Some very sad news at the weekend that one of the most iconic figures in British Drag Racing has passed away.
Here’s a great piece on Stu that was written by Brian Taylor a few years ago for a display at the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Florida.
There can be few personalities in British drag racing as well-known and respected as Stu Bradbury. For many years he was Chief Starter at Santa Pod Raceway and is a Founder and current Chairman of the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame that in recent years has received international acclaim.
Stu first discovered the sport of drag racing back in 1964. Not at one of the International Drag Festival rounds organised by Sydney Allard during that year, but at one of Britain’s finest stately homes – Woburn Abbey, home of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. Stu was playing in a local pop group that had been asked to perform at a function being held there.
Prior to the band’s gig he wandered the grounds and stumbled across a display organised by the British Hot Rod Association, at that time a sparse group of enthusiasts dreaming about organised drag racing in the UK and promoting a hot rodding street culture. The wild hot rods and dragsters struck a chord with Stu and he immediately joined the club receiving correspondence and the club magazine from the Club Chairman John Bennett. This was the start of a love affair with drag racing that has lasted over fifty years.
Stu was contacted by John during 1965 when plans were revealed for a permanent drag strip to be developed by John and his partners at Podington airfield that had been used by the United States Army Airforce during World War II. He was looking for a place to stay as he prepared the strip. Stu lived very close to the airfield so he invited John to stay with him at his parent’s home. Before long Stu was totally involved in developing Europe’s first permanent drag strip that was named Santa Pod as a tribute to the Santa Ana track in California.
The track opened Easter 1966 and for the next few years Stu was involved in developing and operating the track. Non race weekends were spent digging and painting while on race days the first job Stu was given was controlling the crowds. In the second year of operation he was promoted to Deputy Starter and then took over as Chief Starter in 1968.
His first experience of American drag racers came in 1966 when Al Eckstrand, Larry Arnold, Dave Mudrack, Bud Barnes and EJ Potter visited Santa Pod. Another tour in 1967 saw Al and Bud joined by Ron Jelineck – all Michigan based racers. They really put on a show and cemented the track as Europe’s premier drag racing venue; the growth continuing with UK racers being joined by an expanding Scandinavian and Dutch contingent. One meeting even saw racers from South Africa. 1973 saw Don Schumacher and Paula Murphy bring their funny cars to Santa Pod joined by Tony Nancy and Danny Johnson. Stu was the man in the middle keeping things in order.
1976 saw Stu in charge of the startline when Don Garlits visited the UK and during this decade and the one that followed he started races that included the likes of Raymond Beadle, Leroy Chatterton, Don Prudhomme, Tom Hoover, Gene Snow, Sammy Miller, Al Eirdam, TC Christenson, Marion Owens and many more. He even spent time on the NHRA startline with Buster Couch in the USA. As well as these drag racing stars, many show business personalities were becoming involved and Stu’s circle of friends encompassed many household names.
But he also lost many friends in accidents and in 1990 he left his position as Chief Starter to join his then employer John Woolfe Racing in a venture to develop Long Marston Airfield into an NHRA sanctioned track. Fantastic facilities were created but in the end, local planners prevented the dream from being fully realised although the track continues today as Shakespeare County Raceway. He joined UK parts supplier US Automotive when the company was launched in the UK and soon began crewing for UK Top Fuel Dragster star Andy Carter.
Remembering the friends he had lost, Stu and a few supporters created the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2005. This has been his focus since that time along with restoring Europe’s first dragster, Sydney Allard’s 1961 Allard Chrysler owned by the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu. He has also been involved in creating the Dragstalgia meeting at Santa Pod. In a few short years this has become Europe’s premier nostalgia drag racing event.
His personal credibility has been the shining light that has enabled his team to develop the BDRHoF into the internationally respected organisation it is today. Sometimes fighting ill health, but with the constant support of his wife Bev and daughter Genna, he has continued with the task of preserving the names of those who helped create the sport in the UK – a truly inspiring person.