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Big bang theory - Santa Pod in a Shelby GT500

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Taking the Shelby GT500 to Santa Pod to get involved with what could be the UK's cheapest and most spectacular motor sport. And you can do it too.

(Editor's Note: We like to keep tabs on what is happening on the other side of the world. Check out a British take on drag racing.)

We have a typical English summer weekend to look forward to: there are showers in the air, and it’s utterly overcast. But I’m smiling because I’ve been handed the keys to a 2010 Shelby GT500, and there’s a ‘Run What Ya Brung’ (RWYB) at Santa Pod, the UK’s most famous quarter-mile drag strip. It's bound to be spectacular.

Arriving at the track, I hand over £15 to get in (it's Retro Show weekend, it's going to be a busy one, but usually, entrance is £10) and then sign-on to drive up the hallowed strip, and then a further £25 to get us onto the track itself for unlimited runs. There’s but one stipulation – if your car’s capable of over 110mph at the quarter mile mark, you need to wear a helmet. I reckon that the ‘Stang won’t be quite that quick.

This is motor sport at its cheapest and most egalitarian… the selection of cars lining up for a run is mind-boggling in its variety. Everything from small French hot hatchbacks to full-fat supercars is here, and just to keep the mix even more varied, there are motorbikes and proper drag cars. It’s petrolhead heaven, and everyone loves cars, no matter how much (or little) they cost and how quickly (or slowly) they go.

When it’s my turn for my first run up the strip, it’s a case of driving to the line, making sure the ‘staged’ lights illuminate. Then, as the lights go green, go for it. And it’s here that I come unstuck. I rev the engine and dump the clutch, the wheels then spin furiously… before the traction control cuts in and the mighty V8 bogs down, tamed by an electronic nanny known as traction control. The BMW alongside me is long gone.

But having said that, once it’s properly underway, the Shelby accelerates ferociously, and shows no sign of tailing off through the gears. Clearly, 540bhp delivered with oodles of low-down torque is doing its job beautifully. As for the soundtrack, it’s pure Bullitt overlaid with the feverish whine of a huge supercharger. And it’s lovely. For this messed up run, I cross the mark in 14.1 seconds at just under 100mph.

Driving round again for another go, it’s a case of joining the back of the queue again and waiting about 30 minutes. This time I remember to turn off the traction control, using my right foot moderately to balance traction instead. The technique seems to be to go for the granny start, and once rolling slowly floor the throttle. Gradually. This time, it’s job done – and the figures tell their own story: 13.1791 seconds at 109.51mph.

If you choose to, it's possible to drive like this all day, only stopping for lunch, until the track closes at 5.30pm. But be aware that the more people there are that sign-on, the fewer runs you'll get. And if it rains, they'll close the track until it stops, and the surface can be dried off. But given that in an average day you'll get at least half a dozen runs to perfect your technique, this is more than enough. Besides, unless yours is a bespoke drag car, it's likely that the demands of these drag racing starts will take their toll on your car...

And this is why we only take a couple of runs in the mighty Shelby. In true Detroit style, it's probably built to do this all day (and all night), but from experience, it's always difficult to beat my first quick time of the day. But it is a case of head-ruling-heart - the Mustang's acceleration is highly addictive, and I want more, more, more. But handing it back to Ford with no rear tyres might not be for the best!

It's a great day out though - massive fun, and a real stress reliever for anyone who spends significant time on the UK's overcrowded roads. And our day was made all the sweeter for knowing that we allowed the Mustang to stretch its legs and do what it does best...

For Mustang Shelby GT500
Cost in the UK: £47,000 On sale in the UK: Grey import onlyEngine: 5411cc 32v supercharged V8, 540bhp @ 6000rpm, 510b ft @ 4500rpm Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive Performance: 4.5sec (est) 0-60mph, 155mph (limited) Weight: 1780kgDimensions (mm): length/width/height: 4780/1877/1384

Santa Pod

Run What Ya Brung
For more information of RYWB runs at Santa


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