Flame & Thunder Show, Santa Pod, 1st November 2003

(c) 2004 Topnitro.co.uk

Introduction and Pictures by Richard I. Stirling


Saturday 1st November 2003 heralded another exciting day at Santa Pod and what made the day all 'good news', was the weather. Last year we hung around in torrential rain, feeling miserable, just trying to stay dry, or at least trying not to get wetter. I shall never forget the final 'countdown' we did that day for the late, great Sammy Miller. I had a huge lump in my throat. In direct contrast to that very gloomy 2002 show was the superb weather and the great turnout of spectators for the 2003 event. This fixture has always had superb firework displays. In fact, I can remember having just achieved the youthful status of  teenager and  I stood in absolute awe at the fireworks show and then promptly refused to go to any other fireworks display again unless it was good as 'The Pod'. That's largely been true to this day with one exception. The one show I've attended that I thought got any where near Santa Pod's supreme display, was a massive open air concert at Darley Park in Derby. The orchestra was playing 'Rule Britannia', endless fireworks were going up and then suddenly a Spitfire came out of nowhere at less than 300ft. Now that's showmanship! I digress... Anyway, the headline feature on the schedule for this event was a Top Fuel match race between 1998 FIA Top Fuel Champion Barry Sheavills and the newly crowned and surely Preston's cheeriest chappy, 2003 Top Fuel champion, Smax Smith. Barry was down to drive one of Knut Soderquist's dragsters and as he hadn't driven the car before, the rules state that he must make a 'familiarisation' pass to half track. Barry was last in the cockpit of a Top Fueller at Shakespeare County Raceway when he was at the wheel of  Rune Field's black dragster. At that time, Barry  was still smarting from the horrendous crash at Santa Pod in early September. The bruises (nearly a month old) were clear to see.. the brake lever, the parachute lever, and fuel lever all still left their mark. However, when trying out Knut's dragster, Barry soon discovered all the levers were in different places to that which he was used to. Thus the reason for the check out pass. The air was clean and cool and the main problem would surely be traction. As the day cools down it is more and more difficult to tame these beasts. Too much power and they smoke the tyres; too little and the tyres will shake violently enough to make your glasses and dentures fly clean out your helmet! Either way that means you have to take your foot off the throttle. Putting your foot back on the throttle afterwards (with these modern, fuel and clutch timers) will normally result in the more expensive kind  of fireworks. The check out passes were made around lunch time. It was nice and warm and Barry soon had the hang of Knut's red dragster and launched it nice and hard to a 'Sheavills half track' (well, isn't the quarter mile 2000 feet?). Smax then appeared in the Purple Loans dragster and made an uneventful launch to exactly half track. Whilst the dragsters were being turned around, Frenchman Eric Teboul was in attendance with his Rocket bike. It is pure insanity, as I see it. Imagine riding it, if you would. You fill the tank up with hair dye that's so concentrated it will melt you - instantly. I dare say that process may advisedly have one or two steps of caution. Then when you're happy to go (knowing you've got 35000 pairs of eyes eagerly awaiting your demise!) you flick the switch. Oh, by the way, if you've got problems during the run and want to turn off the rocket. Tough! It turns off when it runs out of fuel. My opinion of Mr. Teboul? He is France's finest and bravest racer, without doubt and possibly that Country's finest asset. I also think he's completely mental and is a raving lunatic for doing it in the first place! The Jet cars were sounding and smelling great. Martin Hill (with a very saw paw after he recently visited Greece and broke his wrist) put in some spectacular passes which warmed up everyone rather nicely. Round in the pits the dragsters were being turned round quite well and we were ready for the late afternoon Top Fuel match race. The only problem was that the temperature started plummeting and the prospects for keeping traction looked bleak.  As the cars started up and came to the line, both Smax and Barry did reasonable burnouts and as they backed up you could clearly see the cackling pipes even in the near pitch black conditions. I was beginning to think that neither of these machines would get much beyond 300ft in this cold environment and, true enough, that proved to be the case. Smax had to shut his off first, quickly followed by Barry. Barry, realising Smax had not come past him, squeezed the throttle a little and got to the finish line first in 10 seconds. When the temperatures are so cold as they were, I don't think they would have got down the track even if they had reduced the Nitromethane percentage from 90 to 50%. Even so, it was terrific for Barry and Smax race again, it was great to smell the nitro fumes and all in all, it was simply a fantastic day out. I loved the racing, the fireworks, seeing the guys again and it was just great. Money well spent!

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