As Brits we are known for having a preoccupation with the weather, and for drag racers, this weather watching can reach new heights. On the run up to the Retro weekend at the Pod, many racers were either checking their phones, or carefully listening to the various forecasts during the week. It appeared to be one of those touch and go weekends, which by Thursday was potentially a showery weekend with Saturday receiving the bigger portion of dry, and therefore favourable racing conditions.
When Friday arrived, so did the largest downpours witnessed so far this year. Those racers who were seeking to gain entry to the Pod were a hardy bunch, with others opting to arrive first thing Saturday morning. The Gasser Circus was expecting 13 Gassers on site, but that dropped to 12, when one of the drivers was literally taken sick. The Gassers were massed by the side and at the entry point to the Fire Up Road. Arriving Saturday morning in the dry conditions, it appeared we may arrived on washing day, as the first few railings had been turned into a make shift washing line, with various items of clothing laid over them, in an effort to dry them out. The very unlucky owners being Billy Jones and Stacey Chandler who had been soaked through as they bravely battled putting up their tent as it tried to float away on Friday evening.
As more drivers and their cars arrived, there was some juggling going on, and not the variety that involves balls, this one being trailers and support vehicles, so the Gassers could take up residence. By the time we were called for our first round of qualifying, all 12 Gassers were ready to race, included in these was Jason Pickett in his recently acquired 55 Chevy. This was set to be a weekend of getting to know his car, and by the end of qualifying he had achieved that occupying the number 7 spot. But I am getting ahead of myself here, as the task of qualifying can be laden with issues and so it was amongst the gathered Gassers.
Although we are effectively racing the clock in qualifying, it’s always exciting coming to the line against another Gasser, when I took ‘Nogbad the Bad’ round to burn out, I was going to lining up with Martyn Hallam in his ‘Whiplash’ Willys. Martyn had not raced since 2019, and through the grapevine we had heard he had made changes to his high flying Willys. He had and sat between the chassis rails was a glorious Hemi. He like all of us was keen to see what it would do, unfortunately after his burnout the car died and had to be rolled back. I was on a single and unbeknown at that time, possibly the worst run I have ever experienced, as I left the line and raced towards 5,000 rpm the car began to shake as the one period correct item from the mid-60s that none of us want to experience came calling as the front wheels began a shimmy. Within the car this was being transmitted most notably through the steering wheel. I shifted and accelerated thinking I could power through this. Wrong decision, with fillings coming loose, I let the car shake itself to a stop, before finishing the run in a stunning 25 second pass.
Other drivers were also experiencing their own problems, with Steve Matthews suffering a loss of oil pressure in his ‘Honky Tonkin’ 57, Billy Jones suffered a fuelling issue and had to be pushed back after his burnout. By Round 2 Steve’s lack of pressure was still requiring resolution so he was a no show, and unfortunately Martyn was still having problems with his new Hemi, and only made it out of the burnout, before the push back came along.
Round 3 of qualifying delivered 11 drivers into Eliminations the following day, which saw ‘Honky Tonkin’ amongst them as the issue with oil pressure appeared to be fixed. Number 1 qualifier was Slick Mick Allen in his ‘Quick Buck’ Corvette.
Saturday night had been cold and wet, and Sunday was overcast with a mist like rain falling making everything damp then wet. We knew we could be in for a long wait, and with no track action and the time fast approaching 1 o’clock thoughts had turned to the drive home which for many was several hours away. Billy Jones decided to prepare his Willys Coupe for its journey. So the wheels on the rear were removed and treaded tyres and wheels swapped in. The car was driven onto his trailer and he and Stacey secured the car. A few minutes later and we got the words we had been longing to hear, ‘10 minutes and we want you in the fire up road’. As drivers and crews warmed their engines and checked their cars, Billy and Stacey had a decision to make. They made the right one, and in a speed that most F1 crews would admire they had the car unstrapped, off the trailer, slicks back on and ready to race.
Once given the nod that eliminations were on, the Gassers all headed for the empty Fire Up Road, and wasted no time in getting to the end of it, to ensure we stayed ahead of any rain that could still be seen in the surrounding clouds. The crew at Santa Pod had once again done a superb job of getting the track ready to race, and as the first Gasser Mick Allen’s Corvette came round to race he was determined to make the most of it. Being number 1 qualifier and with and odd number of Gassers racing this meant Mick was on a by turn, he duly clicked off an impressive 10.54 @ 130mph. Next up was Sean Milsom in his ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ Morris Van, who by virtue of Jason Pickett having left the building, was also on a bye run. Sean dialled a 10.10 and ran a wheel launching 10.11 @ 132 mph in the gloom of the day.
The first pairing to come to the line was Graham Barton in his ‘High Anxiety’ Devon, lining up against the gorgeous Pop of Tom Margesson and John Gumble ‘The Tinsel Town Hustler’. Graham dialling 10.74 and Tom 11.27. He left and Graham set off after him and as the two cars headed for the finish line they were side by side, but Tom stayed just ahead and crossed the line first having run 11.31, Tom took the win with Graham breaking out with a wicked 10.62 pass.
Next up was Brian Gibson in his ‘Identity Crisis’ Dodge lining up alongside Jason Hollamby driving ‘Jumpin Jalapeno’ Falcon. Brian dialled 11.30 and Jason 11.66. As the tree activated Jason was off and moments later Brian pulled a wheelie and the chase was on. Brian soon pulled alongside before edging ahead, and crossed the finish line fractionally ahead of Jason. However, the win light was above Jason’s lane as Brian had broken out with an 11.27!
The final pairing had ‘Nogbad the Bad’ lining up against ‘Grumpy Grizz’ of Billy Jones, both cars edged to the line with Billy set to a small amount of chasing as he had dialled 10.60 and I had dialled 11.60. Leaving the line I didn’t see red, and by ¾ track Billy had closed in on me, we both hit the line together, and as usual I had no idea who had won. Back in the pits it became clear as I had run 11.62 and despite him touching the brakes, Billy had broken out with 10.68. I was through!
Quarter finals, the day had not brightened up and the gloom was prevalent as the first pair came to the line, this was ‘Nogbad the Bad’ dialled in at 11.60 and ‘Jumpin Jalapeno’ dialling 11.66. This could be close, but Jason never surrendered the lead from the start and moved on to the semi-finals with 11.85 to my 11.76.
The next two cars were green, with Sean ‘Chili’ Milsom in his ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ Morris, and Tom Margesson in ‘The Tinsel Town Hustler’ Pop. Both cars still running their previous winning dial in, Sean 10.10 and Tom 11.27. Tom was first to leave and a wheel standing ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ was soon following, unfortunately too soon, with Sean leaving a cherry on the tree. This meant that in only his second event with the Gasser Circus Tom was through to his first final, as the winner on this side of the ladder had a bye to it.
The final pairing pitted Steve Matthews in ‘Honky Tonkin’ against Slick Mick Allen in the ‘Quick Buck’ Corvette. Steve had 9.91 on his rear screen and Mick was showing 10.50. The cars appeared to almost leave together, and when they crossed the line Steve was ahead and the winner with a 10.21 @ 132 mph with Mick on the end of a 10.57 @ 121 mph.
Semi-finals came round really quickly as the weather was looking ever more ominous, and the crew at the Pod were just as keen as we were to run our race to a conclusion.
Both Steve and Jason’s crews guided their cars into the burnout boxes and they began frying the hides. As they both approached the starting beams, we could see that Jason had dialled in an 11.70 and Steve had retained his 9.91 from the semi-final. This meant roughly a 2 second loiter on the line would be required by Steve. As the tree activated Steve went onto his Transbrake, but the car rolled forward placing what must be an infuriating Cherry on it, handing the win to Jason who was already gone and on his way to the final.
The drama wasn’t over even though Tom had a bye to the final he was still required to stage and break the beams. He duly did this and launched off on a run, only for the track to fall silent as the car’s engine died and it rolled sedately to the 60 foot mark.
The issue was quickly located as the cable had come out of their MSD killing the engine. Luckily for Tom this did not stop him progressing to the final where it was another all green affair with the ‘Jumpin Jalapeno’ of Jason Hollamby.
Both cars burnt out and prepared to race the final, the tree was activated and as the lights dropped, both cars left. Jason kept on going whilst Tom’s fell silent again, thereby handing the win to a hard charging Jason.
The issue with the Pop again being the MSD cable, which had been pulled out on launch as the battery was found to be moving slightly, but no matter how slight it was enough to cause a frustrating loss. This was not how Jason wanted to win, and it certainly wasn’t the way that Tom wanted to end his Stella weekend, but that’s racing.
Back in the pits, all the drivers gathered round to congratulate Jason on his victory and enjoy the moment he was handed his trophy, and the recipients of the ‘Prest for time’ Awards received their cash.
The weekend was a challenge, but we would like to spare a thought for the work that all the Santa Pod team do for all racers. Be it the staff on the gates, the signing on room, the commentators, the fabulous pit crew and fantastic track crew, the team that feed us and the team that keep the bins clean and empty, we all thank you, we literally couldn’t do it without you. Our thanks also goes to the Neil Melliard’s Modern Pinstriping & Lettering, the NSRA, Simon Prest and Renegade Fuels.
The Gasser Circus will be racing once again at Dragstalgia in July.
Images from the weekend taken by Jungle Pat and Simon Pest
Gasser Circus – Racing the Dream.