In with the Hot Rod Crowd

Cars People Culture

Neil Fretwell of the VHRA on being a hot rod insider

The Vintage Hot Rod Association isn’t just a club, it’s so much more than that.

In America in the 1940s, the beat generation spoke of being “in”. Although almost indefinable, that does go some way to explain the feeling you get when surrounded by the members and cars of the VHRA when taking part in the Hot Rod Races at Pendine Sands.

Yes, we’re “in” the pits, but that doesn’t explain the feeling. You’re “in” your car all alone on the course, driver against machine and nature, that still doesn’t do it. You’ve got a membership card and you’re “in” the club, again it’s not the answer.

It’s all about the unseen and unsaid things, a feeling, a helping hand, a look, a nod, knowledge shared. The juxtaposition of being ethereal, whilst at the same time, brutal and consuming all the senses. All the things that just come as part and parcel of what it is we do and how we do it, and moreover knowing how to do it.


The cars aren’t just possessions either. They are a rite of passage, with changes and alterations made over many years, evolving with the owner, getting older all the time, making each step and progression more important than the last. Just like life itself.

The current surge of interest in hot rods and a vintage way of life is nothing new for the members of the VHRA. There was a wait of thirty years for the Hot Rod Races to happen. An impossible dream suddenly made possible at the stroke of a pen, or more precisely, a keystroke. Dreams of dry lakes come true on a damp beach more than five thousand miles and seventy years from where the seed was sown.

Whilst we waited, we kept the faith, never wavering from the path of building cars that captured a time and place so alien to so many. Always on the outside of car culture on these isles, outlaws, often unwelcome, but always there.

Now the Hot Rod Races open up that dream for everyone to view, but it’s the faithful band of brothers, and sisters, of the Vintage Hot Rod Association that are no longer on the outside.

Unlike those peering through the fences, they are unquestionably “in”.

photography: John Isaac