In 2016, Santa Pod Raceway celebrates its 50th birthday. On Easter Monday 1966, Europe’s first permanent dragstrip opened its gates for business, a fact which still surprises some who imagine drag racing to be a recent fad.
Drag racing arrived in Britain in the early 1960s. American all-star teams toured in 1964 and 1965, racing on airfield sites around the country, including the nearby Northamptonshire US Air Force base at Chelveston. Inspired by their success, a group of businessman-enthusiasts decided the sport needed a permanent British home and settled on a redundant wartime bomber base in a northern corner of Bedfordshire. Airfield sites and their perimeter roads provided locations for several postwar racetracks, notably Silverstone. The difference was that this new track would occupy the main runway.
The founders could have given the venue a prosaic name. Instead, they chose to link drag racing’s Southern California heartland – Santa Ana aerodrome was the site of the first commercial drag race in 1950 – with the Beds-Northants borderland and the village which gave the airfield its identity, Podington. Hence, Santa Pod – for all its compound eccentricity, a name that would become a landmark in British motorsport and known around the world.