Golden times as raceway in Northamptonshire celebrates its 50th birthday

Santa Pod in 1967 (by Peter Quinn)
Santa Pod in 1967 (by Peter Quinn)

Santa Pod Raceway is celebrating 50 years since it welcomed its first cars to the track.

Drag racing arrived in Britain in the early 1960s with American all-star teams touring in 1964 and 1965, racing on airfield sites around the country including the US Air Force base at Chelveston.

Santa Pod now

Santa Pod now

Inspired by their success, a group of enthusiasts decided the sport needed a permanent British home and settled on a redundant wartime bomber base in Podington, near Wellingborough.

Airfield sites and their perimeter roads provided locations for several postwar racetracks, including Silverstone, but the difference was that this new track would occupy the main runway.

The founders chose a name with links to drag racing’s Southern California heartland, as Santa Ana aerodrome was the site of the first commercial drag race in 1950, and the village which gave the airfield its identity, Podington.

And on Easter Monday 1966, Europe’s first permanent dragstrip opened for the first time.

An aerial shot of Santa Pod

An aerial shot of Santa Pod

The dragstrip has always been at the heart of Santa Pod, but 50 years on the raceway now offers a diverse weekly programme of events running from February to November.

For the first two seasons, the track began where the finish line now stands - today’s 300mph speeds would not have been possible with the shorter ‘shutdown’ area.

But the raceway has had to move with the times and its premises and facilities have been updated over the years.

These include the paved paddock which can accommodate more than 300 international racing teams and their transporters, as well as hosting its own motoring and entertainment events, the live action arena, the hospitality facilities, the medical centre, the high-tech, millisecond-precise timing system and the stringent safety features.

Dates for the 50th anniversary season’s principal national and international drag racing events are the Festival of Power from March 25 to 27, round one of the FIA/FIM European Drag Racing Championship from May 27 to 30, Dragstalgia from July 15 to 17 and the European finals of the FIA/FIM European Drag Racing Championship from September 8 to 11.

The Volkswagen festival known as Bug Jam is also celebrating an anniversary of its own with its 30th anniversary taking place from July 22 to 24.

A logo for Santa Pod’s 50th anniversary will adorn a full range of special anniversary merchandise on sale throughout the year.

And Santa Pod bosses say there will be plenty more to come as the season gets into gear.

To keep up-to-date with events at the raceway go to www.santapod.co.uk or follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/santapodraceway.