Santa Pod Raceway in Northampton is without doubt the place to go for petrol-heads. Last month saw the venue host the Summer Nationals Drag Racing Weekend, a primarily Sportmans event organised by the Santa Pod Racers Club.
For those who have never attended a motorsport event, the first thing that would have hit you at the Summer Nationals – amidst the roar of motors and the smell of petrol fumes – was the charged atmosphere, as competitors, sponsors and spectators all mingled together for two days of some of the fastest and closest racing you will find anywhere.
The various vehicles at such events – which during this weekend all looked amazing, being fully customised and totally unique – can achieve some serious speeds. With bikes that can hit speeds of around 200mph in less than 8 seconds over a straight quarter mile track, and cars over 260mph in less than 6 seconds over the same distance, the various vehicles involved in drag racing are separated into clearly-defined categories – or race classes – in order to equalise performance.
Featuring an eclectic mix of vehicles including traditional dragsters, family cars, vans, trucks and other custom-made vehicles, car race classes for the Summer Nationals weekend included: Jet Cars, Pro Modified, NFFC Nostalgia Funny Cars, Super Gas, Super Street, Junior Dragster, plus a range of E.T. classes – Super Pro E.T., Pro E.T. and Sportsman E.T. – where racers have to cross the finish line no faster than their estimated time. Bike Race Classes included Top Fuel Bike, Funny Bike, Super Street, Super Twin Top Gas, E.T. Bike and Junior Drag Bike.
Drag racing is quite a physical experience for the audience, especially for the uninitiated. At the beginning of each race, the vehicles rev their engines in preparation, creating a loud rumble that you can literally feel going through you. The build up and anticipation on each race is truly intense, before the racers shot off the starting line with an impressive burst of noise. Many races are over in less than a minute, giving you just enough time to recover before the next vehicles line up on the starting line.
At Santa Pod, spectators have easy access into the stands, so they are free to come and go as they please, creating a laid back and relaxed atmosphere. During the Summer Nationals, there were also a wide array of stands in and around the arena, with a variety of racing merchandise to peruse, including branded T-shirts and posters, bikers leathers, plus the essential ear defenders for kids and earplugs for everyone else. There were also a number of food choices at the venue, with a fairly priced cafe serving delicious hot food and snacks, along with the usual friendly burger and ice cream vans.
Indeed, the whole Summer Nationals vibe was very friendly. Despite all being there to outdo each other and win their race, the individual racers clearly demonstrated a great sense of camaraderie and friendly rivalry throughout the weekend, chatting amicably as true sportsmen between races.
This sense of being one big family didn’t even stop when the weekend’s activities were prematurely brought to a close on the Sunday afternoon. Initially, the typical British overcast sky sent showers of rain which got progressively worse, leading to races being postponed and vehicles being wheeled undercover. However, to make things worse, when the rain ceased, an accident occurred on the track, causing debris that had to be cleared from the track before racing could continue. Due to the earlier delays with the weather, and now loss of daylight, the decision was made to conclude the meeting, without any final round results, so effectively no winners.
Attending the event with his Avelease Suzuki was competitor and ACU Scrutineer Les Harris (pictured) from Norwich, a well-known seasoned and experienced racer who very much epitomises the leather clad biker image we all think of. Being a previous championship winner on multiple occasions – combined with his impressive qualifying race win earlier that day – he was disappointed that he did not get the opportunity to complete his race and add to his collection of wins. However, he was thankful that no-one was injured in the crash, and took the sudden stop of proceedings in his stride.
Even with the less-than-ideal ending, the Summer Nationals weekend was a great experience for new and old fans of motorsport, with something for everyone to enjoy.