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British drag racing enthusiasts rally against development near Santa Pod Raceway

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Photo by Tony Harrison.

Set up in a rural corner of England to celebrate American-style drag racing, Santa Pod Raceway has also been beset with American-style conflicts over noise with area housing developers – conflicts that threaten the dragstrip’s existence, according to local racing enthusiasts opposed to the development.

Founded in 1966 on an old World War II bomber base, Santa Pod lies closer to its half-namesake Podington than to the town of Bedford, but it’s the latter’s Local Plan – which encompasses all of Bedfordshire – and a development under consideration as part of the plan that have caused such worry over what many consider the home of European drag racing.

Early last year, development company Wrenbridge proposed a 4,500-home development – a development larger than some nearby towns that would include a new train station and five new schools – that would surround Colworth Park, a business center that Wrenbridge completed for Unilever. Aside from the dragstrip, the area contains only farms and open fields dotted by stands of trees. From maps of the proposal, it appears Wrenbridge meant to include a strip of “green infrastructure” as a noise barrier between the housing development and the dragstrip.

The proposal, part of the Bedford Borough Council’s Local Plan 2030, was subject to an agreement between Wrenbridge and Trakbak Racing, Santa Pod’s operator, but in May of last year Trakbak reported to the council that the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. The development plan appeared to be scrapped.

“We needed to have comfort that our business would not be threatened by the new homes and we were waiting through to the very end, for the promoter [of the development] to put through an evidence-based list of packages to show the sound mitigation could work – we never received anything,” Santa Pod’s Neale Saunders said at the time.

However, as the organizers of the Say No To Colworth campaign have pointed out, Wrenbridge’s agents have continued to submit comments to the Bedford Council regarding what it has called Colworth Garden Village, disputing Trakbak’s reports to the council. According to the campaign organizers, the developer has been doing so as part of an effort to reinsert the housing development into the Local Plan.

Representatives from Wrenbridge have not commented publicly on the Colworth Garden Village since last May. The company’s website currently lists the £50 million Colworth Park project as “ongoing.”

Dragstrips and other racing facilities across American have long fought against noise complaints from neighbors in housing developments that post-date the facilities themselves. California has lost nearly all of its dragstrips due to encroaching development and Old Bridge Township Raceway Park – Englishtown to its fans – fought off numerous noise-related lawsuits prior to closing the dragstrip early last year.

Since its founding, Santa Pod has hosted every level of drag racing, from Run What Ya Brung to nostalgia drags to the FIA European Drag Racing Championship, along with drifting competitions, monster truck rallies, and car shows.