The thrills and spills of Santa Pod

The thrills and spills of Santa Pod

Looking for a cheap car-related event that’s fun for all the family? Maybe you should pay a visit to a drag strip

I don’t know if many Autocar readers have ever ventured to Santa Pod Raceway in Bedfordshire, to watch the drag racing, but having just enjoyed a day with the family watching the action there last weekend, I reckon it has to be one of the best-value, most-fun car things anyone can do in the UK.

Most striking is the absolute passion and commitment to cars, and car culture and, of course, highly tuned combustion engines and speed and more speed.

In particular no car fan should miss the chance to see Martin Hill’s awesome FireForce 3 jet car, capable of an astonishing 330-plus mph at the end of a quarter mile run.

Built around a Westinghouse turbojet, none of us could believe the clouds of smoke and steam that poured out the jet pipe as the turbine was spooled-up on the start line.

That was followed by a couple of minutes of super-loud popping and banging as it was readied for a run. Incredible. And seeing that thing cross the line at 257mph, was a memory that will fade very slowly. Hopefully my boys will never forget it!

At every point on the entry list at the National Finals was a remarkable machine driven and run by remarkable people. For example, some of the bikes crossed the line at 180mph-plus, although that’s slow compared to the bike record of 249mph set in 2010!

The paddock was incredibly friendly and relaxed, even while track crews and medics were sorting out the nasty accident suffered by Graham Ellis in his ProMod Plymouth Superbird. Ellis, thankfully, was OK.

And when I donated a small amount to a charity linked to the DASH Racing methanol-injected dragster Chemical Reaction, my boys were invited to sit in the cockpit, don a fuel mask and helmet, and we were all given a run down on the car. Brilliant.

You don’t get much in the way of creature comforts at Santa Pod, but for me that was part of the appeal. Sitting on the grassy bank with enthusiastic crowds, chowing down some fish and chips and wandering about unencumbered by armies of officials checking pit passes was such a breath of fresh air.

I also learned loads about drag racing, and have to admit that I didn’t know that the nitromethane fuel used by a ‘top fuel’ dragster is produced by reacting nitric acid and propane gas. I won’t look at my propane-powered BBQ in the same way ever again.

Incidentally, nitromethane needs about eight times less air to burn than conventional petrol, but contains about a quarter of the energy per kg, which means that in a combustion engine it produces about twice the power of petrol.

The next major meeting at Santa Pod is, appropriately, called ‘Flame and Thunder’ on 26 October. I reckon it’s a must.

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