EASTWOOD’S Jeff Meads is hoping that he can again become one of the world’s fastest street car drag racers.
The competitive 51-year-old family man, who runs the Fairfax Bodyshop at Purdey’s Industrial Estate in Rochford, has had years of national and international drag racing success.
But this season he’s set his sights on making his Ford Popular the fastest car at this year’s British Street Eliminator series.
The racer has an impressive track record. In 2005 Meads was the runner up at the World’s Fastest Street Machine event at the brilliantly named No-Problem Raceway Park in Louisiana.
And Meads’ also finished as runner up at major British events at the fabled Santa Pod Raceway in Northamptonshire and also placed third overall in 2008.
His fastest ever time over the measured quarter mile straight is a blistering 174mph in just 8.2 seconds – from a standing start.
Meads said: “To put that into context, that’s faster than an F1 McLaren or Bugatti Veyron or most of the world’s fastest street legal bikes.
“People think that it is easy drag racing because you are going in a straight line.
“In a family car it’s easy going in a straight line, but in a drag racer it’s definitely not.
“Drag racing as a sport is dangerous. End of. These cars are up to 1000 horse power. But I’ve always enjoyed the sport and want to show what I can do again this year.”
Drag racing pits two often quite different vehicles against each other and frequently the outrageous machines are highly modified classics like Ford Mustangs. Meads said: “It’s true that I’ve had some scarey times on the race track, like the time I crossed the line going sideways at 164mph at Santa Pod five years ago.
“Getting out of that skid was a bit of skill and a bit of luck,” he added.
It’s not only ridiculous skids which can cause trouble. Fire is another major hazard.
Meads has been there too – but lived to tell the tale – although much of the wiring on his beloved ‘sit-up-and-beg’ Ford Pop was incinerated when its oil-splattered engine compartment ignited at more than 150mph.
He said: “I knew that I was in trouble as I could see flames through the footwell.
“It’s important to try and stay calm when this sort of thing happens at speed.
“Sometimes the last thing you want to do is slow down, which would be the driver’s reaction in a normal car.
“I knew that, although we have fire extinguishers in the car, the track’s much better kitted out fire marshalls were massed at the and of the track’s quarter mile run-off zone.
“If I’d stopped earlier the car would have just gone up in flames.
“I had to keep going, get ready to get my harness off, get out as soon as possible and try and douse the flames.
“I’d nearly done this when a reservoir of spilled oil ignited again and I was lucky that the fire teams were there. “But I’m not a rich bloke, and this sort of accident is costly as it damages the car.”
Meads has got a special relationship with his retro racer which sports a brilliant bright yellow paint job and airbrushed flames spilling out of engine compartment.
The car itself dates back to 1954, but it was in the early 1970s that Meads remembers seeing a Ford Popular parked on the street near when he and his parents lived in East London.
He said: “There was one parked near our house and as a kid I was just fascinated by the shape of it.
“I didn’t know anything about it or even what it was and then a few months later I was with my mum and we saw two of them that must have been coming back from a show.
“I asked my Mum what it was and she told me and I suppose I’ve just really liked them ever since.”
It takes a decent sized back up team to keep Meads at the steering wheel for a season at tracks including North Weald, Santa Pod and at the Bruntingthorpe track in Leicestershire.
This year Meads’ team will included crew chief Paul Root from Thundersley, Basildon crewmen Phil ‘The Wheel’ Price, Southend’s Will Spence and Gordon Stimpson. Meads’ daughter Hannah and wife Ruth are often along too.
Meads said: “Racing this car is a real team effort.
“I know that I rely on these people to keep me safe.
“Paul Root’s the crew chief and oversees much of the safety side of the car. I could be on the start line and ready to go, but if Paul spots something that’s wrong and gives me the signal to pull out that’s what I’ll do. Even if it was in the final.
“You can’t see much from the cockpit and if he spots something wrong I always act on his signal.
“Street legal drag racing means using cars which must be able to be driven on the road. It limits what you can do, your exhaust system and the fuel, but it sets us apart from the even faster ‘top fueller’ drag racers.”
However, Meads also knows that this season’s series, which starts at Easter will also be difficult because his car’s short wheel-base makes it inherently difficult to keep control.
Having the front two wheels off the tarmac is usual in the initial phase of the race – but sometimes there is so much power that all four wheels come off the ground and this is when things become really dangerous.
Controlling this power and coming up with a way of transferring it into forward momentum is occupying Meads’ thoughts.
Cars to beat over the last few season have included Brian Payne’s and Richard Billings’ superfast Mustangs.
He also believes that this ability to work through and come up with solutions has been good for his business.
He said: “People see that you are serious and passionate about cars and able to solve problems.”
And this is born out by the fact that he’s just at home working on Ferraris, Porsches, Lamborghinis and Rolls-Royces.
But, come Easter, he’ll be focussed on bagging another major race trophy for the cabinet at his Rose Way workshop. Call Fairfax Bodyshop on 01702 543000.