Once bitten.....

Custom Car February 1981

When we wrote about the Houndog team in September of last year we recorded Nobby as saying that hed like to build a new car later in the year or at worst early in'81. He said he could build a flopper in about 12 weeks. Hands up everyone who thought he was joking or staggeringly optimistic. Just goes to show how wrong you can get doesn't it? Even though this car is from Nobby Hills Racing, it is and isn't new, and it is and isn't a flopper. Intrigued? Better read on and find out more ...

Basically, you see, it's just Houndog in disguise, or rather out of it. It's all the same car with the wo1f's clothing removed and a Mike Churchill body in place of it. The actual T body is 14inches longer than it should be and the turtle deck is 12inches shorter; there's a sort of flip-up solid screen round the leading edge of the cockpit and embryonic fenders over the rear wheels. Plus it's been strengthened somewhat. And there's also the tiny radiator shroud with the front wing moulded into it.

It's lighter than the flopper body (which weighs more than you, or the other three guys trying to carry it thought it would) and the turn-round from Funny Car to Altered takes a mere 15 minutes. If the time between rounds was a little longer than it is then Nobby. could run both cars at the same meeting. Provided the money was there, of course. It cost 18 grand to run Houndog last season, nearly four of it on fuel; 90 per cent nitro mix costs more than you thought.

 

We saw it first; apart from Nobby and Owen no-one else had seen it completed before, and it hadn't run. It was due at the Pod for the fireworks meeting though and Nobby was hoping for 200 every time. But Owen was going to take it easy to begin with. Apart from the lower weight, the aerodynamics of this body are very different to those of the flopper; the shape of a Funny tends to keep it down on the ground, and Nobby thought this one might float a bit as it picked up speed. No-one knew though; it was all a bit of an adventure. Owen thought it would be good fun.

It was due to run in dragster, against the likes of Monsieur Priddle, because Nobby couldn't register it as a Fuel Altered. Long for an Altered, because of the Funny Car chassis, but short as far as dragsters go. Didn't seem to fit anywhere, but it still looked good. And rather predatory, crouched in the studio.

Jodie didn't seem to care though. At slightly over three years old, all shes interested in is the noise and the lager. Can of Skol permanently glued to her face, all she wants is 'Funny Car, Funny Car, go, go, go' when the ground shakes and the heavens fall in. Perhaps she takes after her mum. Mrs Houndog, thinks drag racing, particularly the sun-drenched, tanned and laid-back American kind, is sexy. Something about the noise and the smell and the spectacle; something about the masculinity of the crews - not just the racers but the mechanics and the rest of the entourage as well. Maybe she's right. Maybe she can express in human terms what Nobby and Owen can't. Nobby says he just wants to go drag racing forever, preferably in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Comp.

Owen thinks it's all a bit of a laugh. Quiet, reserved, almost shy, Owen is the last person you'd expect to climb out of the driving seat of a fuel car. A slight figure; almost, were we being totally honest with everyone, small. Yet he sits on top of all that nitro-breathing anger and forces it to do his bidding. Restrained more often than hesitating, as there realities of running in such an expensive class of racing force Nobby to ask him to back off rather than break something which can not be replaced maybe until the next meeting. This late in the season we're talking about things which cannot be replaced until next year the money isn't there.

Between rounds in Funny Car the engine gets a pull-down. Every third run - or sooner if they're worried - it gets taken right down, so only the crank remains sitting in the block alone. This year the car was on its last two spare pistons for the November meet at the Pod; any serious trouble and it would have been right out of the racing.

In Sweden it's worse; time between rounds is at a minimum and pressure on the pit crew extreme. That's when Nobby likes it best. No time to relax, no time to think, just run, turn round and run again. The Yanks do it best; racing three times a week instead of three times a year, they have it set up for them. Where they excel is in clutch technology. Of course they have an in built advantage in that the weather is almost always the same for them, which means they don't have to adjust the clutch for the varying degrees of traction on the strip or the fuel setting for what, over here at least, can be an almost hourly change in humidity.

But Nobby has been in the game for a good few years. He saw Dean Moon in the '63 (he thinks) drag test and after that he was hooked, running a blown Jag in '64, a Caddy for about three years. After that, a Chrysler in'68-ish(with a best of 8.1/178) and on into Funny Car in about 1973.

Nobby is a dedicated racer - possibly the closest thing to a true professional we've got over here. We've mentioned a few of the others before. One group though, who seem to miss out on all the publicity in CC, but for whom Nobby has the utmost respect, are the Stones who consistently, in Nobby's words, 'put everything they've got into running that quarter-mile'.

The Stones of course, like a lot of other racers, including Nobby, get an awful lot of help from Santa Pod, but not much from elsewhere. Sponsorship is a foreign language to most drag racers. Even SLDO, who give Houndog a fair amount of support, are in a strange position; contrary to what you might expect there is no direct selling link between drag racing,

Houndog, Santa Pod and the SLDO field of operations. A fact SLDO themselves have not failed to notice and which they are not afraid of pointing out to Nobby when the car needs money spent on it. Perhaps their most important contribution to the Houndog team is the vast, well-equipped and warm workshop which is available to the team when they need to work on the car. Like most race teams, the Houndog crew spend a lot of time with their vehicle in the workshop, and the facilities help a lot.

Mrs Houndog regards Nobby's seven-day week (with one or two close-to-midnight evenings) as 'part of drag racing'. You're either part of it or you're not.

Saturdays are only weekends when they go racing she (and the lovely Mrs Hayward) probably see more of their respective partners when there's a meeting on than they do when there isn't. But then they're sometimes in Sweden, or Germany or somewhere, so there are compensations. As far as drag racing forever is concerned, she seems unmoved. As far as Junior Ms Hills (the lager lush) is concerned, if she wants to go racing Nobby won't stop her; he'd rather she be part of it than left of the sidelines. Which sums up the entire team attitude; compete or pack it in. You can count on them competing. Forever.

Richard Nichols
Custom Car February 1981