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Bristol drag racers

Chris Hartnell's 'Backdraft'

Chris Hartnell is one of Bristol's most extravagant, outspoken and passionate racers, who is not afraid to show his feelings about the sport he loves. He's a hit with the fans, and always has time to speak to them. Chris has been to his fair share of car shows around the UK, and has even been on British TV with his little slingshot dragster - not just promoting the Nostalgia drag racing series, but drag racing as a whole.

Not content running his own team, Chris and his partner Claire run the 'Wild Bunch' class, and through their hard work have helped the class move forward from its beginnings as a nostalgic exhibition class, to the bracket racing you see today, while keeping the nostalgic flavour of the class.

Chris became interested in hot rods and drag racing very early in life; when he was a ten year old boy he cycled up to the first Custom car show held in Bristol, where he got his first taste of what a hot rod was - but something that caught his eye was a slingshot dragster, and he never forgot the feeling of wanting it.

In his young adult life he built a few modified cars, but with a young family, and a house to pay for, cars took a back seat for a while. Some years later his partner Claire encouraged him to purchase a Pop, which turned out to be Neil Grant’s first chopped Pop. The car needed a full rebuild which Chris, Claire, and the family commenced.

The pop was nearing the end of the rebuild when Chris saw an advert in Fire Up Magazine, for a slingshot dragster, (which is now Backdraft). This stirred the memories of the first slingshot dragster he had seen, so he booked an appointment to go and see the car. Even though the car was in bad shape, he agreed to buy it straight away, and came away shaking with excitement, but knowing that he would have to tell the family that the Pop was to be sold to fund this passion. They were a little upset, but knew that this was what Chris wanted to do, and they were there to help him. Chris sold the Pop to his friend Trevor (RIP) who was to become his first crew chief.
The dragster turned out have a pedigree in drag racing circles, as it used to be called Malibu Express, and was well known all over the world. The dragster did have a canopy over the driver, but this was lost before Chris bought the car. He did try to track it down, but with no success, and hearing rumours of it being destroyed, he concentrated on getting the car back to a racing state. After a few years and a lot of hard work the Backdraft dragster was completed, and he was ready to take the car and himself down the quarter mile at Avon Park Raceway.

The first run was a 24 second pass, but when Chris got out of the car he didn’t care about the time or speed; he had accomplished a life long dream, and that was the important thing to him. He has now driven the car for a few years, with his quickest ET being 8.9 and fastest mph being 150mph. His wheelstands are a real crowd pleaser.

Although Chris has won his fair share of Championship rounds, this is not what drives him - he loves winning, but for him it’s being a part of the best hobby in the world, and that his whole family can be, and is, involved.
  The Wild Bunch Class was set up to run nostalgic race cars, and when the Class first started it was a non elimination class - the winner was the racer closest to their dial-in over a number of rounds. The class was included in the Super Series championship for a couple of years, which was run by Terry Gibbs and family under the Obsession Motorsports name. Terry, a very good sportsman racer, decided if the Wild bunch wanted to run in the Super Series they would need to have proper eliminations like the rest of the classes. Although Chris was a bit apprehensive about this at first, Terry talked him around - even if it was only to give it a try. The class has kept the elimination rounds in the UK championship and it has grown from strength to strength - Chris loves the elimination rounds much more and thanks Terry for making him and the others better racers, and giving him the feeling of winning the elimination rounds which he says is incredible - to be the last man standing at the end.

Chris and Claire run the Wild Bunch Class, with Chris being the Chairman of the class, although he says without Claire it may not have survived, let alone become as well organised as it is. Together they arrange the full Wild Bunch series which includes twelve rounds (only five rounds are UK Championship rounds) at Santa Pod, Shakespeare County Raceway, and York Raceway. They also organise the Wild Bunch Trophy Presentation, one of the nostalgic things from the 60’s Chris and Claire have fought to keep. They believe that every team racing should be rewarded and recognised for their efforts, so there are lots of different trophies given at their own presentation - not just the winner and runner up.

Chris is happy with the Backdraft slingshot dragster, and says he will never sell it, but he knows that the original chassis dates from 1969 - and although it has had the necessary chassis updates, one day it might become time to retire the car. When that happens, he will build a new car, but keep the dragster as an exhibition piece with a blower on it.

Chris’s sons Mark and Lee have also got racing in their blood, both sharing their dad’s passion for nostalgic front engine race cars. They not only crew for their dad, but both own their own cars. To find out more facts and figures about the Backdraft Team and the Wild Bunch Series please visit their web site
April '11 Here's a couple of additions to the C&C stable.. the new 'period' pushtruck for the "Backdraft" slingshot is a 1964 GMC Suburban with a Rover V8(!) and auto box - lowered all round by 4" and running 'Moon' discs.
Race day accommodation is now provided by the 1973 Winnebago Brave.. 19ft long, 5-berth, with a 4-litre Perkins diesel.
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