It’s the mid-Seventies, there’s a bunch of us runnin Yankee motors, hangin out at Rainy City Cruisers in Manchester, an generally being street bums. Smax’s dad has a transport business, so we often pinch one of his Luton Transits, stick about 15 people in the back, and bugger off down the Pod to watch the racin. We’re already startin to get slightly notorious — I guess we’re just loud… Like one night, me and Nidge, Smax’s brother, are in back of Luton sniffin glue. We’ve got Tangerine Dream ‘Ricochet’ full-blast on the 8-track (yeh, it was that long ago), just going round and round in a loop cos 8-tracks could do that. It must be about 4am or summat. We’ve been there hours and I’ve shown Nidge the door to the Astral Plane (cos when you really get to know glue, it ain’t a crappy drug at all, despite its associations, you can stop time an everythin with it) then we here this real cross-soundin voice shout out, ‘Turn that fuckin music off.’ So we get all paranoid that some Southern Bullies are gonna bash us, an we turn it off real quick an go dead quiet. Then loadsa voices pipe up from all round the campsite ‘No, turn it back on.’ So we wack it back on full and crack open another tin of Evo-Stick. Yay!
Anyway, enough pre-amble bollocks. So come 1979 we decide to start a drag racin team. We’ve already got a name — The Anthill Mob – what else do we need? Smax races his XL, but soon buys a Pop. Fifi buys a Topolino with a methanol Jag in it, Jimmy races his Oldsmobile, an of course I’m gonna run a bike.
I’ve already got a Norton Commando — the 850 Interstate model with the big touring tank – so I never stop to think, just get stuck into it. I spend a fortune convertin it to sorta café racer spec, with a long alloy tank, single racin seat, performance 2-into1 exhaust etc. Then I decide it ain’t gonna be fast enough anyway and flop it before I’ve even raced it once. So I buy a Seeley — that’s a pretty slick roundy-round type racer, with a lightweight frame and a tuned Norton lump in it.
I went to Yorkshire for it in me Plymouth pick-up — which was really a cut-down saloon, cos we’d welded the back doors shut, took the boot off and the seats out, and torched off the back half of the roof. That was it, no boardin out or anything, and the back was completely open to the weather. The guys used to stand up in it on the way home from our notorious ‘Friday-Night-Out-Wi’t-Lads’, so as we got busted one time speeding through town, typical Lancashire bobby says, ‘Who do you think you are, Ben Hur?’ Anyway, it was snowin goin over Pennines an we had a massive crash into a big ditch, walked miles to get someone with a Land Rover to tow us out, but still made it an bought the Seeley.
It was painted a horrible purple tho, so I got the frame nickel plated, and wacked some yellow with blue foggin on, which cheered it up nicely. I did two whole meetings on it, before deciding I still wasn’t going fast enough (what? Me?? Competitive???), so I scored a proper drag/sprint rollin chassis, what used to have a 500 Triumph in it, and crammed the Norton engine an box in, and sold off the Seeley chassis.
Finally I was drag racin proper. Me mate Robin was an artist, an he had a real groovy guitar he’d airbrushed in blue leopardskin hung on his wall that I always used to trip out on when we were getting stoned round at his place, so I asked him to paint me bike the same way. It was well funky, plus I was still young enough to not have stopped polishin bikes yet, so it all looked quite dashin down the pits.
I ran it for a while an got it down to 11.14 for the quarter, which weren’t bad on carbs and petrol. But guess what — it still weren’t fast enough… (it’s a bugger this drag racin lark – it really is as addictive as everyone says it is). So I needed another sickle.
I wanted noise and power and all that bollocks, an I seen a nitro bike advertised for sale. It was way down in Bristol, but Fifi was after a dragster chassis in Norfolk, so we thought we’d combine the trip (anyone with more geographical knowledge that we had at that time will have spotted that that’s not a Great Idea startin from Preston). I think Smax’s dad had stopped lendin us vans by then cos we kept wreckin them, so we hired a Luton Trannie and me an Fifi set off about 4am to Norfolk. It took us bloody hours, but we eventually found where this chassis was for sale, right out on the end of the marshes, honestly, the very very last house before bloody France.
So we loads up, then sets off for Bristol. We’d told the dude we’d be there about tea-time… So I had to keep ringin him and telling him we’d be a bit late. ‘Might get 7 o’clock mate’. ‘Might get 10 o’clock mate.’ ‘Might be a nit late mate.’ We eventually pitched up about half past midnight, his gaff was easy to find, the only house in the little village still with a light on… He showed us the bike, which bloody scared me to death — I knew fug about blowers or nitro or owt like that. But I hadn’t gone all that way not to buy it, so he give us loads notes on how to run it and we shoved it in van. We got home in time for breakfast, 28 hours on the road. Eeeh, those were the days…
The nitro bike was well funky. He’d made his own barrels an it had Ford Cosworth pistons, an a Norton crank in Triumph Puma crankcases, so it was 920cc. It ran a two-speed Bewley semi-automatic box, and a Shorrocks C142 blower, mounted low down at front, at a time when everyone else was runnin them above the gearbox. That was groovy for weight distribution, but with a reversed cylinder head it made valve timing a head-fuck — especially if you were rebuildin it in the small hours after a blow-up… The blower was chain-driven too, with a cush drive, so no belt slippage or breakages. He’d built it all himself, and run it for a few years, with a best of 10.06 on it, so it was pretty well sorted
At first I just ran it in methanol to get the hang of it, but it had a big heavy clutch on the side of it, an on dope it weren’t fast enough to overcome it, so you had to hang right off the other side to balance it out. Once I got it flyin on nitro, it didn’t have time to fall over, so that was okay. It was all a bare frame tho, no bodywork, an it was a right handful in the shut-down area. Plus there was nowhere to write me name an show off. So I made some moulds and made a front spoiler and tailpiece out of fibreglass, which sorted the handling out nicely.
Eventually I got to suss out how to fuel it properly too, got it up to 86% nitro, so I was runnin low tens consistently. An watchin the November fireworks meetin every year I’d noticed one thing – generally people either went real quick or blew up. I reckoned it was cos there was a lot of good air at that time of year, and you needed the fuel to take advantage of it (sounds obvious now, but I was on a learnin curve way back then). So I spent loads money on nitro keep firin the bike up in me old man’s coal yard in the week beforehand an sortin the jettin out (it had a 2″ SU carb, with no float or anything, just a big pipe running straight to the main jet – which was a .250″. Yep just a big quarter-inch hole for the fuel to flow thro). I had to keep stopping to de-ice the carb, but eventually I was happy I’d got somewhere. Anyway, must have done something right, cos that weekend I finally ran a nine. Yay! for 9.96! (took me about 15 years to go any bloody faster than that…).
Oh, an seein as how you’ve made it this far, I’ll throw in one more tale or two… We were quite famous cos our pit crew was made up of schoolgirls — they used to say they were stopping at each other’s houses then come to drags with us for the weekend. First time they come down, we were all dead proud to have girlies with us. I had me leopard-skin Norton, an as they call me out over tannoy an I’m getting ready for me first race, they’re all lined up to give me hugs and kisses for good luck. Not that I milked that scenario of course… So after much delight and commotion, I finally push me bike off down to start line, and they all hang over the pit fence ready to watch. An hey, they’re still hangin over the fence when I push me bike back up… I guess I shouldn’t have spent quite so long bein fussed over, cos when I get to start line, I give ’em me number, and they say, ‘Oh, we thought you weren’t comin, you should have been racin him.’ an I see this guy just leavin line on a solo run.
Drag racin was startin to get slick by ’81. Henk Vink used to turn up with his giant motorhome and everyone in Team Big Spender polo shirts (I had a T-shirt with ‘Henk Who?’ on the back — I was such a twat really). So one race day I decided we’d stop bein ramshackle an do it proper. I organised all me crew with specific jobs, Natasha in bright yellow overalls to do the burnout trolley, Fifi checkin out the start line looking for the best grip and guiding me to it. We were slick, we were strong, we were loud, an we were in front of 30,000 people. It all went perfectly, they got me all lined up and ready to roll. Excitement reached fever pitch, me and the other dude rolled into stage… Amber Amber Green… He took off like a dose of salts, I gave it a big handful — and went nowhere… I’d forgotten to put it into gear… 30,000 people laugh their heads off. At least I can find 1st an fuck off , but the crew have to walk back in embarrassment. Luckily I’d been on the glue all day (which, thinking back, may have had something to do with it), so I just thought it was hilarious — the guy I was racin was probably back in his pits havin a brew by the time I finished…
Oooh, one more thing I’ve just remembered, so I’ll end on a high rather than an embarrassment… 1981, we’re racin at Avon Park. There ain’t that many bikes there an I’ve ended up qualifyin the nitro bike in Top Bike, the highest class. But on the Sunday morning it’s rainin and the track is soaked, so there’s no racin. So undaunted we settle down in the tent and fire up a big chunk of Moroccan under a glass an lay into it. We’ve been doin this all mornin, an are pretty smashed, an I remember it as clear as anything (funny how some things stick in your mind, there’s huge gaps in my life where I don’t remember anything, literally no recollection of events at all, the glue does that to you, yet other bits are like yesterday). Anyway, we’re just chattin away to this big spider which had dropped down on a thread and was sat on table, when someone sticks their head into tent. ‘C’mon, haven’t you heard, you’re supposed to be racin.’ Apparently while we’d been wastin the day away, the track had dried, and they’d been callin me out over the tannoy, but I’d been payin zero attention.
So I threw me leathers on and we scooted down to start line sharpish, got me first round pairin, and away we went. Now although I’m a competitive sort of soul, and I did like beatin folk, me interest was much more in how fast I could make me bikes go than anything else. But this time I won me first round. An me second. An bugger me, that got me into Final. Not that I even knew much about where I was, but me crew kept pointing me in the right direction. So come the Final, I’m up against Stevie Woollat, on The Dealer. He was already running supercharged Kawasaki power by then (he’s still racin Top Fuel bike to this day, if you ever get chance to see him watch everythin he does real closely, he’s so fluid on the bike, never ever looks in awe of it, from start-up he rolls forward, burnouts and comes to stop without ever takin his feet off the pegs. Cool.). So I know I ain’t gonna beat him, but I must have been in the zone instead of spaced out, cos I fucks off the line first (well, I’m on a lighter bike, but he’s gonna have the top end charge). An I’m caning the shite out of it, and I can hear this bloody great roar where he’s comin up behind me in the left hand lane. Then just as I grab second I hear his revs soar and go quiet, so I keep mine hard against the stop. Next thing I know, I’ve fuckin won! Turns out he’d snapped a primary chain – there were no toothed belts in those days, an even runnin a triplex chain he could only get three runs before they went fugged. So that was me best ever race I think – I even got a trophy an everythin…
Taking drugs isn’t big and isn’t clever. They stunt your growth, rot your brain cells, damage your psyche, curdle your milk, and knock on your door and run away giggling.
Remember kids, just say ‘NO!’ (Unless it’s an occasional Saturday night and you’re going to a cool underground club in Manchester or Toronto what plays deep Progressive house till breakfast time or you’re in the rave tent at the Bulldog Bash an you do 5 or 6 E’s and everthin’s wonderful…)
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(Just found these two shots of Smax’s Pop, from when he was runnin it in Canada)