BHRA First Big Go 1964

Story produced by Nick Pettitt and published by Eurodragster. 

Pictures courtesy of Paul Hicks, John Bennett and Allen Friedrich.

Whit Sunday May 17th 1964 saw the first American style drag race in the UK when the British Hot Rod Association held their first Big Go at Duxford airfield. Competition Secretary Brian Sparrow had put a lot of effort into organising the event, helped by Vice Chairman John Bennett and Secretary Ted Jennings. They’d originally planned a drag race at Church Lawford in August 1963 but had to cancel it at the last minute due to a lack of entries. This time, thanks to co-promotion with the Allard Owners Club and the National Sprint Association, 57 eager competitors and an enthusiastic crowd of spectators turned up at Duxford to see what this drag racing business was all about.

Standing start races over the quarter mile were not new in the UK as they were sometimes held at end of sprint meetings or speed trials when the quickest eight cars or bikes would be paired up in a knockout competition. Also the July 1955 issue of Autosport reported a drag race at Shepherds Grove USAF base, as US servicemen indulged in their favourite pasttime while on duty in the UK. But the BHRA’s Big Go has gone down in history as the first full scale British drag race meeting.

Duxford was the perfect venue for a drag race with plenty of room to lay out the strip and shutdown area. Despite a delay due to not being able to gain access to the airfield until later than expected the event was a great success. Fans were seen wandering through the pits checking out the cars with a peculiar glassy look in their eyes wearing T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Moon’ and ‘Dragstar’ logos as the day was blessed with California sunshine. There was even a Christmas Tree starting system constructed by BHRA treasurer Peter Bartlett with five amber lights giving a 2 ½ second count down in line with the NHRA complete with red foul light. Unfortunately the bright sun was playing havoc with the red light sensor so it wasn’t used at this meeting but nobody was complaining.

No less than five slingshot dragsters were ready for action, the two newly constructed Allard Dragons powered by blown alcohol burning 1500cc Fords had John Hume in the Works machine while the first production Dragon was driven by both Ian Smith who had recently purchased the car and Allard PRO Gerry Belton. Tony Densham brought out the Worden, also blown 1500cc Ford powered, Allan Herridge was there with the mighty DD Buick, now sporting a blower in front of the straight eight and John Harrison brought along the new 2850cc DD Atlantic. Joining the diggers were two mean looking Altereds entered by the Wright brothers, Richard had his Cadillac powered Topolino there and John brought his Jag powered Austin, complete with Rolls Royce grille. John had been working all night on the car but disappointment struck when RAC scrutineer Fred Matthews wouldn’t let it race due to a partly exposed propshaft.

The two Allard Dragons were at Duxford.
This is the works car driven by Allard
Development Engineer John Hume.

John took home the Fastest time of the day
Trophy with an 11.92 second run.

Starter Rick Goodale gets ready to
hit the button sending the Works Dragon
and the Farrallac down the quarter mile.

An enthusiastic crowd made good use of their cars,
standing or sitting on them for a good view of the action.

The other Dragon was driven by both
Ian Smith and Allard PRO Gerry Belton.

Gerry ran a best of 12.44 and took
home the Top Eliminator Trophy.

This Dragon had an extra piece added to the roll cage,
the Works car would soon have the same mod done.

Allan Herridge and the Dragster Developments
Team had done a few mods to the DD Buick
for 1964 including
fitting a blower to the front of the engine.

John Harrison comes out in the new
Dragster Developments 2850cc
Austin Atlantic Powered Dragster.

John ran a best of 19.43 at Duxford.

John's dragster was later named 'Jynx'
after a series of mishaps.

The Wright brothers came down from Spalding with
their street legal Hot Rods. This is Richard's Topolino bodied
machine which had Cadillac power and a Model A grille.

Richard ran without doors and used
a modified Allard chassis.

He clocked a best of 14.84 secs and
he took the over 2000cc Dragster
& Racing Car Eliminator win.

John Wright was there with his Austin
pick-up bodied, Jag powered Hot Rod
complete with Rolls Royce grille

Sadly John didn't get to run as the just
finished Hot Rod failed scrutineering.

John Bennett and Ann Palmer had their customised 370 cube ‘58 Pontiac there with Ann doing the driving and Peter Bartlett turned up with his newly acquired ‘57 Chevy. Bob and Roy Phelps had brought along their modified '59 Plymouth pickup sporting Fibre Glass Repairs logo and American decals which had to be covered up with masking tape and paper as advertising at RAC events was a strict no-no in 1964.

Dragons Hot Rod Club members Clive Lingard and Paul Hicks had come down from Manchester in Clive’s bright red, channelled and cycle fendered Model Y Ford Hot Rod and Ken Cooper had entered his ‘33 Ford Cabriolet Hot Rod but sadly was a non-starter.  With the Allard Owners Club present a good selection of Allards were entered to race with even more parked in the spectator car park. Don and Stella Farrell were both driving there Farrallac, based on a much-modified J2 Allard and powered by a 331 cube Cadillac. Jim and Shiela Tiller were sharing the hot seat in their Allard J2 fitted with a bored and stroked Ardun Mercury flathead sporting eight Amal carbs. Then there was Fred Lock’s Old’s powered Allard J1, D. Mayston’s Mercury powered Allard K2, Keith Baker’s Allard Palm Beach and Mike Knapman who had entered a Ford Pilot but instead brought along his P Type Allard saloon. The rest of the entries were made up of a mixed bunch from racing and sports cars to standard saloons.

Clive Lingard was running his tweaked
1172cc sidevalve Model Y Hot Rod in the up to 1300cc
GT & Sports Car Class and Little Eliminator.
He ran a best time of 21.04 and here
he gets shutdown by G. Cooper in a Mini Cooper
which was running high 17's.

The final of the up to 1000cc Dragster & Racing
Car Eliminator saw W. Alderton in the near lane
driving his Norton powered kart known as the S C
Special Mk V1 get shutdown by M. Jones in a Cooper Jap.

Check out the cool Tea van behind the S. C.
Special complete with white-walls and Mooneyes
decal on the front. It was an Austin 3 Way Van
with an A90 motor and belonged to Pat Neal's mum.

In the near lane T. P. Sargeant's TUR-MGB
takes on John Spurrell's TR3A in the 1301-2000cc
GT & Sports Car Eliminator. John Spurrell took the
Eliminator win running low 16's but at the cost of a
broken halfshaft possibly due to the fantastic traction
given by his 'Green Spot' tyres! .

The Farrallac was powered by a 331 Cadillac
and based on a modified J2 Allard. Don and
Stella Farrell shared the driving.

And behind the Farrallac is Pete Barlett's
black and white '57 Chevy.

The meeting kicked off with two timed runs for each competitor, then it was time to race. Eliminations were run for each of the 10 classes followed by Top, Middle and Little Eliminator where the whole entry was divided into three performance groups, irrespective of engine size or category providing some close races. This surprised some of the racers who hadn’t studied the regulations or were not followers of the American drag racing scene reported in the various American Hot Rodding magazines available in the UK at the time. 

Reg Biss was running his XK150S in the over
3000cc Touring Car Eliminator and clocked
a best of 16.51 secs.

Also in the over 3000cc Touring Car Eliminator
was Norman Watt in his Series 1 Jag fitted
with a 3.8 D-type engine.

Norman ran a best of 15.94 secs
and beat Reg in the final.

A very close battle of the Cortinas
in the final of the 1301cc - 2000cc Touring
Car Class as Tony Kinch (14) just took it with
a 17.31 against Paul Steiner (15)

Roy and Bob Phelps were racing their
Fibre Glass Repairs Plymouth pickup.
The RAC made them cover up all the advertising
which was not allowed in 1964. The RAC eventually
gave in at the Drag Festival in September when the
American cars came over plastered in decals!

Naturally, the Allard Dragons performed well and Gerry Belton won Top Eliminator, narrowly snatching victory over Stella Farrell in her husband’s Farrellac, Middle Eliminator went to Tony Kinch in his Lawrence tuned Cortina GT who shutdown Ann Palmer in the big Pontiac, while Keith Baker in his red Allard Palm Beach took Little Eliminator. 

John Hume ran 11.92 to take low elapsed time of the meet in the Works Dragon. Dennis ‘Jenks’ Jenkinson had examined the Dragon at the Racing Car Show earlier in the year and sceptically wagered his well-known beard that it would not break 12 seconds. Loud and clear the commentators Les Brooks and Peter Groves announced Hume’s time, gloatingly looking forward to seeing a beardless Jenks to settle his bet.

John Bennett and Ann Palmer passed
scrutineering with their '58 Pontiac Chieftain.

Ann brings out the big Pontiac
complete with customised front end.

The 370 cube V8 was virtually stock
with 2-barrel carb and 4-speed Hydromatic box.

Ann takes on Norman Watt's Jag.

Ann and mechanic Alan Martin who set up
the car with the battery in the boot, hubcaps off
and tyre pressures set just right to get off the
line to a best of 17.08.

Moon Equipped!

John and Ann would later be married.

They picked up a certificate for runner
up in Middle Eliminator.

The meeting was completed by 6pm, everyone went home happy, even the RAC Steward enjoyed the days racing, his only criticism being that a few more marshals in the pits would have helped the smooth running of the meeting. Much was learnt by club officials about the running of a drag race meeting and the Big Go became an annual event returning to Duxford in 1965 then moving to Santa Pod in 1966 where it was run each year over the Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend at the end of May until 1987. In 1988 the name was changed to the Fosters Lager Drag Meeting and it’s now known as the Main Event.