Few personalities in British drag racing are as well-known and respected as Stu Bradbury. For years he served as Chief Starter at Santa Pod Raceway and subsequently became Founding Chairman of the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame, which has since achieved international acclaim. He discovered drag racing in 1964, not at one of Sydney Allard’s International Drag Festival events, but at a famous stately home, Woburn Abbey. Performing in a pop group at a function there, he stumbled across a display organised by the British Hot Rod Association, then a sparse group of enthusiasts with a dream of organised drag racing in the UK. The hot rods and dragsters on show struck a chord with Stu and he joined the club, beginning a love affair with drag racing that has lasted over fifty years.
In 1965, Stu and his parents provided accommodation to club chairman John Bennett while a permanent drag strip was being developed on Podington aerodrome, a disused wartime base located near Stu’s Wellingborough home. Stu himself lent a hand building Europe’s first permanent drag racing venue, christened Santa Pod Raceway.
Santa Pod opened in 1966. Stu spent non-race weekends digging and painting, while his first race-day job was crowd control. The following year he was promoted to Deputy Starter and then Chief Starter in 1968. Stu encountered his first American racers when the ‘American Commandos’ team visited Santa Pod in 1966, and Scandinavian, Dutch and even South African entrants followed. Stu controlled the line when Don Schumacher and Paula Murphy brought over their Funny Cars in 1973 and when Don Garlits made his historic appearances in 1976 and 1977. Many other US stars he started included Tony Nancy, Raymond Beadle, Gene Snow, Don Prudhomme, Sammy Miller and TC Christenson.
He even spent time on America’s NHRA start line with Buster Couch. Alongside these drag racing stars, show business personalities became involved and Stu’s circle of friends encompassed many household names. In 1990 Stu quit as Chief Starter to join then employer John Woolfe Racing in a venture to develop Long Marston Airfield into an NHRA-sanctioned track. Local planners thwarted the full plans, but the track continues today as Shakespeare County Raceway. Stu joined UK parts supplier US Automotive on its launch and also assisted Top Fuel Dragster star Andy Carter.
Remembering departed friends, in 2005 Stu and several colleagues founded the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame, his chief focus since then, together with the restoration of Europe’s first dragster, Sydney Allard’s 1961 Allard Chrysler. He has lent support to Santa Pod’s Dragstalgia meeting, now Europe’s premier nostalgia drag racing event.
Stu’s personal credibility has helped his team develop the BDRHoF into today’s internationally respected organisation. Sometimes fighting ill health, but always supported by wife Bev and daughter Genna, Stu has continued the task of preserving the names of those who helped create the sport in the UK. Stu Bradbury – an inspiring individual who truly deserves to be in the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
Profile by Brian Taylor and Robin Jackson
Photos by Matt Woods and Keith Lee