“There comes a time when Autumn ask
What have you been doing all summer
We made our last trip of the year to Santa Pod Raceway for the final round of the 2017 ACU Championships. It was the National Drag Racing Championship Finals for MSA Pro Mod and national sportsman classes plus nostalgia Funny Car, Wild Bunch and the ACU National Drag Bike Championship including SuperTwins. We expected it to be a bumper crowd with long queues on the road but was very surprised to see not as many as we thought. Mind you, there were at least a thousand people in the crowd and in the pits. It also meant that our photographs won’t be photo-bombed which was always a bonus.
As soon as we drove through the entrance, we were enveloped in an incredible noise of highly tuned engines revving up, the screeching of tyres with the smell of burnt rubber and exhaust fumes in the air. Then we slowly made our way up the grassy spectator bank. There were no helicopter rides, stalls, arenas and circus tent. It was very stripped down. When we were up the bank, pockets of spectators were dotted here and there. We looked across to the grandstand which was free for the event and there were plenty of seats. We planned to be there as soon as we settled down.
On the track, the events were running fast but not according to schedule. There were lots of stops and starts as the tracks needed to be cleaned due to oil spills and cleared of objects that had fallen off from the cars and bikes. Some of the machines used for the preparation of the track surface were really awesome. There were machines for scraping the entire track, followed by washing and then spraying and dragging with tire machines to lay rubber back on the track. Prior to that , the track had to be inspected, identifying any imperfections and repairing them before dragging. Quite a process.
One of the cars we saw competing were the pro mods. Pro Modified cars were 200 mph doorslammers, running on petrol or methanol. They were the fastest class of drag cars with working doors. Only rail Dragsters and Funny Cars were quicker. They were purpose-built race cars cloaked in replica street car bodies in style from the 1930s to the present day. They were permitted either a nitrous oxide-injected petrol motor burning unleaded race fuel or supercharged running on methanol. Andy Robinson won 2017’s MSA British Drag Racing by the widest margin achieved since Pro Mod became designated class in 2007.
In recent years, there had been a resurgence in Funny cars with classic body styles replicating the golden age of drag racing and the performance of these cars had complimented their appearance perfectly. Long smoky burnouts, dry hops up to the start line followed by wild 1/4 mile ran with times deep into the 6 second zone with the emphasis on putting on a show for the crowd. The time had came to establish a championship class for these nitro burning machines giving these Nostalgia enthusiasts somewhere to race in anger and where better place than Santa Pod.
Funny cars were reserved for pre-1980 automobile bodied, nitro burning cars built specifically for all-out drag-racing competition. They were characterised by having tilt-up fibreglass or carbon fibre automotive bodies over a custom fabricated chassis, giving them an appearance vaguely approximating manufacturer’s showroom models. The engine was placed in front of the driver, as opposed to dragsters, which was placed behind the driver. Funny car bodies typically reflected the models of newly available cars in the time period that the funny cars were built. The ‘fake’ body shells were not just cosmetic. They served an important aerodynamic purposes.
Next on the track were the thrill of the wild fuel altereds with their obligatory storming burnouts and unfortunate shut-downs. Crazy, suicidal and insane were the words used to describe these drivers. Featuring nitro-burning 2K horsepower powerplants sitting on a tiny frame and a short wheelbase, these machines were fast and extremely dangerous. Long since known as the evil-handling misfits of drag-racing, these cars were somewhat of a half-breed between a dragster and a funny car. The driver sat over the rear axle like a funny car. Not aerodynamic in the slightest, these beasts tended to go wherever they want and the drivers must do their best to reel them in.
But off course, the ones that everyone wanted to see were the beasts aka the Top Fuel Dragsters. These nitro methane guzzling machines were capable of speeds of over 300mph over a quarter of a mile which equated to 0-100 in .8 of a second (the first 60 feet of its run) and 0-200 in 2.2 seconds, and honestly you can feel the noise vibrating within you first before you even seen it. Ear plugs were definitely a must. Even standing still, they looked fast.
Again, the solo runs were a flop. We were looking forward to seeing this mechanical monster of a machine as was said to always stop people in their tracks as the intense heat that was propelled from the jet engine took their grip and that the roar of the car silenced the crowds as it accelerated down the strip. It was actually amusing that these machines conked out at the last minute.
I was particularly excited when I found out that Maja Udtian, the youngest top fuel driver in Europe was on the track. She was 19 and female. Whoop…whoop. It seemed like a gender war was bubbling at Santa Pod Raceway for the battle of the world’s fastest, most powerful racing car. Piloting 300 mph, 10K horsepower Top Fuel Dragsters wasn’t an exercise for the faint-hearted and especially not for a woman. 2017 marked the 40th anniversary of Shirley Muldowney’s winning her first NHRA Top Fuel Championship in America. Since then, women drivers had earned more top-level success around the world in drag racing than in all other motorsports combined. While international and inter-gender relations were harmonious off the track, fellow feeling vanished as the engines fired up. Once the start line came into view, it was every man and woman for him/herself. Go Maya.
Multi-time and reigning ACU Top Fuel Bike Champion Steve Woollatt led the championship by 320 points and was trying to run 6.1sec with the new fuel and clutch set up. Top fuel motorcycles were the fastest accelerating machines on two wheels on the planet and out accelerated all vehicles from a standing start (except for Top Fuel cars) including Formula One cars and even Thrust SSC and F14 jet fighters. It was hard to describe the awesome spectacle of the machine in competition. The sight and sounds of these machines as they reached speeds of over 230 mph in around 5 seconds had to be seen to be believed.
They had four cyclinder purpose built engines, were supercharged, fuel injected, and consumed over 15 gallons of the explosive fuel Nitromethane every mile.The machines pulled over 3 g of acceleration from the startline and lift the front wheel of the ground, struts with small wheels at the back known as wheelie bars were employed to prevent the machines flipping over. The only way to steer the bike with its front wheel off the ground was for the rider to hang his body off the side to alter the balance. The skills and bravery of the riders were paramount in attaining competence in this most powerful sport on earth.
There were also different categories for funny bike, comp bike, super street bike and pro stock bike. Allan Davies had a 400 points lead over Reigning ACU Funny Bike Champion Phil Crossley coming into this event. There were sixteen bikes entered for the comp bike event. Reigning ACU Comp Bike Champion Eddy Smiley had a 315 points lead and was off the pace at the last round. Mick Winyard won the Open Sports Nationals moved him into second place. 2017 European FIM Super Street Bike Cup Champion Richard Stubbins led the ACU Championship by 85 points was ahead of Graham Balchin who won the Open Sports Nationals last month. Meanwhile, Ian Burns is the only Pro Stock Bike rider entered for the event.
We went to the pit stop where you can get very close to the teams and watched while they were working on their machines. We didn’t bother and headed straight to the grandstand. Babe set up the video camera while I people watched. I always enjoyed checking out the slogan tee-shirts they were wearing and also some amazing tattoos. The only problem being on the grandstand and so close to the starting point were the noises from the machines and the smoke burns. Ear defenders were a must. This will be our last visit to Santa Pod for the year and we ended it with a bang.
The day has come, weeks and countless dollars invested in this moment. All preparations have been made. A myriad of nuts and bolts, inspected, tightened to torque.
Fluids fresh, topped to level, tire pressure lowered... maximum traction. In rank and file I now sit filled with anticipation, fear, expectation. This is the opportunity, test my El Camino, test myself. Not just an El Camino to me, a shameful, prideful thing. Nurtured and caressed through good times and bad.
An extension of hopes and dreams, a shared journey. More than steel or monetary investment, an extension of self. The sound of racers precedes me with each ensuing race... I move forward. Loud speakers brashly announce events and results to enthusiastic
Calls of encouragement, support, pummel the track of competition. Suddenly my name fills the air, with pride and anticipation...my time has come. Two cars rumble in unison, a final turn to face the long black lane. In slow roll through waiting water pit, then slam the accelerator to the
Engine explodes in violent fury... burn out. The car shudders under the sudden imposed force, tires scream as clouds of smoke envelope. Traction found, the car charges forward, to be wrenched to stop short of the light tree.
The smell of burned rubber chokes my lungs. An explosion of equal fury, rages to my right. Two cars creep to the staging line. My car strains for release, surging ever harder.
Inches at a time I roll forward seeking the staging lights yellow glow. Time stands still, two cars have staged in roaring crescendo. Rumble, shudder, heart pounding, the goal so distant yet only one quarter
I am alone in a tunnel, lights flash down the tree. Amber, amber, amber. Engine at high idle, brakes struggle to reign in the waiting power. Mind and heart tighten to task...Green Light. More instinct than decision, release brake, drive the accelerator hard to
Driven back into the seat, tires scream in need of grip then a surging leap forward. Speed builds as engine roars, slam of gears in smooth progression, engine
whining to near explosion. The long black lane is my world, my life. As if in flight, I move through space.
Building speed in steady force, all a blur on each side, I dare not view the speedometer. Nothing of import but a lighted sign ahead, the finish line, glory calls. In forced effort to relax, let the car work, just guide in controlled chaosThe heart reaches out to pull to end...then it's over. Exhilaration, I am a junky in first rush, adrenaline flows in warm wash. Coasting now, breaking, rolling to the track exit. Retrieval of my time slip, joy or disappointment awaits, success is measured in tenths of seconds. Thoughts of my next run burn hot within.
~Robert Stoner Jr ‘Drag Race’~
We ended the month attending a few programs that was formed part of the Festival of Imagineers. We’d always enjoyed the performances that the Imagineer Production company had produced. One of which was the iconic ‘Godiva Awakes’ project as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The Festival returned for its third year with a week long programme of interactive exhibitions, workshops and activities. The Festival was a series of free experiences, celebrating creative invention with local, national and international artists, engineers and designers.
The first program we attended was Luke Jerram’s breath-taking Museum of the Moon, a spectacular installation that made a splash at Coventry Sports and Leisure Centre before it moved on to Coventry Cathedral. The artwork was installed above the swimming pool, where it was accompanied by a packed programme of events. During the day, visitors swam under the moon as well as joining in with “wave raves” and aquafit classes at night. There was also a moonlit party hosted by Coventry University SU, followed by an LGBT pool party.
Measuring seven metres in diameter, this spectacular installation took the form of a massive, three-dimensional model of the moon. Inspired by lunar-influenced variations in the tide he observed while looking out over the Avon Cut in Bristol, multidisciplinary artist Luke Jerram used breathtakingly detailed, 120dpi, 5.5GB NASA images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera to create his replica model at a scale of 1:500,000. The finished piece was a fully immersive experience, combining striking imagery with realistic lighting effects and surround-sound music by BAFTA and Ivor Novello Award-winning composer Dan Jones.
When The Balbir Singh’s Dance Company heard that the beautiful Museum of the Moon which had been travelling the world, was coming to Coventry, they came up with a magnificent production by adding a touch of culture. It was The Broken Tusk – Tales of Ganesh. The whole production consisted of synchronised swimmers, an array of musicians, singers, dancers, artists and Ganesh the Hindu elephant god whose broken tusk was significant. This was because without his broken tusk, he wouldn’t have been chosen to help a central figure in most Hindu traditions, Vyasa. His tusk broke because the moon laughed at him and he was furious, so he broke it off himself. This one off celebratory performance had a special resonance for Coventry where the elephant had long been a significant symbol and reflected the moon’s unique place in human history as a cultural ‘mirror’ to our beliefs, understanding and ways of seeing and an inspiration to artists, poets, writers and musicians the world over.
We attended the first performance and there was a very long queue to get in. There were 2 sitting areas, by the pool or upstairs on the seating arena. We chose the later and was seated at the far corner where we thought we’d a good view of the moon. Unfortunately, the pool was very dark and we could barely see the swimmers and it got worse when the performers turned up. The sound system was a bit loud too. But as the sun began to set and the exterior got darker, the moon got brighter. That was the only part we found interesting. We didn’t stay long and left before the end of the show.
The next programme we attended was a theatre performance by Teatr Biuro Podrozy and the Imagineer Productions called The Winter’s Tale. We arrived in Broadgate and there was only a handful of people lingering about. As the crowd got larger, we were entertained by young performers at the foot of Lady Godiva Statute. We heard a commotion and suddenly from the eerie darkness appeared three ghostly figures on stilts. What the hell!!! Everything broke loose and the city centre woke up.
Starting in Broadgate, the crowd followed the procession through the city centre. We didn’t follow the crowd and headed straight to the Cathedral ruins where the performance culminated. The full production took two years to make with extraordinary stilt performances, visceral visual images, fire and vibrant music the production. It focused on Leonte’s journey through his morbid jealousy and to his final redemption in a thought provoking and emotional interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s most enigmatic and under-performed plays
Leontes, King of Sicillia, in despair and remorse, publicly announced his crucial role in the death of his wife, Hermione. In Shakespeare’s original play, the Bear had a brief appearance. In Teatr Biuro Podrozy’s adaptations, the Bear goes beyond Elizabethan conventions of signalling a shift from tragedy to comedy. Here, the Bear and Hermione represented two sides of one individual, and they actually merged at Hermione’s moment of death. The final scene shifted back to present time of the first scene as Leontes’ acts of repentance led to his forgiveness and reconciliations with his wife.
By the time the procession arrived at the Cathedral ruins, the crowd had multiplied a few times. Everyone was buzzing and waiting. The ruins was a fantastic place to stage the theatre. It was dark and very mystical and added a certain je ne sais quoi. When the coffin entered the ruins, there was a hush. Leontes climbed the coffin made from ice and broke it with an axe. From the coffin, he picked up a coat that once belonged to his wife and begged for forgiveness. A Bear joined him on stage and once unzipped was his wife, Hermione. Aaah…. happy endings. Thunderous applauses echoed from within the ruins for the fabulous performance and the loudest were for the three performers on stilts.
We ended the Festival of Imaginers week with a performance by Acrojou titled Vessel. It was again staged at the Cathedral Ruins. It was raining heavily during the day and thankfully, it stopped in the evening. But it began raining when the performance was about to start. No one moved from their seats. They just put up their umbrellas and put their coat’s hoods up. We stayed and stood our grounds in the wet and freezing cold. Dedication or mad??
Was the performance worth it? The Vessel was adrift between life and death. It was about one man’s battle with impermanence, the meaning of life, and the weather (how topical). It was about death, disco and rainstorms, a combination of dance, physical theatre and film projected onto a wall of rain. Vessel was indeed a stunning performance for outdoor after-dark and indoor programming. In a time of rising seas and escapes made in unworthy vessels, Vessel was about the value of now, and whether it was ever possible to leave life knowing you did enough.
An emotive tale to inspire and uplift, in Vessel the audience were taken to look through the lens of death at how to best make use of the phenomenon we call life. It was a bitter-sweet two-man theatre performance with interactive sounds, and the visual poetry for which Acrojou was known. The Vessel took place in a bespoke boat structure, featuring a fully functioning mobile storm. The storm, suspended from the mast of the boat, was completed with an evocative thunderous soundscape and a cloud. The cloud produced a continuous flow of torrential rain, with the boat acting as a receptacle, which meant that the actor was piloting a large roving puddle. As the actors splashed in the vessel, we were drenched in the rain. What a way to end September.
September was also the month we made plum chutney. My colleagues and I came across three plum trees on one of our lunch walks. It was laden with ripening fruits. Every 2 or 3 days, we would turn up to pick a huge bag of fruits. What a good excuse to get some fresh air. Some plums were eaten on the spot. Eating freshly-picked plums under the tree was a treat. We turned the plums into jams, chutneys and baked into cakes. I baked upside-down plum cake a few times. I wanted to make jam but ended with chutney instead. Babe and I made 3 small bottles of chutneys and they were resting at the moment. We couldn’t wait to try them out.
- 1kg plums, halved stoned and chopped
- 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 225g sultanas
- 1tbsp grated fresh root ginger
- 1tsp ground cinnamon
- ½tsp grated nutmeg
- 2tsp salt
- 600ml white wine vinegar
- 400g granulated sugar
- Place the plums, onions and sultanas in a large pan. Stir in the ginger, spices, salt and vinegar and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 mins until the plums are tender, stirring occasionally.
- Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Boil the chutney for 20-30 mins, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and pulpy and most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Spoon the hot chutney into clean, warm and dry jars and seal with airtight vinegar-proof covers. Label and store in a cool dry dark place for at least 2 weeks before eating to allow the flavour to develop and mellow.
‘September was a thirty-days long goodbye to summer, to the season that left everybody both happy and weary of the warm, humid weather and the exhausting but thrilling adventures.’