There is a corner of Santa Pod that is forever Japan. It just seemed right to see the hordes of Japanese car clubs packing out the hard stand that runs alongside the drag strip: from the biggest, meanest supra-cars to more modest town hatchbacks via the cleanest classics this side of Tokyo.
From the moment I arrived on-site it was clear just how popular the event is: the parking field was packed and the camping areas full of tents. The quarter mile provided the focus for the weekend – particularly as Sunday featured the third round of the HKS Drag Series – but there was no shortage of other treats around the site: passenger rides around the drift arena being a big draw.
It was a blast to see the pro drag machinery running in between all the regular Run What You Brung cars: £20 got you four RWYB runs, and there was the usual constant queue of cars waiting to set their marker. Santa Pod’s 300mph resident Fireforce 3 rocket car also made its customary star turn.
Over 50 UK car clubs attended and the corrals all looked great. What surprised me was how many cars were in each area; the number of obscure models and lines of alike cars. It was great to see; there was a lot of passion and pride on show.
I don’t think I’ve seen so many Supras in one place: I’ve always been a big fan of them from seeing the bewinged monsters racing in the Japanese GT series – and in Gran Turismo on my Playstation of course…
Supra owners appeared to be the keenest on showing off chromed engine bays and motor upgrades. Of course, HKS turbo kits were everywhere.
But just because it isn’t new doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve love. This Datsun Violet was in pristine condition – even after being taken for a run down the drag strip. Shiny.
Another classic sitting in the paddock: a beautifully restored Toyota Starlet racer. Not surprisingly it won the Retro class of the Show & Shine competition.
It was impossible to miss this club. It’s a limited edition that I’d completely forgotten existed until I saw these 30-odd canary yellow Civics lined up. They were branded by the Jordan Formula 1 team as part of their engine deal with Honda, and 500 were made back in ’99. Type-R style body kits matched with a yellow and black interior to match the F1 cars liveries, complete with Buzzin Hornets logos on the seats and an uprated 160bhp VTEC motor.
If you wanted a rest from pounding round the car clubs, the best choice was to sit on the spectator banking or in the stands and watch the burn-outs on the quarter mile.
The HKS series cars turned it on for the crowd: plenty of throttle to heat the tyres before firing it down the track.
After each run it took a good few minutes before the smoke cleared and the next pair could take the lights.
Did I say I like Supras?… Set up on big dragster tyres, from this angle the wedge shape of Keith Carr’s Mark III has a particularly aggressive stance.
The Supra was in the paddock between runs. Check out the cockpit.: the pedals are pretty simple – and pretty self explanatory I suppose. One for Go Very Fast. One for I Hope This Stops.
Carr’s Supra finished second in the Fac/Mod class to Mark Mosely’s Skyline.
In the Pro class John Bradshaw’s heavily-dragstered Skyline (parachute, huge rear wheels) held off Chris Impey’s Mazda RX7 for the win.
Johnny McKeon’s Skyline won the Street class, following a monster burn-out.
It takes a good number of crew to keep the strip running efficiently – and safely. Each lane is kept in optimum condition, with water laid down in the burn-out area and oil and grease constantly cleaned up from the racing line.
Top stunt driver Terry Grant was on hand to demonstrate the quickest ways to reduce tyres to trash and girls to nervous wrecks. He kicked off by lining up two huddles of very worried-looking sponsor girls and then drifted his Legends car in a figure of eight around them: he really did cut it fine… Let’s hope they had steel-toecaps on their high heels. Next up was setting up the Legends car in a constant 360° drift, jumping out a for a mad dash to his TVR, and then spinning that in sync with the autpilot Legends machine. Cue even more smoke and burning rubber.
The grand finale involved cramming all the girls into this Civic and launching into a two-wheel run off the ramp: he kept it balanced for the whole length of the handling arena, before bumping down to park between the TVR and Legends cars. So, Terry’s bill for this session: eight new tyres and a set of Honda suspension?
There was a dyno on hand if you wanted to see just what power you’re kicking out. Even this process attracted a good crowd!
Back at the drift arena the rides continued into the afternoon and the tyre debris built up.
The cars in use really varied: from this pro liveried Skyline to apparent jalopies: but the cars sporting missing panels and dents aplenty normally put on the best show.
A couple of street-spec sleepers were howling round: this really was putting the saying ‘drive it like you stole it’ into practice.
It’s the badge that everyone wants. You could find all variants on display, including a fair number of new spec GT-Rs. Much as I’ve always hankered after an R34, the more I see the GT-R the more I like it.
The GT-Rs huge wheels and big swathes of curving body panels just look great. It looks super aggressive from the back – always my criteria for a good car. After all, isn’t that the bit that you want everyone to see on the road?! There were also a few new shape Evos, but although I think the front has that mean, modern GT car look the back just looks terrible: the high back just doesn’t work for me in the way the GT-R does; it could be a Honda Accord or a Lexus 250. But, that’s just my taste maybe…
And I’ve saved my favourite to last: this beautiful Datsun 260Z. Great from any angle. I parked next to it so I’d have to keep walking past! And with an NSX by its side, a great way to end the day.