In The Old Days

Dead Breeze Block © David Forward

My father used to repair the large rust holes in the wings of his Bedford van using chicken wire and cement, and when the van was finally totally unroadworthy, I chopped it up for scrap using just a hacksaw and four pound lump hammer and a four inch bolster chisel, I then left it out for the refuse collection, local men at the time who knew us, they threw it all into the back of the refuse truck which crushed it all down no problem along with the contents of everyone’s dustbins on the regular weekly collection.

Santa Pod Raceway

When I were a lad me and my mates would set off at about six in the morning on a three hour trek across the country on roads that hadn’t changed their course in hundreds of years. There were hardly any roundabouts, very few traffic lights and no by-passes. You followed someone who had been before and set the route to memory. There were no sat navs and no one owned a map you just remembered the order of about 20 towns and villages and followed the narrow country lanes from junction to junction and hoped for the best.

The collective top speed of our clapped out fifth hand old jalopies came to about 50 mph. Old Austins, Fords, Vauxhalls some with side valve engines and most wearing cross-ply tyres just about 4 inches wide. Petrol was only bought in shillings and old pennies and you had a choice of 2, 3, 4 or 5 star, all leaded, you might add a shot of Redex if you were showing off. If it rained at all the chances were the faster you went the slower your vacuum powered windscreen wipers went and that’s with a three speed box and engine capacity just shy of a 1000 cc.

When we arrived we’d fork out about a weeks savings to pay to get in and those passengers who couldn’t afford that on a weekly wage of £7 would climb into the boot and hide from the ticket sellers. Then it was flat out across the ‘elephant traps’ great big holes in the concrete perimeter track of this old world war two American bomber base and on around to the pits. Here we would let out any unfortunates from their hell ride in the boot who would swear never again.

Next to the pits was a camp site and the early risers would be brewing tea and cooking bacon & eggs or still pitching their tent if they had not arrived the night before. We’d park up, stretch our legs and then set off to explore what was on view in the pits. Here you could study in fine detail just how these unique hand built, out of old recognisable bits, dragsters were thrown together by people just like your neighbours back in their local village workshop.

Derek Hunt - Robert Mazak - Steve Cleaver - Ian Smith - Clive Alley - Tim Booy © David Forward

You could have a long chat with the drivers and mechanics who would all be dressed in their best sixties or seventies fashion, flared jeans, tank tops and brown shoes. One of them would be wearing the same overalls he’d been wearing all week fixing old bangers for elderly folk in his village garage so as they could get to Friday market and buy a few more chickens and he would be led on his back under his pride and joy attempting to budge the sump plug.

None of this precision built in ultra modern computer controlled engineering workshops using the latest CAD software to design high tech parts for imported professionally made off the shelf USA drag racing technology that require today’s racing teams to be funded by multi million pound turn over businesses who turn out in team uniforms costing more than your entire wardrobe.

None of this setting up every parameter on a laptop computer, track temperature, wind speeds, clutch settings, tyre pressures, ignition settings, fuel mixtures, previous run history, opponents track history. No in my day teams used intuition, experience, skill, guess work and a damp finger held up in the air. Then they might chuck in a little extra nitro and let half a psi out of one rear slick and hope they didn’t throw a rod on the first run.

Yes in the good old days you could relate directly with the teams and cars and if you and your mates clubbed together you could join in as competitors at the next meeting. Where as today its a multi million pound entertainment business, okay you do have these ‘run what ya brung’ events but you can see that sort of thing off of any motorway bridge any day of the week.

No its just not the same atmosphere any more, in the early days you were all part of the event, where the smells lingered, the bank was best, the shed was noisiest, and the stands were for looking down on girls in between runs, but now you are just a customer to be milked and the extra entertainments are just too commercial. Its all so high tech its beyond the reach of today’s common lads from the back streets back home anymore.

David Forward