Lock, Superstock and Barrel by Nïamh Frances Smith
With acknowledgements to Richard Smith for photographs taken between 2005 and 2017 and thanks to Nïamh Frances Smith for words.
Nowadays, Nostalgia Super Stock is one of the fastest-growing and popular classes in global drag racing. Displays put on by America’s NSS class, the UK Nostalgia Super Stock class and Europe’s Stock/Super Stock mean that the Super Stock revival has risen through the ranks to be some of the sport’s most highly anticipated selection of cars at the strip.
If you’re a fan of British drag racing, you probably recognise Stockers in the UK Nostalgia Superstock class, known for their roaring V8 muscle cars, doing wheel stands and edge-of-your-seat handicap racing. But before UKNSS came American Super Stock, whose inspiration came from the hey-day of drag racing’s Stock classes such as Junior Stock and Super Stock.
In this article, we’ll take a little look into Super Stock’s history as a class with everything from the ‘family sedan’ to full blown race cars and everything in between.
Origins of Stock
At the NHRA’s first National Championship drags in 1954, attended by 20,000 eager drag racing fans, the stock class ranks consisted of 4 classifications. They were determined by dividing the National Automobile Dealer Association (NADA) reported vehicle shipping weight with the vehicle’s advertised horsepower which, as you can imagine, left a lot to be desired. In these early days there wasn’t even any sort of separation between cars with automatic or manual transmissions until 1960. ‘Stock’ in 1955 and ‘56 truly meant ‘stock’; original air cleaner and housing as well as complete, functioning exhaust systems were mandatory, however rules did permit a step-up of tyre size by one measurement, which a lot of racers took advantage of.
The heyday of stock-class drag racing is generally said to have lasted between 1964-1971, which naturally coincides with the muscle car era when it was at its finest. Junior Stock Eliminator made its debut at the 1964 NHRA Nationals, and the class was dominated by tri-Chevys and other 50s family sedans and wagons. NHRA divided the Stock classes in 1967, separating the Stock and Super Stock classes. It was around this time that they also dropped the ‘Junior’ denomination of Stock, though this nomenclature remained in many circles. As well as Stock, there were also FX, Stock Eliminator and Sport Production classes which were all offshoots of these original Stock classes.
The rules of Stock classes were simple but varied between the different classes. They all revolved around the basis, however, that the vehicles had to retain their original body shape. Nowadays, depending on how strict the class is, the cars may have to run with their full factory interiors and correct engine sizes for the make and model. In NHRA Super Stock, significant engine modifications are permitted but they must retain the correct block, heads and carb.
For this reason, Super Stock was always a class that was very accessible to racers and teams from all walks of life. In addition to this, Super Stock class championships were run to an ‘index’, meaning the class was split into denominations depending on the car’s weight and power output. The Stock automatic transmission classes ran from S/SA through to G/SA, with indexes being up to 10.59 ET in the S/S nomenclature, 10.60 to 11.29 for A/Stock and so on and so forth (for the 1961 season; these class indexes did change over the years). This meant that you could have 10 second cars racing in S/SA and 25 second cars racing in K/Stock: everyone who had a qualifying car could have a slice of the Stock drag racing pie.
To further demonstrate the widespread inclusivity of Stock drag racing classes, the median age of a stock racer back in the day was around 22 years old. You didn’t need a ton of money to participate and win points when you could race an old jalopy or family car.
By the end of the 1960s, however, factory involvement and influence had made stock-class racing a high dollar game, with teams receiving sponsorship from dealerships and manufacturers.
Major changes came in 1972 when NHRA revised the category’s rules, making all existing competitive combinations illegal for the classes. There was a 10 year cut-off rule for models implemented, ruling out anything pre-’63, meaning the tri-Chevys, fuel-injected Pontiacs and Rocket Olds who once dominated the stock classes were now unfit for racing. In some ways, this levelled the playing field for beginners, but forced out the experienced racers who wanted to go faster, resulting in a mass exodus from the class. It was years before the NHRA class recovered, and by then some would say the magic had gone; it was the older cars who had made it interesting and affordable and these were now disallowed.
Over the decades, the rules became more liberal as, outside the NHRA, Stock morphed into what we now recognise as ‘Nostalgia Super Stock’. There is still a Stock class in NHRA racing, however it is a very particular class due to the specifications required to comply.
American Super Stock at York Raceway
In the UK, Yorkshire has always been a hotbed of Mopars and muscle cars in general; it is thought there are more Mopars per capita than anywhere else on our humble little island. Thus, American Super Stock at York Raceway (now reopened as Melbourne Raceway) was conceived by Tim Holmes and Steve Dixon of Sheffield in approximately 2004; the first of its kind in Great Britain.
Similar to Super Stock over in the States, American Super Stock was a ‘dial your own bracket’ class with around 6 rounds each year where points could be earned towards the championship title. In the words of Tim “if it’s American, it’s in”. Unlike Nostalgia Super Stock, the UK class also allowed modern muscle cars too; diesels and front wheel drive vehicles were included, and Tim even recalls a Chevrolet Suburban which ran high 11s. Some people who ran in American Super Stock would also enter their cars into Pro ET and Sportsman ET to make the most of their precious track time.
One thing that all those who were involved recall is the inclusivity of the class: it appealed to entry level racers and those who had been lifelong muscle car enthusiasts. Towards the end of its life, American Super Stock was welcoming large fields of up to and around 30 cars at some meetings. These numbers were great by comparison to other classes at the time, and it was once hailed as Europe’s biggest all American car field.
Unfortunately for the class, York Raceway closed down in 2017. This also meant the end of American Superstock, as the class fizzled out along with the closure of the strip. This left a lot of Northern racers without a ‘home strip’. Luckily for them, there was another Super Stock class which was rising in popularity, and also benefited immensely from the culmination of the American Super Stock class.
Like the origins of most ‘good things’ go, UK Nostalgia Superstock was the brainchild of a drink-fuelled conversation between Peter Walton, Jim Chandler and Harry Palmer. After crewing for Dave Wilson with his Top Methanol car through Scandinavia, Pete was inspired by the Swedish Super Stock class to start something similar in the UK. After a discussion amongst themselves and with James Forster of Santa Pod it was decided that UK Nostalgia Superstock would hold their first ever meeting at the inaugural Dragstalgia event in 2011. This was a happy coincidence, as the cars involved in the class personify the spirit of the nostalgia event. To begin with, there were 8 cars in the class, 3 of which still support the class to this day. The next year there were 16 cars, and from then the class has grown from strength to strength.
The original rules were similar to those in the States: the cars should be on stock suspension (usually leaf springs), with no power adders (must be naturally aspirated) and be in the spirit of the class. This usually involves flamboyant sign writing and period paint schemes replicating the style of the original ‘Stockers. The class runs a ET cutoff, meaning the car must run no faster 8.90 seconds and no slower than 14.99 seconds to qualify. Any ‘stock’ American V8 powered car made prior to 1980 can run in the class, however there is a full list of rules available to view on their website.
Like American Super Stock and other Stock classes in America and Europe, UK Nostalgia Superstock championships are run on a ‘bracket’, which means that the racers ‘dial in’ a prediction of the time they will run on the strip, and slower racers will receive a ‘handicap’ at the tree so (in theory) the two cars should cross the line at the same time. This means you could get a 15 second slightly hopped-up muscle car against a 9 second car with a full-on built race motor and both be in with a chance of winning the race, event, or even championship.
UK Nostalgia Superstock can be seen at 6 events each year, all currently held at Santa Pod Raceway. 3 of these are part of the ‘Lifestyle Championship’, and 3 of which contribute to the ‘Motorsport UK Championship’, in which racers have to be members of the association and comply to the safety regulations put in place.
Despite the added bonuses of prize money and trophies being up for grabs, the main attraction for most of the drivers in the class is the friendly rivalry that’s found within championship racing. Most of them aren’t in it for the ‘glory’ but more so the chance to make lifelong friends in a hobby that dominates their lives; the pits are often a flurry of activity with communal barbecuing, fixing each others cars, bantering and even lending parts. When I spoke to both the good folks who race or participate in some way in the class and the spectators, the majority of feedback I received was that their favourite thing about the class was the friendliness and inclusivity.
Nowadays, UK Nostalgia Superstock is alleged to be the biggest class in the country, with over 60 paid-up members. It is now a regular occurrence to run 48 or 50 car fields at some bigger events, such as Dragstalgia and the Mopar Euronationals, where both events had 48 cars entered in 2021. It is most certainly one of the spectator’s favourites, with a huge array of vehicles on display, with their colourful liveries and V8 soundtrack to boot. What’s not to like?
If you feel like after reading this you need your fix of burning rubber, gold leaf and coke-bottle-styling then you can catch UK Nostalgia Superstock at Santa Pod Raceway, where the stockers will be battling for the top spot in their championship.There’s even hushed rumours that American Super Stock may be may make a revival in some format at the newly reopened Melbourne Raceway sometime in the near future...
Click on any thumbnail for a large image.