The idea behind this section of the site is to cover some off the offbeat or amusing episodes that took place while I was associated with the team or the drag racing scene in general. As with other parts of the site, I would welcome stories / anecdotes etc.
As most will be aware, the nitro-burning engine in a funny car or top fuel dragster requires significant care and maintenance. After most runs the very minimum "service" would be a total drain of the oil, removal of the pan and close inspection of the spark plugs. Nobby always wanted to run the car so that it was lean enough to burn a plug but not a piston…purely on economic grounds this made sense!
Any bits of aluminium on either a spark plug, in the oil or within the "pan" (the sump) spelt a total strip down and inspection of all 8 pistons, rods and bearings. Hopefully the damage was limited to a piston or liner; in which case it was replaced with a spare, the engine re-assembled and ready to go for the next round; all within and hour and a half.
When time was more abundant, say at the end of the qualifying day, the engine would be stripped down and checked over as a matter of course anyway. Hopefully jobs such as re-grounding valve seats and so on would be limited to non race weekends.
During the 1983 Cannonball Run, we qualified on the Saturday and did a total strip down of the engine during the late afternoon and early evening.
My job, as the "diver", meant that I was underneath the engine, undoing the big ends and pushing the rods up through the block for another guy to withdraw the piston and rod from the block. During the re-assemble process, the guys at the top of the engine would put the pistons and rods into the block, push them down so that I could fix the rod to the crankshaft and do the big end up. The final job was to torque all the bolts and double check everything.
Doing the big ends up was easy, there was a correct and a wrong way…it should be idiot proof. There should be no mistakes…the rods were marked to make this job easy....................................
The following morning when we started preparing the engine and getting it ready for warm up, Nobby noticed the starter was not turning the engine over as well as it should. Putting this down to a less than fully charged battery, the batteries were put on charge.
We ran the first race and on the between rounds service, noticed some minute pieces of aluminium in the oil and on a plug. Unfortunately we had also done some damage to the clutch and given the very short time available between rounds at the Cannonball, it was decided that we had insufficient time to strip the engine and fix the clutch. The clutch taking preference. I put the pan back on, filled the engine with oil and water, put the plugs in and then helped Owen with the parachute. Air was pumped into the tyres. Nobby and Ray, the other mechanic, had finished the clutch. Nobby mixed the nitro methane to the required percentage with methanol and we were ready.
Next run, back at the pits…loads more aluminum in the oil, in the pan and on the plugs.
Total strip down required.
Oh dear…one badly marked crank where a bearing had slipped or stuck. We were out of the race, the crank was damaged beyond a quick repair…..reason for problem; I'd put the big end cap on the wrong way around. Thankfully the rod had not seized and exited the side of the block with the consequences that would bring, but it needed the crank to be re-ground. The rod and piston were presented to me by Nobby as a momento…when I say presented, they were passed to me….when I say passed to me, they were thrown at me! (If Nobby had meant me to be hurt, they would have been thrown hard and would have hit me…I hope!)
As is well chronicled elsewhere, the trip to Sweden in 1983 saw the demise of the Houndog 10 Challenger in a top-end fireball.
This story is not about the fun and games at the track but those that went on around the track.
We left SLD Oldings en-route to Sweden one early Thursday morning. Nobby, his wife Anne and young daughter Jodie; Owen, his wife Monica and two boys Paul and Richard along with myself and wife Chris. All nice and cozy in the 3+3 Chevy Silverado Pick Up with trailer, containing the car, a spare short block, some pistons and other odds and ends, our suitcases and the most important commodity…beer (the most expensive thing to buy in Sweden).
Arriving at Harwich harbour, it looked like the pits at Santa Pod. Tony Boden and crew, Dennis Priddle (no car) some of the Stones team (Dave Stone would help us for the weekend), Russ Carpenter and more (I cant remember now).
After about a 24 hour crossing (a significant portion of which I recall was spent in the bar), we arrived in Gothenberg on Friday morning. Then a drive half way across Sweden to Mantorp Park. Unfortunately either the lateness in the day or the weather (I cant remember) stopped us doing the hoped for scrutineering on Friday, so we unhitched the trailer, crammed our suitcases into the pick up and set off for the short drive to the Motel.
Next day saw us qualify, OK I think nothing too special, before we prepared the car for Sunday.
First round, disaster; the fireball. Again, time and recollection takes its toll, but I remember Nobby already starting the process of thinking about what to do for the future; what body, where from, how much etc etc.
That evening, with the badly scarred Houndog 10 sitting in the trailer we went back to the Motel. The Motel was structured in such a way as all the rooms were surrounding a central grass bank (see below), which was an ideal resting place for the emotionally and physically wrecked race teams.
As one beer followed another, a call went up; "Has anyone seen Dennis Priddle?"
Dennis was spectating, not racing, but unfortunately had missed his lift from the strip back to the Motel. Unfortunately all people able to drive had had a beer or two at this stage. Add the fact that the Swedish laws on drunk driving are draconian, coupled to the fact that the Swedish police were placed outside Mantorp Park breathalising people as they exited the strip meant that Dennis had a problem!
His problem was resolved by catching a lift from a friendly Swedish team!
Next day, Monday, saw most teams head towards a local lake for some swimming and sandcastle making…oh and some fun in pedal boats that may or may not have seen some drag racing on the lake between the different teams!
On Tuesday, the Houndog team headed for Gothenberg at a leisurely pace; the other teams staying near Mantorp Park and heading to Gothenberg at some ungodly hour on Wednesday morning.
Tuesday night was spent in a small guest house after an evening at the enormous, for its day, theme park / fun fair.
On Wednesday morning we boarded the ship home, arriving back at SLD Oldings mid morning Thursday.
Wow, what a week….as a side story, at the time I worked for a securities trading company in the City of London who were not overly generous with their holidays. While driving to Mantorp Park on the Friday morning, Nobby was describing the plan of what we do on what day. The awful realisation hit me, I had made a mess of my holiday booking at work. I thought I would be back at work on the Thursday. On the Monday, with a fist full of Swedish coins I phoned the office to play the good citizen and explain my mistake and advise them that I would now be back on the Friday. Two things: The phone systems were not as good in those days as today and my boss had no sense of humour ( I thought) as on being appraised of my predicament, he was totally unsympathetic and demanded my return by Thursday regardless.
Moving forward about 18 years, this boss (who by then I got on well with) was retiring from a company that was a good customer of the Bank I worked for. We invited him and a few others that knew him to a retirement lunch and made a small presentation. There were lots of old "war stories" being told and I told the assembled group what a grade one unsympathetic so-and-so this guy had been when I phoned from Sweden. He fell about laughing as he too recalled the story and then trumped it by saying he recalled laughing his socks off as he put the phone down, realising the totally impossible position he had put me in and the thoughts that must have been going through my mind. I bet his Mum and Dad never got married!
Corvette at JWR
After the Corvette had been built, (with the financial help from John Woolfe Racing) it was agreed that we would take the car to JWR's headquarters in Bedford for some publicity shots alongside the 1984 Corvette road car that JWR imported.
We turned up on the Saturday morning and while we spent time crawling all over the road going car, the JWR staff and customers spent time looking over the Corvette Funny Car.
It was then decided to do a few dry hops (like mini burn outs) in the JWR car park.
Now, JWR was (is?) based on an industrial estate near Bedford. Sharing the plot, in fact the next shop / factory to JWR was a scientific precision tolls manufacturer…they used to make optical instruments like microscopes if I remember correctly. Unfortunately the precisional skill of making a microscope lens and the steady hand required is not helped by a 2000+BHP Funny Car giving it large within yards of your front door.
Nevertheless, the right palms were greased and permission was granted and good fun was had by all…..and once again the look on peoples faces as the nitro fumes went their way had to be seen to be believed.
SLDO workshop warm ups
As has been documented elsewhere on this site, Nobby and Owen and some of the mechanics on the team such as Alan Bates and Ray Pearce all worked for SLD Oldings. SLD Oldings also provided valuable sponsorship for Houndog 9 and 10 and a company that SLD Olding distributed equipment for, DEMAG, provided some sponsorship for the Fuel Altered.
This was all well and good, money was always
helpful, but one of the best things about Nobby and Owen and Co. working at SLD
Olding was the ability to use their workshops to build and maintain the
Space, heat, electric hoists, air tools to name but a few things were always of help. The ability to leave the car in bits on a Saturday night knowing it would all be safe and we could finish the re-build on the Sunday were conditions other teams could only dream of.
There was space around the back of the workshops to keep the truck and trailer and as can be seen in the photos of the building of the 'Vet, the paint shop was also well appreciated!
But the main thing that the workshops allowed the team to do was test the engine. Many a late Sunday night or mid-week I recall finishing the re-build of the car and before putting the car and bits away in the trailer we'd check the engine over. Street plugs in, oil primed, methanol tank on, some fuel (nitro) in the tank and let it start. If you think a fuel engine is impressive and noisy in the pits, you should hear one "in doors".
From my recollection, the nearest neighbours to SLD Olding were about half a mile away, and there is no way they didn't hear the car start up!
Once warm, the methanol would be switched off
to allow the engine to run on nitro and the well known crackle of together
with the smell would echo around the workshop!. The car would be held up by a
rope on a hoist to keep the rear wheels off the ground, swaying as the torque
and vibration set in. MAGIC!
In my couple of years I remember at least one 1 o'clock warm up...1 o'clock in the morning!
Crystal Palace show (Houndog 9)
Houndog 9 was first shown to the public at the Crystal Palace Drag Show over the winter of 1978. As detailed elsewhere this car was a show winner as well as a winner on the strip and was one of the first funny cars to have been built in the UK, as against being imported from the States.
I went down to the show with my girlfriend, (soon to be my wife) and met John and Brenda Lees who ran the supporters club.
I recall being awestruck by the car and talking with Alan Bates, the chief mechanic at the time, amazed that the engine was a dummy at the show having no crank or rods or pistons; these small details being still "on order".
Anyway, there was a competition for best of show and John, Brenda, Chris (my girlfriend) and I filled out so many of the forms to nominate Houndog 9 that when the winner was announced....Nobby Hills' Houndog 9 Funny Car...we deserved an Oscar to hide our surprise!
The music they used to build up the excitement for the prize giving at the end of the show was Emerson Lake and Palmer's Fanfare for a Common Man...and moving on to 2003, it bought a smile to my face when they still used it prior to the Top Fuel Dragsters race at the Pod.
Springnationals at Santa Pod
Just been browsing on the net at some of the old Pro-Fuel (as was then) drivers when a great memory came back to me.
Me and my mate went to the '76 Springnationals,
travelling from South Wales, using my firms van. We
got about 1 or 2 miles from the circuit when all the traffic came to a
standstill, so we parked the van up and walked the rest of the way.
Now my mate Kev had never been to a drag race meeting so you can imagine the look on his face when he saw some of the race cars!!
Anyway, I didn't realise that "Big Daddy" had come over to challenge our top drivers ( Bootsie, Dave Stone, Picardo etc and one I can't remember the name of , who owned Barnet Motor Co).
The draw was made and a bloke called Peter Crane drew Garlits in the first round and I thought he would "steamroller" Crane with the King Rat fueller.
We watched them do their burnout and I thought Garlit's car sounded a little "lumpy". They staged and everyone was waiting for the "Green" and when it came Crane was away like his arse was alight, beating the King Rat by a country mile.
But that was not all, in doing this he clocked the first sub 6 second run in Europe (5.97 secs @ 218 mph).
To say the place went "mental" would be a total understatement, it was absolute bedlam after a complete silence of about 30 seconds.
Hats where thrown in the air (mine included, it's still lost!) and some of us were crying with joy because so many Pro-Fuellers had been sooo close but not in the 5's.
To back it up I think he had to be within 10% of his time on his next run. He came up against the Barnet Motor Co fellah and "went to sleep" on the line but still recorded a 6.02 secs run ( I can't remember the TS) which sealed the record.
BLOODY FANTASTIC!! (scuse my language).
Ron McNeil (ex timing crew with my Brother in the hut at the end of the quarter - blue lane/yellow lane tickets and all.)
I remember when I was on the timing team at the pod many years ago and in particular one rotten week-end Radio 1's DLT turned up with the roadshow and you fired up #9 behind the startline and set his equipment almost sky high.
I also remember that weekend when Owen ran in the same lane Ronnie Picardo had just raced in leaving oil all over the start line causing Owen to stage too far off to the left of the near-lane and launched hard and then lost control rolling down the track and leaving everyone fearing the worst, but thankfully, such was the building skills of the crew, that he survived with a few bruises.
And he still gets in the bugga and races?
And Stu of course for so many years in the middle of the startline with Big Bill on fire crew and the antics we all used to get up to.
And I still have the photo of me sitting in #9 and being unable to get out being such a short-ass and you shutting the body down.
Glad to see you all at it and if I am lucky might even get back to the pod and see you race in 2005. let me know if and when.
Hi, I just put in" houndog drag racer" to see if there was anything and there you were.
I have literally last week sold my signed photo of nobby, owen, alan, (forgot 4th) and a houndog supporters T shirt and cloth sew on jacket badge to a guy in the states. (see whats new, June 2006 webmaster)
As you say, john lees was the secretary for
the club and I went to his house in bushey, herts one day and he had a slick in
his spare room, good man (and wife),
I went up santa pod in 70's and was about the time when they got stardust, the don schumacher funny car, and it was always owen against bootsie as no one else had a funny car, and dennis priddle in Mr Revell was the man to beat, bootsie normal the man to try but sometimes it was the dog.
There was also another very fast car and that was clive skilton's castrol sponsored car AD8. I took a lot of colour photo's at the time, and some silent cine film which i still have of a lot of the cars and bikes of that era, eg T rat, mouse organ (double v8) satan' s toy, red e, peanuts (vw m/bike) etc etc, they were good days.
If you belonged to the club you had the
chance to go in the push car, YEAA, that was a good day, as i had no other than
DLT sitting by me (my claim to fame) as he had broke his leg and needed a lift
up the strip after the run. he used to race a v8 escort run by the T rat team,
but blew it up one day with black oil coming out of everywhere, and they said
nothing was wrong. those were the days.
It is a story about a certain Mr Lees. John
used to write the race reports for the Houndog Supporters Club. Somehow, he
persuaded me to take this over, whilst he had the responsibility of running the
club! We used to go up to Santa Pod for every meeting, arriving on Saturday, and
leaving on a Sunday for a 2 day bash or Monday for a 3 day bash. We would stay
at the Midland Hotel, in sunny Wellingborough. At night John enjoyed going to
his favourite Indian restaurant, and having a ... steak. NOT a curry. After
watching him for a number of occasions drinking Beer, I took it upon myself to
educate his taste buds, and suggested he tried some wine. he finally agreed, and
after his starter of a pint of beer he started to attack the wine. When we
eventually decided it was time to leave, John admitted that wine tasted 'OK'. I
went and got the car, and drove back to the 'restaurant'.
When I eventually arrived, I was greeted by the sight of John trying to supporting himself on a lamppost. No mean feat when you are well over 6 foot tall, and have very little control over your feet, arms and legs!!
Eventually we got him into the car, he spent the rest of the journey to the hotel explaining to me how strong wine really is, and how it should not be mixed with beer.
The next morning John looked a 'bit' the worse for wear, but soon perked up with a lung full of Nitro!!