Family aside, probably the best thing that ever happened to me was meeting Dave Moss and his son Andy around 1991 at a Drag Race meet at North Weald Aerodrome (M11 near Harlow, Essex). Dave had built various drag karts over the years and it was his son Andy who used to drive them. I had a quick word with them expressing interest and left it at that.
Later that evening, I thought of the pledge I made in the late 60’s to build one for myself after watching a Triumph 650 powered drag kart at Santa Pod. I sourced a chassis from the Exchange & Mart and from a breakers in North London, a Suzuki GSX750 bike engine that turned out to be a 550.
I began by extending the chassis 18" to accommodate the larger engine.
To allow experimentation with different gear ratios, I pivoted the front of the engine on its lower front mounts, and at the back, fabricated a set up that allowed me to raise & lower the rear of the engine to adjust out the slack in the chain. This consisted of two lengths of threaded steel rod, welded to swiveling bottom mounts. The rods & bottom mounts were bolted to the chassis via brackets, one on either side. The top end of the rods passed through swiveling brackets bolted to the upper rear engine mounts. Washers, nuts & locking nuts were threaded on both above & below the top mount brackets. Adjustment was carried out by loosening the top nut and spinning it clear then turning the bottom nut in the required direction to raise or lower the rear of the engine. This rocking motion allowed chain to be loosened or tightened, depending on the size of the rear sprocket. Once the chain was tensioned, the nuts were tightened and secured with locking nuts. The bottom rear engine mounts were then bolted to the chassis through slotted brackets to add rigidity.
In order to have some sort of protection in the event of a rollover, I borrowed a hydraulic pipe bender and bent a length of cold rolled tubing to the shape of my upper body, to form a roll bar hoop. I then welded it onto the chassis, bracing and triangulating it, front & rear. I also installed a four point harness but that was rejected by the scrutineers at Santa Pod on safety grounds. They wanted me thrown clear in the event of an accident, rather than wrapped up trapped in a tangle of metal tubing.
I had just got everything tacked and ready for final welding when Calvin Bradford, a colleague at Basildon Fire Station, gave me Dave's number. He suggested I give him a ring as he lived quite close by in Brentwood. I gave him a call and within the hour he turned up with his friend Arthur Hollingshead, toatally chuffed that someone else was building one and finally he now had some competition. For years he had been the only one out there running a drag kart.
And there began a close friendship with two great mates that's lasted over 20 years.
I got the kart finished, Dave modified his trailer to carry both our karts, and we headed off to Santa Pod.
Dave & Andy were running a Suzuki GS550 and I was running the later GSX 16 valve version. As I remember, we ran about the same times, somewhere in the 12’s just under 100mph, so competition on the line was fierce between Andy and I.
It was won or lost on the lights.
Initially they had had a problem with the launch but they couldn’t work out what was wrong. To the ear it sounded like an ignition miss fire but there was nothing wrong with the electrics. Running alongside it was easy to see. The chain was pulling back the axle causing it to whip. The chain was then jumping teeth on the sprocket, making the engine sound rough. A couple of extra axle bearings eliminated the problem.
As happens to all racers, the ‘go faster bug’ bit and I decided to run mine on methanol (known in drag racing circles as alcohol). As I understood it, unlike petrol, an engine can never run rich on methanol, it just spits out what it doesn’t burn. Therefore optimum air / fuel mixture is not an issue. But it does require about two and a half times as much methonal as petrol to get a power increase, so getting the carburetors to flow enough fuel was the major headache. We ran a couple of meetings playing with the jetting without any significant increase in power, when we found out that methanol also washes oil off the cylinder walls causing excessive wear on the bores. A compression check confirmed our suspicion so it was an engine strip down and off to a very handy guy called Ted Crudgington in Pound Lane, Bowers Gifford, for a re-bore and new rings.
‘It's tight so make sure you do at least a couple of low power passes, with a cool off period in between, to bed in the rings before you do a full bore run’ said Ted.
‘No worries’ said I.
Afraid it didn’t happen.
The next meeting at The Pod coincided with a world record attempt by Eddie Kidd to jump 22 cars, 'no hands',whilst being filmed for Record Breakers. We got there on the Friday night, pitched the tent in the rain, had a few drinks till it cleared up, and then headed off to the marquee to watch the Counterfeit Stones. It turned out to be a late night and in the morning we woke with massive hangovers, to the noise of Eddie’s practice jumps. We dragged ourselves out and got the karts ready for the track. I did initially remember Teds advice and did a part throttle shakedown run but on returning to the pits, Dave told me to get back out on the track co’s the cameramen from Record Breakers were filming the action.
Well fame beckoned and commonsense went out of the window. Without giving the engine time to cool off I was back out with the pedal to the metal.
The run was good, and I almost reached the finish line when the engine let go with a mighty bang. I rolled past the finish line and coasted into the return road. I tried the starter but it was seized. Then as I got out to call Dave on the mobile for a tow in, I noticed fragments of metal lying in one of the exhaust headers.
Back in the pits and a strip down revealed all. One piston had seized, the con rod had ripped the skirt off the piston and came down taking the bottom off the liner. Can only assume it went back up, smashed what was left of the piston crown into the valves and the bits disappeared down the exhaust. Could say it was a bit of a mess.
It was obvious it was terminal so we left the bits out on display. Nothing like a wrecked engine to catch folks eye!
The rest of the day was spent playing with the other kart and watching the action.
Did have a funny moment with Eddie Kidd though.
He came along with a couple of mates, looked at the damage and asked what happened. We chatted for about 5 minutes and he wandered off. Dave came over and asked me if I knew who he was. I had no idea till he told me as I only seen him earlier with a helmet on.
‘Go and ask him if he wants a go on the track in the other kart’.
So I did.
Couldn’t believe he turned me down with, ‘not a chance’.
’Why’ I asked, ‘you have just jumped 160 feet, over 22 cars, no hands’.
‘Yeah’ he laughed, ‘I might have done, but my arse weren’t two inches off the ground’
Top man, and a right nice bloke to boot.
Catch up with him at eddiikidd.com and be sure to check out his videos page.
After that meet I decided to build a new kart from the ground up. I loaned the chassis to a mate to use for a Yamaha 1200 lump that he had hanging about. That was the plan but shortly after that I got into sailing, and lost touch with both Adrian and the kart.
A few years passed by before we were reunited.
Continued on the Yamaha FJ1200 Drag Kart page.