Profile on Team Houndog
Drag Racing News August 1980
" I respect every single drag racer, form the smallest motor-bike or 'go-kart' up, because I know how much effort is takesto run even the tiniest project." NOBBY HILLS
Last November, a barely completed Challenger-bodied Houndog made its drag racing debut at Santa Pod, during the rainy Fireworks Spectacular. Ably shoed, as ever, by the nerveless Owen Hayward, the newest Nobby Hills creation ran a tremendous 7.14/195.6, figures which must have seemed inconceivable 11 cars and 17 years ago, when Nobby first became interested in drag racing in a big way. He'd been reading 'Hot Rod' magazine since '59 and naturally went to see the Stateside stars demonstrating at Silverstone in '63. Straight afterwards, Nobby built his first quarter miler, a 3.4 Jag-powered dragster. It ran a 22.0/64 mph quarter, on gas, at the '64 Dragfest, then 14.4/109 a week later on Methanol. The next Hills' special, also a 3.4 Jag, cut regular ll's, then came the first of the renowned Cadillac-powered rails, a 331 c.i. number, in fact, which urged the then pilot, Mike Hutcherson, through the distance in 9.9 seconds. With a 372 on board, the time dropped to 9.6. Around this time - 1966 - Nobby was approached by a youthful and very enthusiastic Owen Hayward, who "insisted on helping maintain his Cadillac dragster". Thus began one of the most lasting and successful drag racing partnerships ever.
Following the wreck of the Caddy, in 1971 saw the Houndog team using a Chrysler powerhouse, in the form of a 354, for the first time. Topped by a 6-71 'Jimmy' blower, this thrust the dragster to a best of 8.1/1 83 and afforded Nobby and the guys virtual dominance of the British scene at that time. For 1972, another new dragster was built by Nobby, sporting a 200" wheelbase (10" longer than its predecessor) and the ex-Firefly 392. Here was another Hills gem, which subsequently put down a 7.5 with a new blower, in '73. The dragster could have run faster with bigger wheels and tyres, but the Olds axle would not have been up to it and their bank balance wasn't up to a new one. Two years after its debut, a close encounter of the barrier kinda put paid to any further plans Nobby might have had for the dragster, necessitating the construction of Houndog 8, the last of the 'Dog rails to date, which first saw action in June '74. It wasn't long before the newie was running regular 6's, with a best of 6.3/224 mph being achieved in Easter '75.
Meantime, another new car bearing the Houndog motif had appeared in the pits. It was the ex-Paula Murphy Plymouth Duster Funny Car and in it, Owen Hayward was rapidly building a very healthy reputation as a Fuel Pilot. So, Houndogs 7 and 8 were being run simultaneously and not unsuccessfully during the mid-seventies, a period which Nobby, for one, remembers fondly. But British Drag racing was entering a new, forward-thinking era, with records tumbling all the time and new cars being built in Britain which were beginning to look more like their American counterparts. Nobby started work on a dream machine, a state-of-the-art Funny Car. By the time Owen Hayward suffered the spectacular hop, skip and thump which nigh on totalled the well-used Duster, in August '77 ' its replacement was nearing completion. The new flopper, number 9 in the series, was even better than anyone expected. Nobby's modifications to the FGR Vega bodyshell were just right and the new 'Snake'-like livery was complimented perfectly by the motif of new sponsors, SLD Olding, the massive multi-franchise distributors of heavy earth-moving and construction equipment for whom Nobby, Owen and crew member Brett Sherriff all work. The memory of this car (now the Prior/Bates 'Warlock' F/C) is still fresh in everyone's memory, so suffice to say that it ran as good as it looked, proving to be the quickest British-built flopper to date.
Hardly had Houndog 9 established itself before our intrepid heroes were at it again, talking about another newie. The original intention was to have a Firebird shell, "But as soon as I saw Veney's Challenger, I knew that was the one for me ... it was sent over in two halves and we stitched it together, Brett, myself and Owen. I think it's as good as anything out there, with the modifications we've made." A new Keith Black/Nobby Hills aluminium engine now nestles within the Hills-built frame. With low-compression pistons on board, this was enough to produce a 6.60/207 blast at the Easter Internationals, much to Owen's delight. Coming back to the chassis, one feature which seems to be unique to it, not only here but in the States as well, is the welding in of the rear axle For rigidity ... explained Nobby, it's good for strength and it saves a lot of trouble lining it up and so on. The whole frame is very basic, very functional, but its certainly the best best we've ever done - I'm very pleased with it." Owen, too seems delighted with the new car. "it drives a great deal better than the last one, or any of the other cars." Another point worth mentioning is that, with the old iron block rebuilt to virtual completion, the team are now in the very happy position of having a back-up engine available. Whilst this does not mean that they would run hard enough to break an engine as readily as they do across the Atlantic, it might well supply them with a good springboard from which to challenge the American funnies when they come over here.
Have the team dropped the idea of a Top Fuel Dragster altogether? "No way!", said Mr Hills, with feeling. "I'd very much like to build a rail again. I might well have done so this year, but for the uncertainty (about the class remaining at all) stopped me. There's nothing like a Fuel rail, they're the ultimate, but you can't beat a Funny Car for spectacle, that's why I made the choice." So the target now, presumably, is to aim for the 5's. "Oh, for sure, I'd love to run fiveís, but it's so very hard pushing it at the top end, especially in a Funny Car. Mid sixes seem to be fairly easy and with the new motor being 133 pounds lighter, believe it or not, who knows? Basically, though, we just come here to drag race and to win. Running fives would be a bonus."
Nobby Hills has tremendous faith and respect in Owen Hayward as a Fuel Pilot. In fact, he rates him as the best driver ever. There's certainly no denying that Owen has the ideal physique for a Funny Car pilot and the aggression to go with it, despite his mild-mannered, friendly disposition when out of the hotseat. He's 32, weighs 10 Ĺ stone and stands 5' 10 in his stockinged feet. He is married to the lovely Monica, who gave birth, some 15 months ago, to a bouncing baby boy, Paul (what a nice choice) Hayward.
By contrast, Nobby Hills is a giant in size (6' 4"), as well as in character - a permanent stetson and a pair of flip-flops are but two of his trademarks. He loves country music. "There is no other music, apart from a little bit of rock n' roll" and his favourite food is "Definitely chilli". He is married to the gorgeous Ann. "I don't know if it's possible to mention it, but I'd never be able to do all this without Ann's support and help. Quite honestly, it takes 9 days a week to run the car and she's always there" and they have a delightful 20 month old daughter, Jody Lou.
To conclude my chats with these two megastars of British dragging, I asked them what, for them, was the attraction of the sport. Owen replied, quite simply, "I'm addicted to it". Nobby's answer? "That's easy, itís the most spectacular motoring thing you can do."