13 November 2010

I am so pleased that Drag Bike Racing in Britain is finally heading out there for people to read, after what seems like an eternity.  I've already read it, but was still very impatient to see it released.

It was good to see that the first response from someone who had bought it, was from none other than Syd MacDonald - forever famous as the BDR&HRA race director of the period, who sported a natty line of dodgy deckchair patterned trousers, and was usually to be seen riding round the Pod on his Honda 50 race control bike.

More surprising was that an Australian racer had also received his copy well before those who had pre-ordered their copies over here. Book distribution works in mysterious ways - but then it has only been a week!  Meanwhile on Amazon you could buy a secondhand one, but not a new one at one point - it is all beyond me.

The initial reviews have been overwhelming, especially because writing a book is one thing, but you have no control over the reaction of others when you write what has to be largely a personal view of the events and characters of the period.

I have no wild expectations on sales - my main aim was to get on and finally write about a great period in the sport's development which I was pleased to be a small part of; and for those who remember that far back to approve of the result.

When I started the project I had no idea of how much time would be spent on peripheral items, especially related to publicising the book, plus dealing with queries unrelated to the writing, and then being interviewed about the book.  It all takes up an enormous amount of time, but I have to say that it has been an enjoyable experience - apart from being photographed by the local daily paper!

The most enjoyable part for me has not surprisingly been getting back in contact with some old friends after too many years - and reliving some of the good times once more.

Please do let me know what you think of the book after you have read it, with any observations you may have, because that is the important final part of the book writing process for me - the feedback. 

Keith Lee



Keith has kindly provided me with an advance copy of his book and has invited me to add my review to his blog.
Ooh err . . . I have never reviewed a book before but here goes . . .

I suppose when someone who was intimately associated with the drag bike racing scene, and who was also a competitor and a photo-journalist, decides to write a book on the subject of drag bike racing you are likely to finish up with an authoritative piece of work.  Keith has obviously achieved this but has managed to do so in such a way that the book is both extremely interesting and readable, but also stands as a work of reference.  I shall certainly be making extensive use of it as I struggle to make up captions for bike pictures in the future.  I witnessed most of the events described in the book and photographed many of the machines, but as I started reading I came across so many facts and snippets of which I was previously unaware it became obvious to me that I can't have been really paying attention at the time!

The book runs to 87 pages and is, of course, lavishly illustrated mostly with Keith's own photographs but with several from Brian Sparrow of the earlier machines.  The pictures really are excellent.  The structure of the book has been thoughtfully constructed.  There is a foreword by John Hobbs (who knows a thing or two about drag bikes!) followed by a chapter outlining how the bikes developed in broad terms.  The majority of the text, as you might expect, is devoted to the landmark events and the riders of the period, but there are fascinating chapters dealing with the significant influence of the many American riders who raced over here, the huge variety of powerplants that were used with greater or lesser success, and some of the more eccentric machines to hit the strip (including Keith's insane 500cc Triumph-powered Lambretta scooter).  The book finishes off with a look at some of the veteran racers who are still active in the sport.

This is an excellent book which I can heartily recommend, it should be on every drag racing enthusiast's book shelf.

Alan Currans


29th September 2010

Drag Bike Racing in Britain - the book - does exist!

I got a phone call from Veloce this morning, telling me that the advance copies had just arrived at their offices. Unfortunately, at the time I was 30 miles away photographing in Poole, but made the trip back to Dorchester in record time before they closed, to pick up my first copy.

While I was there, Veloce gave me an update on the volume publication date for the book, which has moved back around 4 weeks as the delivery date has been firmed up.  It has now been scheduled for distribution on November 6th.  Just in time for buying someone a nice Christmas present!

It is so different thumbing through the pages to seeing the proofs on screen, and I am very pleased with the reproduction quality of the pictures - some of which are heading for 40 years old.

Annie is pictured thumbing through the first copy, which will probably end up looking rather dog-eared by the time the first books are sent out - if I can keep hold of it.  Not sure it will be safe going to the NSA sprint at Westonzoyland this weekend!

Brian Sparrow visited us last week, when I had really hoped to be able to show him the first copy of the book. He did at least get a sneak preview, when I showed him the proofs - which he enjoyed seeing.

Thanks again to all those who have already ordered copies - won't be long now.


9th September 2010

Just a quick update on the delivery schedule for Drag Bike Racing in Britain, as some of you have been asking me just when the book is going to appear.

Due to pressure of work on new titles at the publishers Veloce, the proofing stage slipped slightly from its original plan, which has had a consequent knock-on effect at the printers.

Veloce have now advised me that the bulk shipment of books is now scheduled for availability on October 25th.

I can only apologise for the delay to all those who have pre-ordered copies, and are expecting imminent delivery. Believe me, I am more that anxious to get my own hands on a copy.  I may have seen the proofs on screen, with low res pictures, but it is not the same as seeing the real thing.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that at least I will be put out of my misery by getting an advanced trial run copy in the next week or so.  Everyone is welcome to look over my shoulder until the rest arrive!


19th August 2010

Well, at last I can say it is finished.  The book now has final approval from Veloce, and has been shipped to the printers this week.

A hectic week of checking and finalising the page layouts with Veloce culminated with the worst part of the process - the compilation of the index.  As layout man Ben said to me, it is not exactly ending on a high note, is it.  That it is not!  Indexes can be very variable in quality, and now I know why, after experiencing the mechanics of doing one.  I have enough problems indexing photographs, let alone a book.

It was a great experience, seeing the book really come to life as the chapters were assembled and mailed to me for approval.  Now the book was somehow real.

There is a very big difference, having started with a set of thumbnail images attached to the side of my script in the rough positions I wanted them, to seeing the completed article, where the pictures jump off the page.  It makes it a very visual work, and I am very pleased with the results, which has made the telling of the first 20 years of drag bike racing in Britain a very worthwhile project to undertake.

I am also happy that the work is absolutely as I wrote it, with tactful amendments along the way by Annie.  Mind you, that means if anything is wrong there is nobody else I can blame!

I have posted some more YouTube videos of drag bikes,  which I shot back in 1981.

One of them was of Bo O'Brochta's visit, when he torched the head on his Kawasaki.  I can remember thinking I will shoot a video on one run, and take stills for use in Motor Cycle on the next one.  When I saw the engine go bang I nearly had heart failure wondering how I was going to get some pictures.  Luckily everyone pitched in to help repair the motor, and I got my shots!

You can find the clips via my channel on YouTube by clicking here.

There should be a more to come over the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for them.

I will look to put up a few cine film ones as well, once I am a bit happier with the quality of them.

I am also assembling some bike scans to put up shortly on the Acceleration Archive, to add to the huge quantity of material already there from other contributors.  Hopefully there will be a few different ones among them, which have been forgotten along the way.


22nd July 2010

Time moves on, and the book has been through editing at Veloce, and I am now waiting to see the first of the page proofs arrive for checking.  The front cover has been slightly modified from the original layout, as an acknowledgement of the contribution to the sport of our American visitors over the years.  A picture of Tom Christenson racing Danny Johnson has replaced Dragwaye on the cover, but the amazing construction of Clive Waye is still featured prominently inside as one of the most innovative designs.

It is funny how small details can take up a lot of time when you strive to be as accurate as possible.  I hate getting people's names wrong, and was concerned about one of the American visitors in 1965 - even though it was only a one line entry.  The rider of the Perry-Scott double Triumph was listed as Lawrence Perry, but from my distant memory of the Dragfests I had him as Priness, which rather looks like a mistake.  I asked a few other old timers, but got no conclusive answer.  Official race documents had him as Lawrence, as does Crazy Horses, but I found other references to Preniss and Prentice.  Checked with a few American racers of the period, but most only knew them as the Perry-Scott team, who were African-American.  Luckily I happened across the man who now owns the very bike that raced here.  He contacted Agnew Scott, who is now in his 80s, and confirmed that it is definitely Priness Perry.  Apparently, the organiser of the US end of the trip, Lynn Wineland, was concerned that the straight-laced British would find the first name too odd - so his middle name was used instead!  Makes me think of a well known British team where all three team members are known by their middle names - but by their own choice in this case.  In case you are wondering, the answer is Pegasus.

We enjoyed  the Extreme Wheels event last month, and it was good seeing some older but familiar faces again at the show.  Great to see Nobby and the original Houndog car; and the Dorset Horn looked better than ever after its recent mishap, following a hard thrash by Dick and his band of helpers to get it back in one piece.  Syd McDonald was on good form, helping out Brian on the ACAG stand.  As for Norm Wheeldon's twin-engined dragster - what a machine.  It was an experience sitting in it, but hearing it run was something else.  Shame there were not many bikes there, but it was interesting chatting to current racer Phil Pratt about the challenges facing modern competitors.

One picture I have, but which does not feature in the book, is of EJ Potter's V8 bike back in 1966. It is one of Brian Sparrow's pit shots, which intrigued me when I enlarged it due to the presence of a character in the corner wearing a pork pie hat, and looking quizzically at another snapper.  Showed it to Annie, who wasn't totally convinced, so I took it to show the culprit who is only 20 miles away. It was - and he says he still has those trousers seen in the picture!  How many will instantly recognise him?  I should perhaps add that the picture of the Michigan Madman's bike that I did use is probably more embarrassing to someone even closer to home!

As a tail-piece, on the UKDRN forum I have posted my first YouTube video, featuring Brian Johnson's Pro Stock Kawasaki match racing the Paranoia altered back in 1981.  A rare bike-car race, which many will not have seen.  I plan to put up a few more when I can find the time - both bike and car action.  There are some interesting clips among the few hours I shot, which hopefully viewers will enjoy.  I am amazed the tapes have lasted nearly 30 years.  Keep an eye out on the forum, or use the direct link by clicking here.

September does not seem to be approaching very rapidly, but I am looking forward to collecting my copies on publication day, when it eventually arrives.


7th May 2010

It was quite a thrash, making sure that everything needed to go in the book was correct and ready to deliver to Veloce, and on the very date I had promised.  This included a printed copy with picture positions marked, plus all the pictures and appropriate captions fully referenced.  It was quite a relief to be able to return home and sit back, with the realisation that the book is finished.  Well it is if you discount liaising with the editor, checking proofs, and sorting the index!  It also left a somewhat odd empty feeling after quite some time focusing on one thing.

At least the next stage for me is a few weeks away, which gives me a chance to tidy up all the mess I created at home - and attend to some delayed jobs around the house that Annie has unfortunately not forgotten about! 

It certainly has been an interesting process to go through, and it makes me wonder if anyone ever writes a book and is truly happy with it.  I suspect that most writers think they could always add something more; but that probably just leads to not ever finishing the project.  At least the only person to have read it currently - at least twice - thinks it is still very readable.  Thanks Annie!

I am pleased with the result as it stands; and also that the first book on the bike side of drag racing in this country is now significantly closer to publication. 

The pictures are a strong element of the work, and picking the right ones is really hard.  I suspect a couple might yet change prior to publication.  I cannot wait to see how the first layout looks when it is sent to me.

One picture that definitely will be in, and which was hiding in the darkest reaches of my collection, was the picture of Keith Parnell's first 8 second run on his Rouge et Noir Triumph in 1975.  It needed some cleaning up after 35 years, but now looks really good.  I saw Keith only a couple of weeks ago at an NSA sprint at Keevil.  He was helping out Phil Steele, who is now the owner of the Parny Express Kawasaki, as well as Rouge et Noir 2.  Also at the event, after a year's lay-off, was Bernie White.  He was one of the 500 Triumph front runners in the early seventies - and suffered a couple of dramatic frame breakages at different meetings.  One was the result of most of his engine bottom half depositing itself in the field alongside at 120mph!  As the crankcase formed the bottom part of the frame, Bernie ended up skidding to a halt - leaving two lines in the track from the sagging engine plates.  He now races a Douglas, and still gives it plenty of stick.

Keith Parnell receiving the trophy from Dave Watts for the first 8 second run in 1975    

Phil Steele burning out at Keevil under the watchful eye of Keith Parnell

Bernie White on his vintage Douglas 500 at Keevil

Annie has been busy on Facebook, which she has really got into, and is helping to spread the word about the book.  Facebook proved to be very useful for me, in an unexpected way.  Interestingly one of the pictures I am now using in the book was actually taken by Mark Skinner just last month, and was spotted by Annie on Facebook. Mark has kindly allowed me to include his picture.  Just shows how unexpectedly things can happen.  Rather amusingly, the rider in question was going to tell me that he had been out for a run, and was more than a little taken aback when I told him I already had the photographic evidence and had earmarked the picture for publication!  Like I said earlier, choosing pictures is not easy, and that late addition meant one other picture of mine had to go.

Mark has been taking pictures at a number of events and RWYB meets at the Pod of late, and you might like to check out his pictures, which can be found at the following web address:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/

Hopefully we will be going along to the Extreme Wheels event in June, and will see some old faces there during the weekend.  Called in on Dick Sharp last weekend, and he is working flat-out to get the Dorset Horn back in shape after its recent mishap, so that it is ready to participate at the show.


20th April 2010

The book is now taking shape well, and Annie has been busy proof reading for the second time - before I decide to change things again!  Maybe a bad idea, as deadlines are fast approaching.

I am very pleased that John Hobbs agreed to write the foreword for my book.  To me he was the number one competitor of the period, and was a great ambassador for the sport.  It was very fitting that he should be the first bike rider inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

Choosing a picture to go with the foreword was difficult, but John's own words, which perfectly encapsulate what the period was all about, pointed me to my eventual choice below:

Whenever John came up against the late Dutch racer Henk Vink they would always be trying that little bit harder. It really would be a case of win or bust, as both tipped the can.  I know that both of these guys valued a full quarter win over the other as their biggest achievement, such was their mutual respect for each other.  As a perfect illustration, Henk won a final in 1977 against John when the Hobbit broke on the start line.  That did not give the Dutch ace any satisfaction, so he asked John if the bike could be fixed so they could have a proper race.  It could, they did, and Henk won a classic race under the lights, and honour was satisfied.

I have a lot of photographs, but trying to match up 100 pictures with the text in a sensible order is proving quite a task.  It has given me a new found respect for picture editors, that's for sure.  Just wish I had one to heap any blame on to!  I will have no excuse if the captions are wrong, as I will be doing them myself.  Probably a silly thing to admit, so maybe I should offer a prize for the first person to spot an incorrect caption when the book is published.  There are a few people around who are very hot on identification, so as a little incentive I will offer a special one-off enlargement of any one of my pictures to the winner who notifies me by email first.  Might have to ban a couple of people on the UKDRN forums from entering though, to give me a fighting chance!

Talking of typos, it still makes me chuckle when I think back too many years to when I read one of my race reports in Drag Racing News, where it stated  "the event was watched by a large crow'".

Motor Cycle Weekly also used to come up with some good ones.  Maybe not surprising when you consider I used to phone in race reports from a convenient bar - or more likely a draughty, smelly phone box - remember those - late on a Sunday evening to a typist who was totally not into racing.  I was always interested to see how the report read on a Wednesday after the exercise had added a couple of hours to my journey time home.  Oh for a laptop and wi-fi in those days!

Brian Sparrow has been very helpful with regard to the early days of the sport, and it was good to meet up with him again after such a long time.  How he managed to be on the committees of the NSA, BHRA and BDRA at the same time I do not know.  Most people find one club committee taxing, but mixing bike and car organisations! Dragfest manager Gerry Belton said it was not possible, but reckoned without Brian's diplomacy.  He mirrors my own enthusiasm for both 2 and 4 wheel competition - as long as the racing is good.

Finally thanks to Alan and Andy at Acceleration Archive for help in sorting out an issue I had with a couple of pictures.  Much appreciated guys.

Now, back to juggling these pictures again.......


9th March 2010

Many thanks to Alan for letting me post a blog about my forthcoming book from Veloce this September on his excellent site - and yes I will have a dig in my archives for some more pictures to put up on the site later this year.

I have been busy chasing up old friends and acquaintances as I work on producing the first book on drag bike racing in this country, which spans the first 20 years of progress in this sport of ours.

It is a fascinating experience looking back at times long past, and then matching my writings of the time with people's current memory of events.

One thing that has astonished me is that some of the racers I talked to have amazing recollection of so much of the detail of their racing experiences, some 35-40 years after the event.  Luckily I still have all my ramblings and notebooks from the period to provide an accurate reference for myself.

One of the real worries when writing this book is leaving someone out who really deserved to be mentioned. Perhaps I had better apologise in advance!  There were so many racers, and a fantastic variety of machinery to see, that it is impossible to cover them all.

Talking of riders, I have been trying to track down Jeff Byne, whose single and double-engined Triumphs were front-runners in the mid to late seventies.  He is one racer who is proving elusive.  If anyone is in contact with him, perhaps they can help me get in touch. My email address is: [email protected].

The book is not intended to be a  historical reference book, but will feature an extensive look at the notable achievements over the period, as well as giving a flavour of the personalities involved in continually pushing the boundaries using some unlikely engines.

A hard part of the process is choosing the pictures to bring the book alive.  I have scanned in some 500 images to make my selection of 100 for publication - yet still I am worried that I do not have enough!  No doubt I will go back and find some more.  I do know that I hate scanning - and the nasty things that happen to slides over 40 years.

I know it was a psychedelic era, but I do not recognise the colours associated with some of the images.  Some old slides age really well, but I swear some of them are diseased.  It has taxed my image editing skills with some of the pictures.  Much easier for togs these days with digital - apart from everyone wanting pictures immediately, and for nothing!

Working with Brian on providing pictures for Crazy Horses rekindled  my interest in producing a book, which has been an intention dating back more than 30 years.  The bikes have been an integral part of the scene since the beginnings, and  I am pleased to be able to showcase them in this book.

By the way, the Veloce boss is Rod Grainger. Some of you may know his name, as he was the editor of the Drive It! Drag racing book before leaving to set up his own automotive publishing company more than 15 years ago. Amazingly he even knew of my own foray into drag bike competition - and was still happy to publish the book!

Click here to visit the Veloce Publishing website.

Keith Lee





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