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.
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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.