Nobby Hills 'Houndog 9'
Photo by Ash Wilkinson
The first of the Houndog funny cars was written off in 1977 when a broken halfshaft caused the car to turn through 90 degrees and slam into the crash barrier at Santa Pod. Driver Owen Hayward had very bad concussion and a broken arm. During his spell in Northamptons hospital Owen actually had to learn to walk again.
By 1978 that ex-Paula Murphy car was showing its age and this car, Houndog 9, was already under construction at this time. The car was built along the lines of the current trends in American design and the use of a brand new Chevrolet Vega body with a stars and stripes paintwork certainly made it look the part. The paintwork was an obvious copy of that being used by Don Prudhomme at the time. The body underwent some extensive modifications, having the roof shortened and an extra pair of headlights. It was also narrowed at the front by six inches tapering back to the original width at the rear. It was christened the Chevy Pup. Owen Hayward continued with the driving duties while Nobby took the role of Crew Chief. Sponsorship came from SLD Olding, the company that Nobby and most of his crew worked for.
The car made its debut at the 1978 Crystal Palace International Drag Racing Show to much interest and went on to be a consistent runner in the mid/high six second bracket.
At the 1978 Big Go in May the traditional British bank holiday rain cast a shadow over the proceedings. To entertain the crowds, and no doubt to gain some valuable publicity, the Funny Car was brought down the strip in the back of a giant earthmover before being lifted out by crane and set down on the track. Both vehicles were supplied by SLD Olding. Later on that weekend Owen got the car into the sixes for the first time with a 6.93.
Another show appearance followed in July at the Metropole Hotel in Brighton for the first Brighton Dragster & Custom Car Show.
Easter 1979 saw Owen take the car to runner up spot behind Ronnie Picardo in 'The Force' while in June a trip to Snetterton saw a match race with Dennis Priddles Monza at the re-named Sugarbeet County Raceway. Two weeks later, back at Santa Pod, Owen qualified at number 5 in a strong Funny Car field that included Gene Snow, Raymond Beadle and Dennis Priddle. He went out in the first round to Allan Herridge. Back to Snetterton in August and a match race with Ronnie Picardo in 'The Force'. The only run on the Saturday saw Ronnie with problems, recording a 7.58/179 to Owens 7.36/154. Hayward put in two runs on the Sunday at 7.17/200.4 and 7.02/193.4. The pair were back at Snetterton early in September for a re-match but once again Ronnie had problems leaving owen to run a couple of easy low sevens.
At Santa Pods "World Finals" in September 1979 Owen ran a very creditable 6.49 in the car but was put out of eliminations by Gene Snow, 6.77 to 6.97. The final round that weekend saw Snow beat Raymond Beadle with a 6.04 to a 6.00, both quicker than anything else we had seen in the UK at that time. Nobby Hills remarked that the Americans got to use their cars almost once a week in the States whilst he could manage once a month if he was lucky.
The car last appeared as Houndog in October 1979 at Santa Pod in a match race with Ronnie Picardo driving The Force, an ex Gene Snow car. After that it was sold to Dave Prior. The funny car class of the late seventies was dominated by U.S. stars Gene Snow and Raymond Beadle, along with the top Brits Priddle and Herridge, and although Houndog was quite successful as far as UK funnies went the glory always seemed to go to the Americans at the International meetings.
Houndog 9 Spec
|Engine||426 Chrysler V8 bored and stroked to give a displacement of 8 litres|
|Transmission||Lenco 2-speed underdrive gearbox and reverser unit|
|Chassis||Hills built, constructed from T45 tubing. Bottom rails; 1 5/8" x 18g, top rails; 3 sizes decrasing from the back at 1 1/2", centre 1 3/8" and front 1 1/14" all at 18g.|
|Roll Cage||Constructed from 1 5/8" x 10g tubing with fully upholstered seat and Simpson safety harness|
|Fire Extinguishers||Freon type, two serving the engine bay and one in the cockpit|
|Rear Axle||Lenco with mag third member and strengthened drive shafts|
|Brakes||Rear Hurst/Aiheart discs and callipers|
|Front Wheels/tyres||3 1/2 x 15 Cragar wheels with M&H tyres|
|Rear Wheels/tyres||15x16 Cragar wheels with 35.4 x 16 x 17 Goodyear tyres|
|Body||Fibreglass Chevrolet Vega, narrowed by 6" at front and tapering to original width at the rear, the screen was moved back and two extra headlights were added at the front. Modifications carried out by the Houndog crew and Fibre Glass Repairs.|
Post 1979 material contributed by Darren West
Having purchased the ex-Houndog 9 Vega funny car from Nobby Hills over the winter of 1979, Dave Prior set about repainting the car in time for a debut at the Easter 1980 meeting at Santa Pod. The car appeared renamed 'Warlock' with a good looking black and blue striped paint job applied by the capable hands of Ron Picardo. Alan Bates was drafted in to shoe the team's first assault on the fuel funny car ranks.
Bad luck struck the team at the first meeting when the blower exploded on the burnout causing extensive motor damage which sidelined the team. Fortunately a new Miloden motor was on order. To coincide with the debut of the car a model action toy was produced and sold in the 'Pod Shop' and toy shops nationwide. The 'America Express Super Shot Racers' where released in two versions, the Warlock funny car, accompanied by a version of the Hustler funny car of Pete Crane, the toys were cord pull operated, and detailed replicas of the real thing.
Dave Prior rebuilt the funny car's motor and it reappeared on the show circuit in 1980, the Northern Drag and Custom show in Harrogate being one of the appearances. Dave was also reported to be considering a T body for the car for match races with Nobby Hills Demag combination.
During 1980 the focus of the team switched back to the dragsters they still owned, with Tina Page making an appearance at the wheel of the ex-Fast lady slingshot and Roz Prior out in the repainted Maneater slingshot with backing from Cords Ringleaders. The rear engined dragster was repainted again and renamed Maiden Warrior and made a couple of low profile outings with Tina Page, Tony Pearson and wrench Norm Bristow at the wheel. Roz Prior also made a reappearance driving the dragster at a demo at York Raceway in the same year.
In Maiden Warrior guise the car appeared at the Custom Car show in Milton Keynes with Stirling Moss snapped sitting in the car! The dragster was run for a shortwhile after on alcohol before the team took a sabatical for a few seasons.
At the season opener meeting of 84 Dave Prior returned to racing, bringing the funny car back out with 19yr old son Stuart Prior at the wheel making his competition debut.
At the 1984 Cannonball the team showed with the car repainted in the colours of Solarport Sunroofs and renamed 'Kwik Kat'. After a sick sounding burnout Stuart laid down a none too shabby 'rookie' run of 9.69/149, followed by by a strong 7.47/173 and a 7.72/162 losing the chute in the lights.
The team make a showing at the 1985 cannonball with Dave's daughter Lesley taking a turn at the wheel, Lesley put in some 20% Nitro passes in the Solarport machine eventually earning a slot in the field, only to relinquish it the next day to allow the unqualified Cannonball flopper into the field.
Dave and Stuart turned up with the car at the 20th Anniversary Dragfest at Blackbushe in Summer 1985. After an uneventful outing Dave decided to sell the car with Stuart hoping to find a drive with another team. At the 85 fireworks meeting the Prior's returned with the unsold flopper repainted in the colours of new sponsors Autoglass Windshields.
After another sabbatical the team appeared at the 87 Cannonball meeting. Lesley Prior qualified the Vega at 8.35/175. In a first round David and Goliath match-up Lesley's game 8.24/176 was no contest for Harlan Thompsons super strong 6.10/230.
For 1988 the team replaced the ageing FGR modified Vega shell and ran the car with numerous modifications including a T body and wings. The T body was scheduled to be replaced at the end of the year with an ex-Timo Aartomaa Olds Firenza shell. The car ran at Long Marston and York Raceway in 88, at the Long Marston meeting the team were the victims of theft, on the saturday night the car was in the pits covered and strapped down amongst the other race cars, the thieves removed the covers lifting the blower from the car and putting a bag full of rubbish in it's place before recovering the car. Fellow racer John Everitt posted a £1000 reward! The team found a replacement blower in time for their booked appearance at the Grand Finals meeting at York Raceway in September, where they were due to match race over the eighth mile with Barry Sheavills in the ex-Priddle Wynns oil Pro Comp rail. Lesley blew the head gasket on the first run then came back out to run 7.72/105 over a tractionless Sheavills.
Following the meeting the car was reported to have been sold abroad, with no sign of it since.
The York meeting would be the last time that we would see the Prior's in action out on the drag strip, after fifteen years of high profile racing in the premier classes, the Prior's retired from drag racing.