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APIRA Information
APIRA History A Step Back In time
APIRA History

Avon Park International Racing Association came about at the start of the 1992 season after promoters Blacktop went into liquidation the previous year, and the split between the British National Drag Racing Association: an amalgamation in 1990 of the British Drag Racing Association and the National Drag Racing Association.

Much earlier previous drag racing events at Long Marston in the 1970s/80s were organised by the National Drag Racing Club in conjunction with Super Drag and NDRC (Midlands), a division of the NDRC. Born in 1969 from what was then known as the 'Drag Control & Timing Association', NDRC meetings were held at Santa Pod Raceway but, before very long, club officials found it necessary to take their own portable timing equipment and seek alternative venues. These usually consisted of airfield runways such as the historic Blackbushe site, Wroughton, Fullbeck and Radlett, or converted motor racing circuit straights like Silverstone and Snetterton.

In 1980, the club along with the Hodges family, land owners of Long Marston, entered into an agreement to transform the north Cotswolds airfield into what would become Britain's second permanent drag strip. Over the years the NDRC staged many well documented and memorable events before it ceased trading 8 or so years later.

Not wishing to give up the facility or its drag racing roots, many of today's existing APIRA officials continued forming the National Drag Racing Association to continue the path of progress in furthering the sport in the UK. In fact the NDRA even entered into an agreement with Santa Pod to host a clubman's championship series taking in both venues.

However, the demise of Blacktop Promotions towards the latter end of the 1990 season left the Avon Park management with an unsatisfactory situation. With the NDRA out of the picture and the BNDRA running semi organized events at Santa Pod and later North Weald, the Avon Park International Racing Association came into reality in 1991 and has been organising events on behalf of individual promoters to this day.

Although the club has seen some difficult times in its ten year history the unpaid dedication and the voluntary help from many of its members have kept the APIRA active in its ever growing task in providing a safe place to race for today's Sportsman racers. Long may it continue.....

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A Step Back In Time

A lot has been said about Long Marston Airfield's chequered history as a motor sporting venue. Some good, some bad. But how many drag racing fans know that the airfield was first used for two lane quarter mile sprinting in the late fifties (1959) long before drag racing had found its way to England in the years 1963/64.

Organised by the Cheltenham Motor Club, officials ran there events on exactly the same runway and in the same direction as today's present layout but with old wooden army World War Two barges for crowd protection. Now with this in mind the question has to be asked, is Long Marston Airfield England's first motorsporting drag strip?

The historian's say yes. The late Allan Herridge would probably have said yes too. In 1959 the young hot rodder, driving what probably amounted to being the country's first dragster, a V8 Chrysler front engined rail, went to the Cheltenham Sprint in an effort to try and become the Fastest Timed Driver of the Day.

Years later Long Marston played host to motorcycle road racing, stage rallying and rallycross. Even Grass Track Jalopy Racing, as it was known then, held oval races on land adjacent to the airfield's control tower which today forms part of the AV Club.

The first true commercial drag race meet took place in September 1972, and was run as a round of the Castrol/RAC Drag Racing Championships in conjunction with the National Drag Racing Club and Top Fuel racer Clive Skilton. That first event, run on today's Sunday Market runway, was a rough and sometimes torturous affair, especially for the bike riders who, at the second event in 1974, declared the surface unusable even though Clive Skilton ran 208 mph in 7.23 seconds in his ex-Kurl & Olson Top Fuel car.

A further event for the Castrol Championship was staged in June 1974, but after a disastrous meeting held on a crumbling surface all indications for the future of the sport at the Midlands venue looked bleak until the local enthusiasts stepped in.

One year old, members of the Midland Drag Racing Association proved to the land owner that there was indeed a future for the sport and that they were the ones to carry this forward. In September 1974, the MDRA put on an eighth mile street meet for club members. This time MDRA officials decided to use the original fifties runway, but in the reverse direction. So the startline now becomes today's shutdown area. Fifty cars and motorcycles turned up that day with officials calling the meet a success.

After much debate in 1975, drag racing continued at the track, with one event staged for the benefit of local television producers ATV. Billed as the Castrol Dragster Challenge the event, for invited racers, was run in the afternoon and was a combined event with the stars of the Rallycross world, who were also given their own television show by ATV.

Although video recorders were still very much in their infancy ATV, soon to become Central TV, decided before copies could be made, to wipe the tapes clean. As far as I know only the sound track remains on audio and is the exclusive property of the writer of this article.

After several years under the control of the Midland's racers and the rapidly decreasing venues for the sport, as a prelude to their 10th anniversary year the National Drag Racing Club announced that negotiations between club officials and the owners of the airfield had been finalised to turn the existing eighth mile racing strip into a purpose built raceway.

With freshly laid tarmac, Armco barriers and improved facilities for spectators, the runway's official opening was conducted in a special champagne burnout by Top Fuel star Dennis Priddle who later in the event posted the tracks first 200 mph run.

For a further ten year the raceway staged several notable international and national events. The most notable being the Transatlantic Drag Bike Races, American Car Nationals and the Bulldog Bash, all helping to put Long Marston Raceway on the international map of world drag racing.

Further developments continued in 1989 with the laying of a new 66 ft. wide track built to NHRA specifications and a change of name to Avon Park Raceway. Blacktop Promotions were the controlling organisers of drag racing leaving the newly formed National Drag racing Association and the British Drag Racing Association to organise the events. A new state-of-the-art Chrondek Timing System was installed, new grandstand's were erected and new Pro and Sportsman pits were re-laid. Approved by the NHRA's
Carl Olson and Bernie Partridge, Avon Park attracted some big names in the sport together with several major European nitro and drag bike championships.

With controlling promoters Blacktop forced into liquidation midway through the 1990 season and the BNDRA entering into there own championship series at Avon park and North Weald in the proceeding years along with the APIRA, picking up the pieces in 1994 were the Goodguys UK, promoters of VW and drag racing shows. A fresh incentive in new American style razzamatazz events saw crowds flooding back with the Volksfest and the popular Sportsman Shootouts finding new homes at Avon Park.

The Bulldog Bash continued to attract the big name bands and record crowds, but further development was just around the corner with the construction of a nine meter high noise wall. The entire pit complex was also moved to the south side of the raceway at the request of the local council. New sound insulation banks and instant top end scoreboards for the display of elapsed times and terminal speeds were later added.

With the passing of the Goodguys, new and existing organisers Obsession Motorsports took up the promoting challenge with the 1997 Summer Slam event - the forerunner to today's Super Series. The rest, as they say, is history.

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