (Dennis Norman) was also one of our greatest rivals.  Mick Butler wasn't involved with the Pegasus-Norton - he'd gone his own way by then - and Mick's double engine Norton was "Super Cyclops" and the single engine bike was just plain "Cyclops".  The Weslake engine bike ran 8.40 secs in the region of 165 mph.  Today
Mick is a Fuel Route Systems Engineer at Sizewell "A" Power Station; he's been working in the power generation industry since he left school, Derek makes superchargers and does high quality machining work for all forms of competition cars and motorcycles, and me?  I'm a commercial photographer.
Jim  And a highly respected one too.

 

 
 

Ian  At first I thought this could be Pegasus with the "Big" engine that Derek built when he was at Cranfield College of Aeronautics, but now I see it isn’t. Thinking about it, we never ran this engine in competition - only at a test session when Roy Phelps kindly let use the Pod during the week.  Derek put in an enormous amount of work (at the Government's expense!) to create the bored and stroked 1459cc Vincent V twin engine, which sadly has barely seen the light of day.  I can’t actually think what our rationale was for selling the Pegasus-Vincent in 1973 to build the Norton.  I guess we must have been smitten by TC Christenson’s performance in the States with his un-blown twin-engine 'Hogslayer'.  In another strange twist of fate, the Pegasus-Vincent with the “Big” engine is now owed by ex-Top Fuel Bike rider Roger Forsyth, who brought it about 20 years later at a Brooks Classic auction. Derek, Roger and I went to the auction out of curiosity to see what it would fetch – and he got carried away!  Incidentally Roger was also an apprentice at Cranfield during the same period as Derek - strange but true.  Perhaps I ought to add; Roger blew it up on it's third outing without ever getting it down the track - we’re still waiting for him to rebuild it!  Incidentally that is Ray Law in the background sitting in Terry Fisher's Zodiac/Zephyr.  They were part of our support team in those days and now run their own double Triumph at classic events.  But what the hell they were doing on the start line with Terry's car I have no idea.

 

 
 

Ian  These two shots are of Mick Butler on Cyclops, powered unusually by a 500cc Norton twin, when most people used the Triumph engine - these photos were probably taken when he was still part of Team Pegasus - sometimes riding both bikes at the same meeting although not at the same time I hasten to add!
Mick's one of those clever individuals, who's very capable at almost everything.  I always used to think he had a very neat riding style, getting his feet on the pegs very shortly after launch but I guess these shots prove the exception.  The first shot was his original bike and the second shows his upgraded frame utilising the more conventional twin top tubes.

 

 
 

Ian  The next one is Mick Butler on his double engine Norton “Super Cyclops" and I’m glad to see he’s putting one over that Hobbs fellow.  You can see what I mean when I mentioned his riding style: he’s a very short distance off the line and his feet are already heading in the direction of the footrests.

 

 
 

Ian  And talking of that Hobbs fellow, here’s John on his record breaking 500cc Triumph against yours truly and I’m glad to see I got a hole shot!
He used to send me pictures of himself leaving me for dead on the start line, so it’s pleasure to get my own back.
Although there were many excellent riders around at the time, in my humble opinion, John was the outstanding rider of his era - famously taking World Records away from the legendary Italian Gilera factory team . . . no let me re-phrase that: John was the outstanding competitor of his era - he possessed a lot of skills other than being just a rider.
We used to play all kinds of tricks on each other - too many to list here. But one or two that stand out in my mind was the time when I called him on the telephone one evening pretending to be a Swedish promoter who wanted to book him for a non-existent meeting in Sweden.  He only twigged when I called his bike the Drop-It as opposed to the Hobbit.  This was shortly after he fell off during a burnout against TC Christenson.
Also relating to that occasion, if I remember correctly - one of us presented him with a ceremonial cushion so he could have a soft landing next time!
Then there was the time when Cheryl, John’s wife, wrote a brilliant mickey-taking poem about Pegasus really being an old Donkey!  
This was published in all the motorcycle papers and read out by Brian Taylor over the PA at the Pod . . . they were the days!  I wonder if the guys today experience that sort of camaraderie?
Jim  Olympus was John’s original 500cc Triumph, built when he was a Gas Board apprentice and the first 500 to get into the nines.  He used to beat the 1200cc Drag Waye with Dave Lecoq aboard by blipping the throttle hard as they staged, so Dave couldn't hear the engine of the slower revving VW power unit, causing Dave to often get the start wrong.
John's greatest achievement on Olympus was breaking the world 500cc standing start kilometre, taking it from the Italian Gilera factory, who used one of their world championship road racers in modified form, with full streamlining, to set the figure - I wish I could remember the numbers . . . sorry.  An apprentice gas fitter from Luton building a bike in the garden shed (his Dad’s garage) to beat one of the great racing names was a headline story.  Brilliant achievement, still heavily underrated.

 

 
 

Ian  John up against Ray Feltell.  This was his double Triumph before he came out with the famed Hobbit double engined Weslake - which he still rides today at classic sprints.  By the way, those nose cones that everyone used were made by Alf Hagon - made famous on his JAP sprinter.
Jim  As you say Ian, his first double was a pair of blown Triumph engines, regular winner and nine-second runner, but he wanted to get into the eights and that meant the final bike, `The Hobbit', using two 850cc Weslake engines and sponsored by `The Motor Cycle' magazine.  There was a suggestion he should call the later bike `After Eights' and ask the chocolate makers for sponsorship, but it never happened.  You don't see many bike drag racers passing the After Eights around after a burger and a can of lager, do you?

 

 
 

Ian  Mick Butler on Pegasus up against John, when I first looked at this, I thought “Great – Mick’s got him on the lights” - but then I saw that red cherry!
Jim  Pegasus with its single gear - wind up the power, pop the clutch and spin the slick for 100 yards or more before it hooked up. Made for some terrific action shots like this.

 

 
 

Jim  Hmmn, an odd one this.  Clearly the stranger on John’s bike is Chris Richards.  Chris came from Bradford and was a quick man on a 500 Triumph.  I'm wondering if he bought the old `Olympus' 500, so might have been trying the bigger Triumph if John was going to sell it.  This is pure speculation.
Ian  Well it is Chris Richards and I think John sold his double Triumph to fund the construction of the aforementioned Weslake.  I’ll check with John.
John Hobbs  The confusion arises because there was more than one Olympus II.  The 'II' referred to the number of engines not the version of the bike.  There were in fact Mk1, Mk2 and Mk3 versions of Olympus II built in 1972, 1973 & 1974 respectively.  Mk1 was the double 500 (1000cc) version on which I recorded Europe's first 160mph plus terminal speed for the 1/4 mile at Santa Pod and also ran the first ever 17sec run for the standing start kilometre at RAF Fairford.  This bike was broken up at the end of 1972, many of the parts were used to build Olympus II Mk2.  This was based on two Triumph 6T 650cc motors (1300cc) but was not successful.  I spent the 1973 season breaking chains and gearboxes and burning out clutches.  This bike was also broken up to build Olympus II Mk3.  This was based on two Triumph 6T bottom halves with 750 cc Morgo barrels and pistons (1500cc) on top.  The gearbox problems were overcome to some degree by running larger engine sprockets to reduce torque loadings, and the clutch was modified by adding three centrifugally operated arms to apply additional loading to the clutch pressure plate to help lock the clutch up.  This was the bike I sold to Chris Richards - and which you see in the photo - and was the one I broke Alf Hagon's long standing standing start 1/4 mile record with at the Pod with a time of 9.17sec.

 

 
 

Keith Lee  Early pre-Co-Respondent days for John Clift, on his blown 348cc BSA “Earwig”, nearest the camera.  John built frames for a lot of racers over the years, and was good friends with Ton Pels.  He always raced hard, while always ready to lend a hand to help someone in the pits.
Jim  John’s from Epsom and worked in Ron Holland’s breakers yard in the early days and came to prominence on a blown 650 Triumph.  He went through three engines in one Blackbushe meeting, but you could buy a Bonneville engine for about £10 trade price in those days.  John built a reputation for good frames and got quicker and quicker on British parallel twins; he began using the name `The Co-Respondent’ because his wife Pat said that if she divorced him it would be because he’d spent too much time with his bike!  Recognised as the best drag bike frame maker in the UK when I was last involved, and a very quick and brave rider.
Ian  D’you know I never realised John ran a BSA and I thought all his bikes were called “The Co-Respondent”.  You live and learn!  His blown 650 Triumph was super-quick - in fact it might have been a 750, or bigger - or maybe that was later on.  He built very nice frames, in fact he very kindly offered to build me a new frame (free of charge!) for the Pegasus-Norton when I was going to continue to campaign it on my own.  That was when Derek decided to hang up his helmet but it never happened.  His reputation for bike frames extends right up to today, with Roel Koedam.  Yes John Clift is another of those guys you will not hear a bad word against - a really good bloke.
What’s also interesting about this photo is t
he chap in the far lane in blue leathers. That’s Charlie Harrison, and that looks like Olympus to me, which is a bit odd. I think we need John’s input again.
John Hobbs  “The picture is of my single engined 500cc Triumph "Olympus" This is the bike I broke into the 9s on and the one I took the standing kilo record from Gilera with.
I sold it to Charlie Harrison in 1972 and apart from the nose cone the picture shows the bike as it was sold in its original condition.
So far as the nose cone goes the bike was sold with the original blue one, but I may well have sold the nose cone from "Olympus II" to Charlie in 1973 when the double was broken up to build a bigger double with two 650cc engines, in which case the picture would be 1973. Charlie sold the bike to John Harpum who worked at the Pod doing paint jobs and he lived in a caravan up there.  John took the bike to Sweden when he went out there to live, where it underwent several changes including a 2 speed gearbox and slipper clutch which of course completely ruined it.  It then disappeared never to be heard of again. I should never have sold it, the bike had very special memories for me.

 

 
 

Ian  Well Brian Chapman, what can you say?  A real Giant Killer if ever there was one.  A carpenter by trade I believe, who lived in Waltham Abbey.  Brian managed to squeeze amazing performances from that supercharged 500cc Vincent single cylinder engine.  In my opinion, he never received the full recognition he deserved.  The guys with the doubles (including me) always hated going up against him in case he blew them away.  It wouldn’t take much for the more vocal members of the crowd to remind us we were two or three times the size of Mighty Mouse – and he still beat us.  As the song says - Simply the Best.
Jim  I agree, how can you tell all about Brian Chapman, the flying carpenter, short of writing a book?  He started out with the unlikely 500cc Vincent `Comet’ and developed it to the point where it was a consistent eight-second runner.  The cams he made himself, getting the originals built up with Stellite by a local welder, then filing to shape in his self-built workshop.  `Mighty Mouse’ ran with a Shorrock supercharger, and at one outing supplemented by a turbocharger intended to aid the boost, but didn’t give much extra urge, so the idea was dropped.

MCN Drag Bike Champion in the late 1970s, his victory at the final round at Santa Pod was greeted by the biggest cheer I’ve ever heard for a bike racer on the quarter mile.  He also went to America as Guest of Honour at the Vincent Owners Club rally there; he wasn’t expecting to race, just fire the bike up, but they’d entered him for a meeting at Great Lakes Dragway.  That’s not far from Milwaukee, home of an American vee-twin of renown, and when the little 500cc British single came up against the double-engined Harley in the first round and beat it, the cheers could probably be heard in the board room at H-D.
Brian went on to develop `Super Mouse’, a 998cc Vincent twin that doubled up the spec of his single, and that would run below 8.5 seconds.  But a ‘get-off’ at Santa Pod made him stop and take stock - a man with wife Renee and two sons to think of, and so he retired from racing.  Today Brian and Renee tour a lot in Europe on his much-modified Vincent `Rapide’, and he makes occasional appearances at sprint events, only to spectate.  The world does miss that remarkable little single cylinder racer and its equally remarkable rider.

 

 
 

Ian  Now this is an interesting picture.  This is of Robin Ditcher onboard Warbird  a supercharged V-Twin 998cc Vincent.  Robin built choppers and ran a bike customising business.
I last saw him at the London City Airport sprint a couple of years ago and he was then involved with a very nice blown Vincent called Brutus.

The interesting thing about the Warbird team is that one of the early crew members was Tony Thacker, who is now Executive Director of the NHRA museum in California and an ex-Custom Car Magazine editor.

We’ll have to see if we can get Tony’s input on this one…

(cue phone call to Pomona)

Tony Thacker (The NHRA Motorsports Museum)  What an honour to be amongst such esteemed company and to hear from my old hero Ian.  Yes indeed, I used to help Robin with Warbird.  We met through a youth club in our home town of Maidstone, Kent.  We used to go shooting at an army gallery and he would give me a lift back to the youth club on his new Vincent for which he paid 98 quid and that was about 1966.  We were both big drag fans and began going together to the sprints at Ramsgate, Kent - I still have the programs! - Brighton Speed Trials and of course the dreaded Pod, the first event March 1966!  Then he started to build Warbird - not sure of the year.  We also started a chopper business called Rat Motors at Kingswood, near Maidstone.  That would have been about 1970? We made long fork legs, handle bar risers, sissy bars, etc. mostly for Triumphs.  We raced Warbird through the late ' 60s early ' 70s and I was really the push starter and not much more.  Rob did all the building and riding - I doubt he trusted me to ride.  Eventually he built a new more purpose-built bike with a tube frame, etc. but I think was losing interest by then and we didn’t race it much.  Besides, it was green!!!  I eventually opened another bike shop in Deptford called Big Bike with Guy Carter.  That was through the late ' 70s early ' 80s doing mostly Kawasaki tuning with bits imported from the US.  By then I was well into journalism and just moved more into the car side of things but always loved bikes.  I’m just not the best rider in town, no natural ability!!!  What else can I tell you..?”
Jim  I’ve also been in touch with Robin Ditcher.  Robin says he built the bike as a 1000cc unblown Vincent racer, running on straight methanol, and says his best time was about 11.7 seconds in the bike’s brief racing life.  He did get a much quicker ticket at a Blackbushe meeting, but doesn’t believe it and won’t quote the figures, honest man that he is.  `Warbird’ promised much, but persistent clutch problems meant that its potential was never realised and it was retired.  Some parts of it appeared on the late Jim Palmer’s `Brutus’ supercharged Vinnie.
Robin still has the power unit and says he’s going to restore it and fit it in a bike, probably a road going one, which is a great pity.  Go on Rob, think about a sprinter and how much better it would be with all the knowledge you’ve acquired in the passing years!

 

 
 


Jim  The sidecar is Vic Phillips' Imp-powered `Impetus' that was a regular winner in the ' 60s and I believe took some world records off George Brown's Vincent.
Ian  
I also think this was the last sidecar outfit before the BDR & HRA banned them from the drags.

 

 
 

Ian  No idea who this is, obviously a brand new Kawasaki for 1971.
Duncan Kaye (Vintage Japanese motorcycle enthusiast)  Kawasaki H1, 2-stroke triple, 500cc, 60bhp at 7500rpm.  Weighed just 174kg.  Very good in a straight line, no good on corners - frame too flexible.

 

 
 

Jim  Mr Digby's `Rice Burner' you say?  That was a common term of reference for Jap bikes in the 1960s. The use of the tilted screen is certainly novel.
Duncan Kaye (Vintage Japanese motorcycle enthusiast)  HondaCB750 SOHC, vintage ’69, maybe later.  The very first production superbike, 750cc 4 cylinders, four exhausts - windshield not standard!

 

 
 

Jim  David Hardy racing a lovely example of the Norvin (Norton Featherbed rolling chassis, with a 1000cc Vincent V-twin power unit) and the neat front end looks like a set of Paul Dunstall's twin discs.

 

 
 

Ian  Ray Elgar in the far lane on his Vincent, with a big smile on his face - clearly enjoying himself. He was the scourge of the Street Eliminator at the time.  He used to ride his bike to the track, blow everyone away and then ride home!  If I remember correctly - he used to run in the 12s.
Jim  Ray Elgar's 1000 Vincent had a Swiss-made frame by Fritz Egli, a very quick motorcycle.  Ray's son has a 500cc Vincent Comet engine in a Norton Dominator `featherbed' frame that's known as 'The Comdom'.

 

 
 

Keith Lee  This is John Bridges.  The Triumph powered machine was called “Hog Rod”, and in the early seventies he and Ray Elgar were the riders to beat in Street Bike.  Racing gear was a bit more casual then!

 

 
 

Ian  Here we have a rare shot featuring both Bartram brothers, Chris and Tony, Rebel vs Rebel.  Chris Bartram (nearest camera) passed away quite a few years ago, I think with leukaemia.  The Bartram brothers lived in Cricklewood and were very likeable and popular guys, their grandfather used to act as pit crew for them.  I don't remember much about how the Harleys ran - I recall Tony’s HD was a 1200 and Chris’s an old 1940s sidevalve.  Prior to the Harleys, Tony ran an Imp powered bike called “Impala” and used to run well on occasions and Chris used to run a single engine Norton, again with winning results.  We (Derek, Mick & I) used to attended some lively parties in the North London area (often at Tony Weedon's house)  Both Bartrams and the rest of the London “Mob” (Hobbs, Don East, Dave Glee - plus too many to list) used to turn up as well - they were very good times, sadly missed.
Jim  Actually Chris Bartram’s engine was a complete one-off.  They put 350cc ohv Matchless top ends on a 1942 side-valve Harley bottom end.  Occasionally an old picture of the bike turns up in obscure bike magazines with totally wrong captions.

 

 
 

Ian  Duncan Hocking “The Welsh Wizard” on his supercharged Triumph.  He was the brother of the road racing legend - the late (that word again) Gary Hocking.  As a consequence he was a rider who had a target on his back - in other words, everyone wanted to beat him.  Despite this handicap he was quite successful and went on to set a World Record at Elvington - I believe - memory fading again.  Of course Duncan is back again, after all these years, running a Super Twin at Shakespeare County Raceway. Jim, you know more?
Jim  Duncan Hocking is back, with help from Alan Terry of ARE Engineering - his old sponsor. Not much success to date, so far as I know.  Duncan went to America but is now back living in Wales.

 

 
 

Jim  It's Tony Weedon, who was a neighbour of Brian Chapman's in Waltham Abbey and ran a very rapid blown Triumph on minimum replacement costs, despite revving it to 10,000 over the finish-line, when he was hitting 150mph terminals.  When TC Christenson was over with `Hog Slayer' back in ’ 74 he was looking at the bike and asked Tony how many runs he did on an engine.  Tony replied that he counted how many seasons he did on an engine!  I know when he burned a piston he took a second-hand one off the shelf and was going just as fast next time out.
He sold the bike to a Dutchman with very detailed instructions on running it, but apparently the guy knew better, made alterations and the bike went slower and slower.  Tony lives in Norfolk now and has no interest at all in bikes, which is a pity for a bloke who was once very competitive, with a best time of 9.05.

Ian  There’s an interesting story about how Tony became involved with the sport.  In the late sixties a bunch of us were at Harwich, awaiting a ferry to Holland to compete in a sprint.  He was also travelling abroad with his wife on a motorcycle and sidecar outfit and came over to speak to us to find out what all these long haired louts were doing with these strange looking bikes.  We got talking and it turned out he only lived a short distance from some of the other guys.  Now if my memory is correct, he followed us to the sprint in Holland and then turned up at the Pod the next weekend - completely hooked.  And as they say - the rest is history.  I recall that when Tony stopped racing and moved to East Anglia he ran a B&B.

 

 
 

Jim  Drag-Waye was ridden at the drags by Dave Lecoq; the bike was conceived and built by Clive Waye, who reckoned that 9.17 seconds was the ultimate 440 yards time, because that was 1g acceleration, and him being a boffin he believed the boffin rules.  We now know differently, of course.
The bike started sprinting with a 1200cc VW engine, upped in later forms, and it would eventually run low to mid nines, but I don't think it ever hit its 9.17 target.  When first built, it had a car-style driving position with the pilot behind the rear wheel, and all early tests were done a 12bhp sidevalve Norton single; the man in the hot seat then was Howard German.  Broke world standing start 440 yard records at one time, but a decent 650 Triumph would see it off easily on the quarter.

 

 
 

Ian  Another rare picture in as much as Japanese bikes rule the street classes these days - and almost everything else for that matter.  “Geary” is the name of the rider that comes to mind when I look at this beautifully turned out road-going Triumph with those lovely “swept back pipes” - perhaps someone can put me right on this?  You just don’t see this much chrome on a bike anymore, well no chrome period.  Even the tyres are polished!

 

 
 

Ian  Far lane, DCS31, is the . . yes, sadly that word again - late - Mick Warne on his blown Triumph “Little Red Riding Rod”.  A very likeable competitor indeed.  He used turn in some very respectable times - especially considering his natural disadvantage!  Mick weighed about 17 stone and I often joked that I should try putting on some weight as it might’ve helped with my times - it certainly didn’t handicap Mick, I remember he was very quick on the tree.  His wife Margaret played a major part on the organising side for the BDR & HRA.  Who’s that riding the Imp powered bike, Jim?
Jim  `Mighty’ Mick Warne converted a very smart 650 Triton into a sprinter, later added a blower and finally built a twin-engined blown Triumph that was a Top Bike contender.  He lived in Watford, married to Margaret and had two kids; Margaret was entries secretary of BDR&HRA and they both worked really hard for the sport.
When the Swiss wanted to put on a motor racing demo in the ' 80s, I arranged for Brian Chapman with `Mighty Mouse’ and Mick Warne with his double Triumph to go, where they were surprised to learn that they were expected to do demo runs.  Roz Prior was there with a Top Fueller and just blitzed the crowd’s mind, with the bikes close behind.  At the exhibition on the evening Mick had his bike with a big sign saying `Keepen Ze Mitz Off!’  Mick succumbed to a heart attack and left this earth well ahead of schedule.  Great bloke.
I think the Imp rider might be Steve Murty of Pennine Drag Strip and Jet Truck fame, you’ll have to check.

(cue phone call to Hebden Bridge and a quick chat to the man himself…)
Steve Murty  Yes that's me in the near lane.  Wow!  That brings back some memories.  I ran a best of 10.9 at 137mph over the quarter.  Prior to the "Imp" I raced a blown Vincent.  There were a group of us from the Huddersfield, Halifax and Wakefield area.  Friends like Godfrey Wormald who had a 350 supercharged Triumph and a twin-engined Triumph, Bob Newbold who used to help me with "Imp", and many more whose names I've forgotten.  We used to use a minibus and load our bikes on a truck to get down to Santa Pod.  It was then that someone said, why don't we have our own drag strip, somewhere nearer home.  That's what started me, first with Crossland Moor, then Aintree and now York.  I've been running York Raceway for 30 years now, and I've been racing wheelie cars, jet trucks, monster trucks - you name it - since those drag bike days.  I built "Imp" myself, with a Hillman Imp engine - always liked to do things differently, and I've still got the trophy in my office when I beat Henk Vink.  That was at the International Sprints at Uden in Holland, April 1972.  "Imp" was lost in a garage fire, a fitting end!  It was a bleedin' nightmare, we used to run 30% nitro but the blower had too much overdrive.  I hold the land speed record for a Jet Truck, and have run a best quarter mile of 11.7 at 137mph - exactly the same terminal speed as I achieved on that damn bike.  The only difference is the truck weighs 3 tons!

 

 
 


In the course of compiling this feature we learnt that Danny Johnson had passed away on 23 March 2005.  Unfortunately this was not widely reported in the drag racing community and our contributors were all saddened to hear the news.  Danny was part of the US visitors in 1973, along with Don Schumacher, Tony Nancy and Paula Murphy.  He was immensely popular with fans and fellow racers alike, returning again to the UK in 1975 with TC Christenson.  Danny's series of match races against TC and John Hobbs were some of the most eagerly anticipated races in drag bike history and proved to be one of the enduring memories of the 1970s.  It is our pleasure to include the late Danny Johnson into this otherwise all-British feature, and all our contributors offered their thoughts and memories on the quiet American who enthralled us all.
Keith Lee  Danny Johnson I remember well.  I may still have a bit of his crankcase lurking somewhere from when he blew up his number one single Harley on his visit in 1973.  A real nice laid back guy from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who started drag bike racing in 1970, he wowed the fans over here with a rolling flame burnout.  He was also well liked by the other racers over here.  His racing style was so easy - and consistent.
He was meant to bring over his double-engined Harley for the Internationals in 1973 but he dropped it on a rolling burnout prior to his visit, so he brought over two single-engined Harley bikes instead.  The Americans did things differently and unlike the majority of British drag bikes their bikes were not supercharged - just lots of nitro through carbs.  Danny did bring over the double-engined “Goliath” when he came back in 1975 and match raced John Hobbs.  That of course produced the first side by side 8’s outside the USA.
It is sad to hear of Danny’s passing, he was a real nice guy.
John Hobbs  My memory of Danny Johnson was that he was an unassuming, down to earth pragmatic racer who knew his stuff and loved racing.  My match race series with him in July 1975 not only produced the first side by side 8 second runs this side of the pond, but he taught me a thing or two as well.
Ian  Unfortunately Derek and I were on a sabbatical (building the Pegasus-Norton) when Danny Johnson came over the first time, so we never raced him.  But I did pick up Danny and his crew from Heathrow Airport as a favour for Bob Phelps.  It was probably not an introduction to England they'd have thanked me for; by the time we arrived at their hotel in central London they were all ashen faced - my driving technique of ducking and diving down all the side streets to avoid the traffic jams did not amuse them!  That's Bob on the left, Danny in the centre and Lee Stewart and Bob McCormack - his crew guys - on the right in the group photo.  I'm sure many drag racing fans will remember that other photo in Hot Rod Magazine of Danny surrounded by a Who's Who British drag bike racers, all listening intently to him at the ' 73 Internationals.  It completely summed up how popular he was, not only with the fans, but also with his fellow bike competitors.
Jim
 Danny was the first American racer I saw in the UK.  The British public were amazed how quick an unblown vee-twin could be.  When he came back with “Goliath”’, the double Harley, it was with the first slider clutch we’d seen on a bike and he was lost behind a crowd of bike racers wanting to know how it worked.  He was billed as the man most likely to give us the eight-second bike in the UK, but Keith Parnell beat him to that.
For all the Americans who have raced in the UK, I shall always remember Danny.

Mike Stewart - Johnson High Performance, Kernersville, North Carolina.  Hey guys, thanks for your thoughts, Danny was a great guy, I was very lucky to have gotten to work for him, and later take over the business.  Dan taught me a lot about motorcycles and what makes them tick.  Dan treated me like I was one of his kids, and as he got sick I was there for him and his family.  I keep in touch with Dan's son Ronnie on a regular basis.  Dan was inducted into the North Carolina Hall Of Fame this past weekend (January 2007). Ronnie was there and I was telling him about this website, he was real happy to know what you guys have done.  Thanks again for remembering Danny.

 

 
 

As always there is a long list of people to thank for making this feature possible.
First and foremost Andy Kirk of DRC Review for helping get the wheels in motion, Ian Messenger for the many suggestions and contacts he provided and Jim Reynolds for his unswerving enthusiasm for the project.
Then thanks to Martin Hagon, Mark Gredzinski, Keith Lee, John Hobbs, Tony Thacker, Duncan Kaye, Steve Murty and Mike Stewart who all contributed in so many ways.
A special thanks to Clive Rooms who assisted throughout with his invaluable archive of programs and race reports.
And of course, last but not least Roger Phillips for giving us the visuals - without which there'd have been no feature.

Andy Barrack
February 2007

 

 

     
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