All of the pictures on this page were  taken by Roger Phillips,
I am very grateful to him for the opportunity of reproducing them here.



JULY 9th - 11th 1971

Six international Top Fuel cars, a bunch of wild Swedish doorslammers, a jet car and three days of racing?  You would be forgiven for thinking we’re talking about 2001 not 1971 but no we’re here to look back to the BDR &HRA Internationals held at Santa Pod Raceway nearly 4 decades ago. Edward Heath was Prime Minister, Nixon was in the White House, Britain had recently converted to decimal from pounds, shillings and pence, the price of a loaf of bread was 9 ½ p (or 1/11d if you hadn’t got the hang of the new money) and Switzerland had just given women the right to vote – and The Pod, only in its fifth year, was about to stage the biggest event then seen at the track.

Although the subsequent 1973 Internationals are rightly cited by many as a defining moment for drag racing in England, in retrospect it is interesting to look back to this ’71 event and wonder how European drag racing might have developed on its own. The import of American racers and their machinery became an annual tradition following the success of the ’73 International series. It brought in ever increasing crowds but also raised the bar in terms of expected performance – and spelt the beginning of the end for some of the home-grown elements of our sport. Now in the 21st century we are once again experiencing European drag racing without the stars from over the Pond, so it is with the blessing of hindsight we can revisit that July weekend all those years ago and muse over where we’ve come from, where we’ve been and where we are going - or just wallow in the nostalgia!


Making a return trip to Santa Pod was the Top Fuel champion from the 1970 Internationals, Sweden’s Björn Andersson.  Seen here stood next to Bosse Carlsson, Björn was back with 'Sub Sonic' which he co-built with Tage Hammerman.  At the previous year’s event Bjorn had driven the 'Valkyrian' slingshot (see JWR Page 8) of John Andersson.  If you don’t know the story then it is worth re-telling how 'Sub Sonic' and 'Valkyrian' were both built in the late '60s just two miles from each other - but without either team knowing what the other was up to.  Obviously two Swedish Top Fuel teams - indeed Sweden’s first ever Top Fuel teams - couldn’t co-exist very long without working together and sharing their knowledge and skills.  Bosse Carlsson was in fact one of the builders of the 'Valkyrian' dragster and later on Björn would concentrate on tuning while employing John Andersson as his Funny Car driver.


Garnering the Long Distance award by a mile - or more accurately five and a half thousand miles - South Africa’s Arthur Christy managed the momentous journey thanks to the money-raising efforts of the Drag Racing South Africa Club.  Although classed as a two day event, Friday was used as practice day and DRSAC Chairman Jimmy Hadiaris can be seen near side of the 'Hawaian (sic) III' helping push the 354 rail up to the line to make a familiarisation run.  A shirtless Stu Bradbury gives some indication as to how hot the weather was and keen-eyed readers might notice that the SA dragster was running on treaded Firestone tyres.  This would seem preposterous today but one has to remember wrinkle wall slicks were a luxury that few European teams, let alone South Africans, could afford back at the beginning of the '70s.


The British contingent included the recently debuted 'Firefly' in the capable hands of Tony Densham.  But getting the 392 to run was proving a real headache for crew chief Roy Phelps.

So if Tony Densham was in 'Firefly' who was driving 'Commuter'?  Allan Herridge of course.  Bootsie was enjoying his debut drive in a Top Fuel dragster (or Top Dragster as they were then called) and racked up an impressive 8.6 at 184 mph on his first full pass.  Alas that stood as his best effort as the 427 Ford Wedge suffered various ills over the rest of the weekend and was not a serious contender in the top eliminator.

Last but not least, the two big hitters of Top Fuel in the early '70s, Dennis Priddle in his Priddle, Riswick, Gane and Stanford Hot Wheels-sponsored slingshot . . .

And Clive Skilton in his Skilton, Clark and Beadle Castrol-sponsored, Harold Bull-built 'Revolution 2'.
The Skilton-Priddle rivalry had really come to the fore in 1971 with Skilton having been the first to break the 200mph barrier three months earlier.  Both dragsters were closely matched and victory could go either way whenever they met.

The arrival of Arnold Sundqvist’s jet car was another first at Santa Pod and drew the attention of several familiar faces.  BDR&HRA marshal Dave Davis (without shirt) and Bob Phelps (stood below) are seen helping Arnold unload the jet dragster.
Second photo left to right Arnold, Arnold’s girlfriend, Lars Torngren and Peder Landberg from the Swedish “Wild Honey” team with fellow Swedes Bo Edberg (white T-shirt) and Björn Esping (lace-up T-shirt) who had driven all the way from Stockholm in Bo’s 26 T Ford hot rod, Dennis Norman (in Stormin Norman T-shirt), Chief Starter Stu Bradbury obscuring John Dickinson and far right Dave Davis.
Third photo a British bobby presumably asking Arnold “Is this your jet car sir?”  As can be seen in the background “Silver Streak” did some pre-event publicity for the Internationals – and was later cast in miniature for posterity by one of the sponsors of the event, Corgi toys.

As for the performance of the J46 Westinghouse four wheeled blowtorch, well it had been built more for land speed records than drag racing but ran some impressive 8 second times between 150 and 200mph.  As was the routine for special occasions in the '70s, after this particular run Arnold drove back down the strip to the applause of the crowd (also note how the Barn had been cleared during the demo run).  “Silver Streak” would later run over 250 mph at Elvington before crashing at the North Yorkshire site.  Arnold built a second jet car - and crashed that in Finland.  The third one had a better safety record - due in no small part to the fact it never turned a wheel in anger.
Today “Silver Streak” is an exhibition piece in Sweden’s Skokloster Motor Museum.

As for those other Swedes appearing at Santa Pod, these included Gunne Back’s killer Corvette 'Frighten Chicken', Benjamin Wahlstrom’s 327 Chevy powered ’32 street rod, and Lars Torngren’s 'Wild Honey' injected altered.

Finally, our prologue would not be complete without one of the most talked about entries at the ’71 Internationals - Fred Whittle’s 'Shutdown' Fuel Altered.  Freshly completed and debuting without lettering or pinstriping, even in monochrome you can still see the quality and finish on this now-historic car.  And as the weekend proved, 'Shutdown' was Go as well as Show.

So preamble over, what about the racing?  Well aside from the
international contingent there were the regular stalwarts in all classes . . .

Due to a racers' meeting deciding that eliminations should be held on each day, it was possible to be a winner on Saturday but a loser on Sunday. Colin Mullan in 'Invader' was one such winner then runner-up, beating Ian Garbutt’s Topolino with an 11.7/119 for Senior Competition Altered honours on the Saturday, but throwing away the Sunday final to Alan Wigmore’s 'Itzaviva' with a red light – so giving Wiggy his first class win.

Other entries in Senior Comp included Steve Warner in 'Motor Psycho, Roger Bishop in 'Stripteaser', Steve Cryer in 'Metronome', Roger Marshall in 'Good Vibrations', Mike Derry in the Hillbillies' Topolino and Dave Page in 'Panic'.

Observant readers might spot that some of these cars were racing in a class higher or lower than their designation and indeed on the Sunday 'Stripteaser' was back in its more familiar Middle Competition Altered class while 'Metronome' tried its hand in Top Comp. We don’t pretend to be experts on how such anomalies were allowed so if anyone out there can explain we’ll be pleased to hear from you.

Moving up a notch Top Competition Altered included Kevin Pilling in his wild handling 'Pure Seven', Dennis Stone in 'Opus One', and the afore mentioned Fred Whittle and Lars Torngren.

We have been able to track down Sture Torngren, Lars’s brother and fellow 'Wild Honey' member and he has been kind enough to identify the crew as they prepare the altered at the top of the fire up road . . .
“In this photo Björn Jonsson is the driver and my brother Lars and Margareta Reinecke are checking he is strapped in safely.  Peder Landberg is the shirtless, bearded youngster to the right, ready with a little gas to squirt into the injectors.  Björn owned the engine, so he shared the driving too.”
While none of the team stayed with drag racing after their days with 'Wild Honey', Sture’s story about the altered and the major role he and Lars have played in the Swedish hot rodding scene can be read by clicking here.

The 'Wild Honey' team acquitted themselves well beating an off-pace Dennis Stone in 'Opus One', an improving Steve Cryer and then forcing both Fred Whittle (in Saturday’s final) and Kevin Pilling (ditto Sunday) to red light in their attempts to get an advantage over the Swedish T.  Whittle did have the satisfaction of recording a 9.85, the first sub-10 sec run for an altered, but the Swedes used consistent mid-10’s to take home the bacon.

The entries for Middle Competition Altered were actually smaller than anticipated (surprisingly considering the class regularly bore the largest number of entries at races during the first half of the 1970s) and Rick Fielding in his little 4 cylinder 'Imagination 4' had no trouble seeing off first one Jaguar-powered altered - the English 'Wild Honey' of the Ison brothers - and then another - 'Stripteaser' - on Saturday and Sunday respectively.

Over from America to take in the action at the Internationals was Car Craft Editor Terry Cook (wearing the tam o’shanter).  Later as editor of Hot Rod Magazine, Terry would be an integral part of the US visitors in 1973 and Roger Phillips recalls the hilarity Terry found in reading off all the road signs as they drove to Santa Pod together; the likes of Whipsade, Cockernhoe and Stagsden apparently tickling Mr Cook’s fancy no end.

Speaking of Roger, it is clear his camera rarely strayed from the drag racing but evidently this mystery blonde was one exception.  We’ve had several aging lotharios suggest the lady was their erstwhile girlfriend but if you can remember hot pants and go-go boots likelihood is you are also prone to bouts of wistful thinking and other senior moments.  So for once we shall leave this picture a mystery and move on . . .  

Also seen at the Internationals was 'The Supervan' commissioned by Ford Trucks and built and driven by Terry Drury, which was doing the publicity rounds in ’71.  Powered by a 302 Gurney Weslake V8, similar to those used in the Le Mans winning Ford GT40, Drury put in some mid 14 runs whilst at the track.

Moving over to two wheels . . .       


It is interesting to note how the Kool Kams bike report reveals the cusp of the transition from the smokey wheel-spinning '60s to the smokeless wrinkle-wall '70s.  Reporter Pete Miller wrote that the bikers’ difficulty at the ’71 Internationals had been a “sticky strip” – a situation we hardly equate with being a problem today.  But as John Hobbs explains “At the beginning of the seventies traction was not uppermost in our minds, the quest for more power had been the priority as we believed that was the route to quicker times. I had always known that quick starts were important for a low ET and that top end power would rarely compensate for a poor start. However it wasn’t until I ran that first 9 (three weeks after the Internationals) that the true significance of the first 60 ft hit home.  From here on the quest for me became how to effectively get the horse power down onto the track.”
here for the full text of John’s words)
While other riders dispensed with burnouts and upped tyre pressure as a solution for too much grip, evidently Mr Hobbs was already on his way to understanding how to handle traction as he led Saturday’s qualifying with a 10.00/139.  But it was Ray Feltell who took the first day’s eliminator beating Olympus in the first round (“I'm not sure if I 'crossed up' or 'screwed up' against Ray but he got to the finish first and that's what counts. Ray was always a tough guy to beat.” says John) followed by Tony Bartrum on his Imp-powered “Impala” with a 10.17 and then Ian Messenger on “Pegasus” in the final with a 10.20.
Olympus did take Sunday’s laurels though as John beat Mick Butler in the first round, followed by Peter Miller and Tony Bartram both red-lighting against Olympus in the semis and the final respectively.  But the win had another significance as John recalls “The ’71 Internationals were memorable for me as I won ‘The Alf Hagon Trophy’ which Alf had put up for Sunday’s Top Competition Bike.  Alf was one of my early day heroes and that trophy together with the one Henk Vink gave me on my retirement from competition in ’79 take pride of place in my trophy cupboard.”
In the other bike classes Les Julian won Junior Bike on both days, as did Ray Elger in Top Street on his Vincent, while Don East and Roger Barnes won Middle Competition Bike on Saturday and Sunday respectfully.

Back on four wheels the doorslammers did not have Pro Stock let alone Pro Modified back in 1971, but the street classes still provided plenty of excitement, especially from those darned Swedes.
Junior, Middle and Senior Street included several ‘names’ which we can still recognise today . . . in the lower ranks 'Otis Blue' of Alan Ward, Steve Stringer’s 'Tune Twister', Bill Marshall’s Lotus Elan and Al O’Connor’s 'Rocky II'.

'Otis Blue' of course went onto become 'Tender Trap' and provide Dave Lee Travis with his first ride, Alan O’Connor is still racing with his 'Al’s Gasser' and Steve Stringer, well you could write a book about his accomplishments since the days of 'Tune Twister' but today Steve lives in Texas and runs the design company AAD which includes modelling and designing Funny Car bodies for NHRA racers.  Incidentally Steve had the misfortune to be the only casualty of an otherwise accident-free event - but he’d be forgiven for not remembering it as he was knocked out cold when a fire extinguisher went off in his face whilst tackling a fire in John Rotherham’s push car.
And in the senior ranks regular luminaries such as Ed Shaver, Tony Dickinson, Doug Harler, Russell Ward, Tom Conklin and Derek Rose welcomed Sweden’s Benjamin Wahlstrom into their midst . . . and nearly wished they hadn’t!


In the class it was all close racing with ET’s in the low 14s to high 13s and Wahlstrom and his ’32 street rod got as far as the semi’s on both days - beaten by Tony Dickson on the Saturday, who was subsequently beaten by Ed Shaver’s AMX in the final and then Tony’s team mate Chris White on the Sunday, who then beat Ed in the final.
Who said these two days of eliminations weren’t confusing?

Top Street saw Priddle team member Pete Stanford in his Hot Wheels TVR, Tony Preston in his Ginetta Ford, Dave Render and Chris White (again) all fall prey to Sweden’s Gunne Back’s 'Frighten Chicken' and Nils Rodeblad’s 454 Malibu SS.
The stats tell the story as Gunne’s 'Vette picked up the front end with every gear change and charged through the lights at over 120mph with high 11 ET’s while most of the competition were left floundering in the 13 second zone. Even his fellow Swede was left in the wake of the Corvette in Sunday’s final, Gunne taking it 11.75/121 to Nils’s 12.56/97.

Moving back to the dragsters, like all the classes it was heads-up racing back in the '70s with bracket or handicap racing yet to be introduced.  As with their altered counterparts the rails were divided into three divisions which basically translated as four cylinder engines in Junior, blown four cylinders or Jaguar engines in Middle, and injected V8s or blown V8s on methanol or petrol in Senior.
We have no photos of the Junior dragsters (although some eagle-eyed visitors might have already spotted Gerry Cookson in one of our early photos - a can of Top Deck Shandy and your name here if you can tell us Where Is Gerry?) so we shall have to suffice with a couple of losers and winners.  The aforementioned Gerry Cookson in 'Joker' beat Mike Snelling’s 'Worden' with a 13.5 on the Saturday, while Duncan Miles in 'Cheetah' beat Arthur Sayers in 'Impact 15.7 to 20.7 on the Sunday.  Note any sub-ten second ET was quick back in the early '70s but thankfully twenty seconds runs were the exception rather than the rule . . .

Onwards and upwards, and he didn’t get the name ‘King’ Harold for nothing. Harold Bull swept through both days of Middle Dragster to keep his crown, on the Saturday defeating John Whitmore’s green 'Drag’n’Fly' with a 10.7, before beating Malcolm Lockyer’s Volvo powered 'Midi Witch' with a 11.66 to 13.94.  On the Sunday Whitmore beat Lockyer in round one and then Doug Harler in 'Chicken Little' in the semis.  But 'Drag’n’Fly' had problems in the final and would’ve struggled to beat King Harold’s 10.5 anyway.

In Senior Dragster John Siggery’s Oldsmobile-powered 'Geronimo' set a record for the quickest unblown ET outside the USA with a 9.38 but it was Tony Anderson in 'Trouble' who won the class on Saturday.  On the Sunday Bill Weichelt had problems with 'Asmodeus' but still beat Brian Ringsell’s supercharged 'Taxi', 10.38 to 10.59.  'Geronimo' then beat Weichelt with a 9.49 while on the other side of the ladder Tony Anderson beat Bruce Brown. And then Siggery beat Anderson 9.41 to 10.52.
As the close up of Tony Anderson’s V6 with homemade blower shows, 'Trouble' was a classic example of the ingenuity and resourcefulness that could be seen in the early days of British drag racing. Necessity was the mother of invention . . .

So to Top Fuel née Top Dragster . . .  



As with the other classes Saturday was a free for all with both John Siggery and Alan Blount mixing it up with the big boys in eliminations, while Clive Skilton put in a practice run which resulted in a spectacular wheelie and equally impressive 7.39/196mph timing slip.
As if to emphasize their closeness Dennis Priddle laid down a 7.38/199 in qualifying.  Björn Andersson was in third place running low 8’s while Christy ran a personal best of 9.05/177mph - on treaded tyres.
With Skilton out of Saturday’s eliminations while he repaired his front axle, it was Priddle vs Christy in the first round with Dennis running a 7.4/196 while Arthur did some damage to his engine (although he came back for a third place victory against Alan Blount).  Andersson had had an easy win over John Siggery and then faced Priddle in the final, Dennis taking it, 7.38/197 to a losing 8.83/155.

Saving the big one till last, Sunday saw all six blown cars competing even though 'Firefly' and 'Commuter' were still having problems.  Arthur Christy had bolted on some Kelly Springfield slicks and upped his nitro to 35% but it was to no avail as Skilton laid a 7.81/180 on the South African.  Björn Andersson red-lit allowing Priddle an easy 8.67 win.  (Tage Hammerman explains their rash of cherries as they weren’t running nitro at all (“we didn’t have the money”) and Björn tried too hard to reduce their disadvantage.  All of which inevitably meant another classic Skilton vs Priddle final.
Before the showdown the Swedes and Tony Densham came out to race for 3rd place but 'Firefly' still wasn’t playing ball and Andersson solo’d with another mid 8.  It was the first and last time 'Sub Sonic' was seen in England as the slingshot chassis was sold to German drag racing luminary Willi Hestermann (who still has it) while the engine was sold to Norway’s Fred Larsen who ran it in his 'Sundance Kid' dragster.  The engine in 'Firefly' that had caused Roy Phelps so much grief later appeared in 'Houndog 6' which Nobby Hills successfully got down into the mid-sevens.  'Firefly' was re-fitted with a Garlits-prepared 426 and Allan Herridge took over when Tony Densham retired from the driving seat.  It also went onto be a kind of rites of passage for Top Fuel drivers such as Ronnie Picardo and Peter Crane, i.e. if they could cope with the evil-handling slingshot driving a rear engined fueler would be a walk in the park - comparatively speaking.

So after a suitable historical digression while Priddle and Skilton prepared themselves for the final, the signal was given and the two fuelers came thundering down the fire up road, bursting into life in front of the expectant crowd before swinging round in front of the barn and into their lanes - Clive on the pit side, Dennis bankside.  Rituals completed, the two cars edged into stage and at the green the Hot Wheels slingshot was away by two car lengths, but Clive was hungry for victory and reeled Dennis in at the eighth, flying through the lights 7.35/201 to a losing 7.57/199.5.
It was a fitting climax to three days of racing with the most thrilling event yet seen at Santa Pod deemed a roaring success and a fitting basis to a tradition of Internationals that have gone on to be the highlight of the British drag racing calendar for the last nigh-on 40 years.
Excitement over, Priddle and Skilton were pushed back to the start line where the champagne bottles were opened and the trophies handed out in front of a very happy and contented throng. 

Above left to right: Pete Atkins of Watford Motor Accessories and Slo-Mo-Shun fame presents Gunne Back with the Duckhams Trophy for Top Street, runner up Nils Rodeblad gets a share of the champagne.  Clive Skilton also enjoying the sweet taste of victory.  (Clive moved to the USA in 1977 where he raced full-time in Top Fuel before leaving drag racing to concentrate on his American business ventures. Gunne Back had to retire from racing in the late '70s, but he is still active in Sweden’s American car scene.  Nils Rodeblad emigrated to Canada in the 1980’s.  His brother Lars Rodeblad (who raced Pro Stock in the '70s and '80s) is President of Exclusive Cars AB, one of the sponsors of 2009 European Pro Stock Champion, Jimmy Ålund. 

Left: Lars Torngren (with trophy), Björn Jonsson (with bottle) and Peder Landberg collect their winnings for Top Competition Altered.

Clive Skilton makes sure the SEMA Trohpy is one prize not going back to Sweden.  As readers of Brian Taylor’s Crazy Horses Blog will know, the SEMA Trophy was rediscovered in 2009 languishing at the Brighton and Hove Motor Club.  This historic trophy has since been restored and is on display at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.


Race details were cribbed from Mike Lintern’s original Custom Car article, John Dickson and Peter Miller’s Kool Kams reports and Nick Pettit’s Time Travel DVDs.
The list of thanks for this feature would make an Oscar winner blush, but from the merest hint of an identification to a full blown contribution, this look back at the 1971 Internationals would not have been half as good without everyone’s help, no matter how small or large.
First and foremost though a big thank you to Alan Currans for putting this page together and to Roger Phillips for the photographs.
And special thanks to Clive Rooms, Nick Pettit, John Hobbs and Lars Torngren.
And in alphabetical order Janne Carlsson, John Dickson, Gunnar Elmqvist, Tage Hammerman, Mike Lintern, Pete Miller, Dave Riswick, Lars Rodeblad, Nils Rodeblad and Brian Taylor.

Thank you all.

Andy Barrack
April 2010

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