Words: Dave M Pics: Julian Hunt
Old bikes are treated with kid gloves and kept in museums, right? Never used properly, always pampered and polished and never ridden as intended?... Er, no.
Once a year, the world-famous drag strip of Santa Pod – Europe’s fastest, longest-lived and most popular drag racing venue – shakes to the sounds of Dragstalgia. The event is all about historic quarter mile race vehicles, of all kinds. So, aside from monster-engined cars and nitro-snorting ‘slingshot’ beasts, there’s an ever-increasing number of very interesting (and very fast) classic bikes too.
Unlike modern drag racing which, while being an intoxicating mix of speed, noise and horsepower, revolves around just a couple of engine formats (for bikes, read the Suzuki GSX1100 and Hayabusa engines), Dragstalgia sees an astounding variety. Not just in engine choice, but with the way power levels are increased (big bore engines, superchargers, multiple engines etc) and also in the style of bike. There’s none of the generic styling of Superstreet Hayabusa or ProStock inline fours here!
And they’re all being used. Okay, so a few weren’t actually run along the 1320 feet of hallowed Pod race track, and were only fired up for onloookers (or, rather, onlisteners) to experience, but once you’ve stood just mere feet from a supercharged twin cylinder Triumph running on a heady concoction of methanol, then you know what a visceral experience it is. All senses are assaulted - ears from the fiery pulses of raw energy blatting out of the open exhausts, nose from the harsh unburnt hydrocarbons, eyes from the angry beauty, and your whole body shaking to the beat of high compression combustion. If you ever suffer from constipation, a good cure is to stand next to a supercharged, methanol-burning twin cylinder sprint bike...
Or, for that matter, a sprint bike with TWO twin cylinder engines! Dragstalgia saw not only Derek Chinn’s Pegasus, but also John Hobbs’ twin-engined, supercharged Hobbit, as well as his 500c Triumph, Olympus. Incidentally, John was the first man to get a 500cc bike to run a nine second quarter in 1971, on the supercharged, methanol-powered Olympus.
Dennis ‘Stormin’ Norman took two of his bikes – the twin engine Triumph that he rode in America (and qualified in the top eight of sixty bikes entered) in 1970, and the twin engined bike powered by two twin cylinder motors donated to Dennis by Norton Motors in 1973. The Norton never ran properly in competition, but it has been rebuilt in order for Matthew Norman (Dennis’ grandson an ex British Superbike racer) to ride in competition!
Also in attendance were Colin Fallows with ‘Super Cyclop’s, Dave Clee and the Puma-engined Triumph ‘Shotgun’, Jeff Byrne and his twin-engined Triumph, Martin Wilmott and his little 500cc Triumph and Ray Law’s monster motored 100cc Triumph.
It’s not all British bike engines though. Renowned tuner, owner of the long-missed Village Bike Shop, racer and all-round good egg, Pip Higham, was riding the ex-Steve Tong Kawasaki Orient Express Funnybike, although he was spat off it on the Saturday, luckily getting away with just some bruised ribs.
And there were some real oddities too, including Keith Lee’s drag scooter ‘Split II’, and the ‘Methamon’ sidecar outfit ridden by Shelagh Neal who rode it in sprints back in ’61 and ‘62. Although perhaps the strangest had to be Dragwaye. The Volkswagen powered bike has the rider sat behind the rear wheel, and it proved rather successful when it was raced, clocking a 9.81 back in 1970 when piloted by Dave Lecoq!
While the bikes are heavily outweighed by classic cars at Dragstaligia, each year more classic sprint and drag bikes come out of the woodwork. It’s definitely work a visit, even if it’s only to give you some inspiration to keep on riding into your old age!