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.
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
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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!
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?
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
also interesting about this photo is the 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
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
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
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
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.
have to see if we can get Tony’s input on this one…
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’
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!
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.
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.
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 Elger 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
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.