Photo by Tony Harrison.
Three legends of drag racing in Great Britain, and the island nation’s most fabled quarter mile, have been announced as the newest class of inductees to the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame, which was established in 2006. The newly enshrined include the late Bob Keith, Rob Loaring, the late Paula Marshall and the fabled Santa Pod Raceway in Podington, which marked its 50th year of racing this year.
Bob Keith was an American who became a pen pal of the pioneering British sports and drag car designer, Sydney Allard, and was invited to join the first group of American professional racers to tour Great Britain in 1965. Though Keith was still mainly a sportsman racer, he got to run in England aboard his own small-block Chevrolet-powered dragster using a Tommy Ivo chassis. This historic race car eventually made its way back to the United States where it was restored to original condition by Ray Evernham. A few years after arriving in England, Keith captained the first contingent of U.S. drag racers to tour Australia, which was where he met his wife. He died in 2015.
Rob Loaring, from the racing town of Silverstone, has long been recognized as one of the top tuners and engineers in European drag racing, especially within the Pro Modified ranks. He progressed through Pro Mod’s development of nitrous oxide-boosted and supercharged engines, winning four Pro Mod titles and notching the first European six-second run in a doorslammer for good measure. Later, he teamed up with Nick Davies and won another pair of Pro Mod championships. He now works on developing turbocharged power for the top doorslammer class.
Paula Marshall was a famed track official at Santa Pod who got into drag racing almost on a whim, having attended her first event as a fan in 1986. She went on to hold virtually every volunteer post at the track. More importantly, however, she was a leading figure in establishing the U.K. National Drag Racing Championship in 1999, which united various regional drag clubs in England that hadn’t much cooperated with one another in the past. By that time, Marshall was a driver herself, having finally stepped out of her Super Modified dragster to give birth to her daughter. She died of leukemia in 2013.
The history of Santa Pod, located at a former airfield, dates to 1965 when plans were announced to create a permanent drag strip at the site. Its name was designed to evoke the first U.S. drag strip in Santa Ana, California; and its location at the Podington airfield. Santa Pod is the holiest turf in British – and European – drag racing. Its first invading group of Americans arrived in 1966, led by the A/FX racer Al Eckstrand. Don Schumacher and Paula Murphy ran the first U.S.-based nitro Funny Cars at Santa Pod in 1973, and Don Garlits made his first visit three years later. The number of Americans who have raced there numbers in the dozens, joined by competitors from the Continent and most recently, as far off as South Africa and Kuwait.
For more information on the hall and its inductees, visit BritishDragRacingHOF.co.uk/.