The Hills are alive.....
when the Houndog moves it
Custom Car September 1980
I looked at my watch and decided it was time to go. I threw on my dirty white anorak and headed for the Santa Pod pits. As I walked through the camp area, I noticed the natives were restless as usual, making more noise than a wild party in Mayfair.
I rounded the corner of the caravan and moved in on the tall guy who looked as if he was a resident of California-Nobby Hills, drag racer.
'Got room for one more?'
'Oh, hi Gene - ah sorry, Dean.'
I sat on the caravan steps and he handed me a beer. I asked Nobby how he got involved in drag racing.
'Well, around 21 years ago I saw this magazine, Hot Rod it was, and on the cover, there was this picture of a dragster-type car. It had gone about 30 yards and smoke was still pouring off the tyres. I was amazed anybody could build a car to do something like that.
'Then, in '64 1 saw this little piece in The Sketch - saying something like "American Dragster Demonstrates at Silvetstone tomorrow so I decided I just had to see it. I went along to Silverstone and the man at the gate wasn't going to let me in, because it was press day. After he threatened to get the police and I threatened to drive my car through the hedge, I was allowed in. A week later, I was building my first dragster, and the rest is history.'
Suddenly, one of the mechanics burst in, saying that Owen Hayward had done a wheelie on his 6.6/207mph pass. 'Did it actually do a wheelie?' Nobby queried. 'Yeah, the front wheels definitely came off the strip.' replied the mechanic. 'Well, if that does a wheelie tomorrow, you better shut that thing awf, don't come down and think it's alright and go charging on, just trundle on through there.'
Nobby explained to me that they haven't got any wheelie bars yet. He wasn't too worried though. 'You see, the engine is so far out on the front of it. To look at it, the engine sits on the front wheels.'
Then, in walked Owen Hayward, "The Natural"'. It's a strange nickname! I asked him how he came by it."It was Nobby's idea. The old boy, he didn't have much opportunity to learn to drive, and he had to learn to sit in a funny car first time out.' I questioned Nobby about this.
'Yeah!' he laughed to himself. 'You know, I had a ginormous row with these people about it,' he pointed in the direction of the control tower. 'in fact, they wouldn't hear of it.' He shook his head at the thought. Was this the best way to start drag racing, I wondered? 'Yeah, the fact is, I only ever dreamt running the top car, the most powerful car, anything less than the best is not good enough and you've got strive to get it. Oh, we've had our problems, but eventually you'll get it. You've got to punch people, and grab and steal and do everything you can, but you'll get your car in the end and that's it.'
Nobby's certainly proved his sentients to be true. In 15 years of racing he's had seven dragsters and three funnies, and his experience definitely shows in his latest car. The new car is different in appearance to the last car. Apart from the Challenger body, what se had altered?
'Well, first we got a hacksaw and a big pile of tube. . .'Owen smiled at his little comment.
Nobby interrupted, 'Basically, what we learnt from the old car, was that the engine was too near the back axle, the carr was too short and the whole thing was too far off the ground.
'That, in a nutshell, is about all we've done. We got it as near to the ground as possible, moved the engine forward and it's about ten inches longer. Then we made it as light and as aerodynamic as possible.
'I drew the frame out, relating to the "Veney" body. It was necessary for it to be in close limits, 'cause of the height of the thing - with these tyres it's-oniv 46 1/2 inches to the roof. I think you'll probably agree, it's turned out to be a bit of a low-looking flier, and that's what we wanted.'
'How long does it take to build a funny car?' I enquired.
'This one was probably the quickest funny we did. About eight or nine weeks of spare time, for four people; and I mean every hour God sent. We really did work around the clock at times, 'cause I had a schedule. I figured that certain things had to be done in certain times, so if we needed to work to half-past two or three o'clock in the morning, just to reach that stage, we did.
'Normally, 1 think we could build a funny car in 12 weeks and it wouldn't be that hard. I don't think anybody else could do it in their spare time - in 12 weeks - I doubt very much they could do it in that sort of time as a job.'
'Is there any special reason why you chose a Dodge Challenger (Mitsubishi Colt) body? ''Well, I think it's the best looking funny car body there is. I like the Firebird, but when I saw this one for the first time . . ' '
'Anyway,' said Owen, 'I never liked the Firebird window much, the front windscreen is too round. It looks like a bloody porthole.'
'Do you think, Nobby, that you have achieved the ultimate in funny car design?'
'No, I wouldn't have thought so, not by a long way. But I think we've done it better than anybody else in Europe.' 'So, what advances do you think can be made in funny car design?' .'Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that our car is running less advance and less blower pressure than any other fuel car in Europe. So, all we've got to do is start working towards making the blower work. We've got a new blower to put on, we're waiting for new pistons, we need a new fuel pump and we'll get the tyres working right. In fact, it's just a slow elimination of all the bloody bits we don't want!
'Last year we must have come out virtually on top in funny car. We ran two 6.50s and a 6.49 with the old car, and that was terrific. When we ran a 6.50, there was a basic, disbelief in the tower that it was a genuine time.
'In the new new car though, we've got a brand new Crowerglide, and thats the first real run it's done today. OK it ran yesterday, but today, that was the first full pass it's done.'
I thought back to the 6.6 second pass I had witnessed earlier that day, and how good the car had looked as it left the line, wheels just off the track, just like the man said.
'It's taken us a long time to persuade everything to work for us, but in doing so we've learnt a lot on how to do it. It goes back a long way, but now we've t the good stuff, we can get it to run a bit nearer the mark.
'This weekend for instance, I honestly believed it would run 6.80 and that would be its best. But in actual fact it ran, and it sounded like it really wanted to go.'
Owen chipped in again: 'if it would have accelerated right through to the end, it would have been good, but it was as if it was not backing off so much as the acceleration was trailing off. It ran up to 200 quite quickly, and held from 200 to 207 over the last third of the strip or something.'
'Yeah', retorted Nobby, 'it tends to do that, it either wants advancing or increasing on the nitro. What mixture did you run it on today, 92 per cent?'
'Besides, 'Owen smirked I'll put me foot right down tomorrow.' Everyone laughed, and the booze seemed to be having the desired effect.
'You ran the old car on about 83 per cent didn't you?' I asked.
'84, 85 per cent, something like that. It was a relationship between the compression ratio, the blower pressure and the magneto, you see,' explained Nobby.
'The old car, as far as I'm concerned, was one of the most unique sounding fuel cars I've ever heard. I mean, it really popped and banged with enough force to sit you on your arse.
'You see, you've got a big overlap on the cam for a start and a ginormous advance, so if you have it too lean it tends to fire on the way up and hammer the bearings. But if you run it rich, the burning takes longer. In actual fact it doesn't all burn. What's left goes through the headers and that's what pops and bangs, it's just a continuous flame and it bangs out of the header pipes.'
I changed the subject slightly. 'What do you think of your chances in September, with a 16-car field expected?'
' I think we've got every chance of being the best British competitor. But the Americans, they're professionals. They run maybe three times a week, whereas we run three times a quarter - a quarter of a year that is.'
'Do you think there will be a British car down in the fives this year?' 'No. No way!'
Owen spoke. 'I think everybody suffers in this country tremendously from the fact that the strip and weather conditions vary so much at each meeting. If you're running in California for instance, in a limited number of meets a year, conditions tend to remain fairly constant. Whereas here they up and down, like one day you can set the car up to run good, and the next day it's all wrong because the weather's changed.'
Nobby spoke again. 'in my opinion, if we had the money, we could go to the States and within six months become an attraction and run in the top six funny cars out there.'
'Because of the consistent weather?' I ventured 'Not necessarily, but it helps. You need to get up in the morning and think, .ah, I've just got to do this, this and this today, because tomorrow, we're running at so and so in a match race with so and so, and he's going to run six nothings." But in Britain when you get up in the morning you've got to go to work first, so the car doesn't get touched until teatime.'
Things are creeping up all the time,' added Owen. 'At one time the first funny car in the sixes was thought to be something, and then it was the first UK funny car to run a 6.5. Then, all of a sudden, we're edging below it. The first six we ever ran was a 6.72 and we were quite proud of that.'
'Presuming you don't go out and break anything, what is the cost of a year's racing for you Nobby?' 'Well, we were talking about £18 000 turnover for last year, while Anders Hasselstrom got £25 000 out of the Swedish Air Force for his funny car rig. We've never seen that kind of money, you know. We spend it, but we've never seen it.'
I was getting a bit cold now, so I pitched my last question hoping Nobby wouldn't hit a home run, 'Have you got any plans for the future, or anything you would like to do?'
'I'd very much like to go drag racing for ever, but you know, times change. I'd love to build another fuel car, love to. And I've always, had this thing about building a motorbike. Not for ETs, just a demonstration thing to put out a lot of smoke.
'But plans, that's another thing. 1 think we've got to look forward to building another car, next year at the absolute latest, possibly this year. What worries me is building a Japanese car, but I think that's what is going to happen. The Japanese are just cute enough to get on the bandwagon and pay somebody to build a Japanese funny car.'
'We'd have to re signwrite it "Colt Mitsubishi" and take the Dodge off the back,' Owen smiled.
I asked Owen what it did for him to drive in top fuel.
'Well, I guess it's jolly good fun weally,' he replied cheekily.
'Good night, Owen!'
'Good night, Nobby!'
'Good night Dean.'
Custom Car September 1980