Houndogs are Topdogs!

National Drag Racer May 1975

The lowdown on Nobby Hills and his Houndogs

You've got to admire a man that stands 6ft 4in tall, wears a ten-gallon hat, and packs enough horsepower to blast a stable of Formula One cars 'into the dust. With that sort of weight you can afford to blow your own trumpet and generally make your presence felt. But Nobby Hills, patron and figurehead of the Houndog Racing Team, is one of the quietest men on the drag racing scene, preferring to stay out of the limelight.

There is no way you are going to see Nobby driving either the 'Houndog 7' Plymouth Duster funny car or the 'Houndog 8' back-motored rail. Nobby admits he would like to have a go, but being kinda tall and weighing-in at 14 stone, it becomes a mite difficult to slot into a top-line quarter mile race ca r.

Successes in drag racing are very much about power-to-weight ratios, and like 1 4 stone is a five or six stone handicap you can do without en route to the winners' circle. If you look at Nobby's partner in crime, Owen Hayward, you'll notice he is smaller and lighter and ideally built for driving fuel cars.

Nobby Hills' long involvement with dragging is a partnership - with his lovely lady wife Doreen. There cannot be many women around who have made the sacrifices she has to help her fella become the man behind the 'Houndog' operation. It is surely fair comment to say Mr and Mrs Hills seldom, if ever, receive the adulation that the crowds give to 'Houndog' drivers. Fellow competitors, promoters and officials know Nobby and Doreen for the genuine people they are always willing to help anyone in trouble. Even tempered, and with a nice line in humour.

Nobby and Doreen live and breathe drag racing. There can be few in the sport who have been around so long (since 1963) or who have worked so hard together to put on a crowd pleasing show. As they both say: "Basically, all we want to do is go drag racing". There are no ulterior motives - they just enjoy the sport. To this pursuit of an ideal they have sacrificed a lot; they live in a small house and all their spare time and joint income goes into their cars.

While I'm about it, let's just set the record straight. There is no big money behind them, not even a major sponsor. By a rare combination of graft, courage and dedication, starting with a simple 3.4 Jag-engined slingshot in '63, they have ended up being owners of the rail and part owners of the funny car. So all you racers on a limited budget take heed; it can be done if you really believe in yourself and drag racing and are prepared to work hard.

Just in case you're interested (if you're not I'm, going to tell you anyhow) the 'Houndog' name is not symbolic of Nobby's face - that creases too readily into a smile. It dates back to being a fan of Eivis. Remember 'You ain't nothin' but a Houndog'? The DA, fluorescent socks, drains and drapes? Ah, pure nostalgia! Well, Nobby had all the gear.

Always enamoured with blown motors, Nobby and Doreen ran their first rail with front-mounted blower in the 'Dragster, 3000-600Occ' class of '63, achieving a best of 14.4/109.2, would you believe. 1964 saw the first 'Dragfest', which was certainly formative in them running big Caddy engines, blown of course, from '65 to around '69, when driver Mike Hutcherson tested the strength of SPR's barriers at 15Omph.

It's rumoured that at 30 to 60 a time for a Caddy engine, they were spending more on such motors (like six in one year) than King Saudi of Saudi Arabia. Being always short of cash and having been cursed with an inventive mind, Nobby built most of the 'go faster' bits for his cars in those days. Evenings and weekends would find him making his own fuel-injector systems, rods, clutches, girdles etc. Or 'beating out de rhythm on de drum' to produce a body from ally sheet. Paint finishes had to be applied in an unventilated garage and Doreen recalls it usually consisted of a brief burst with the spray gun, then out for a breath of fresh air, resulting in more paint on Nobby -and the garage walls than on the car!

1971 saw Nobby's first 354cu in Chrysler, with a 'Big Jimmy' (GM 6-71( blower and 190in wheelbase. Not without teething troubles, it was quite a successful car and early on in the season won everything in sight, ending with a best of 8.1 / 183mph. To this day that has never been beaten with a 354.

For '72, a new rail was constructed with the then-fashionable wheelbase of 200in. The ex-'Firefly' 392cu in engine was fitted, together with a new blower, in '73, and it ran 7.5 first time out. The car was capable of low sevens but bigger tyres couldn't be fitted due to the lack of strength in the Olds axle,. the budgit not stretching enough for a new one. Not a year without incidents, they blew two axles in one weekend at the Pod, resulting in working around the clock to be able to make an appearance the next day, After that, Nobby vowed a new axle was very high on his priority list!

However, at the Easter '73 meet they ventilated the block when a curious rod decided to take a closer look at the outside world, which, causing 600 worth of damage, was a high price to pay for curiosity! But, true to form, they bounced back and three weeks later were out and running with a new engine. This gave 56 runs, until Harold Bull stuffed it into the 'wall'. Somehow I think they would prefer to forget about the summer of '73.

In June of last year, the super- looking 'Houndog 8' made its debut (see DR Nov 1974). Supposedly powered by a tired engine - a composite of Paula Murphy's and Tony Nancy's Pink engines - it had recorded a best of 6.9 / 198.1 before letting go in a big way, burning a piston and damaging the block, at the April 20 meet this season.

Nobby's partnership with his drivers goes back a way too. Mike, who testdrove for Lotus in their early days, first drove the Caddy rail in '65 and Owen had his first test drive in 1966 with the Plymouth. This Spring Mike left the team, and Owen is now The Driver.

The fact that Owen is Nobby's works manager during the working day, and that the boot is on the other foot on the track, causes no conflict. That's the measure of the confidence each member of the team has in each other.

Over the last couple of seasons a lot of effort has gone into the 'Houndog 7 funny car - the ex- Paula Murphy 'Miss STP' brought over in the summer of '73 and bought from Paula and Jack Bynum by Santa. Pod Raceway and Nobby.

The fact that the funny needs a lot of a time spending on it is evidenced by the need to set up the clutch for each and every run. Set up as Nobby believes funny cars should be, it has only two pedals; one for go and one for stop. A Crowerglide transmits the estimated 1 600 plus BHP to the fat slicks very successfully and the car now holds the BDR & HRA record with its 6.76/ 1 85 on April 20 at the Pod.

On the subject of diggers, Nobby feels that back-mounted is the way to go. But he can't see funnies being anything but front engined with present wheelbases and distribution ratios, although he acknowledges fire risks to the drivers. Likewise, regard the use of nitro, he feels the lack of flames and exhaust crackle would detract from the spectacle, though is conscious of the reliability and cost element.

Of  fellow competitors, he probably admires Dennis Priddle most of all; for going full time as a pro racer, for attracting sponsors and for helping promote the good image of the sport.

On the future of British drag racing, Nobby is very optimistic and feels that 1975 is going to be the best ever. He does feel that drag racing in general, -and spectators/sponsors in particular, would benefit if all cars/drivers were willing and able to afford to run at all meetings.

Lawrie Gatehouse
National Drag Racer May1975