Atomic Thrill Festival – Fast Fun Across the Pond!
The Atomic Thrill Festival in England is like Viva Las Vegas meets the RPM Nationals. It’s a bang up weekend of vintage hot rod fun.
European show goers, particularly the Brits, have a penchant for dressing up in period clothing when they attend car shows. The Goodwood Revival is possibly the most extravagant example where almost all the participants wear post-World War II-style clothing. It’s something Americans just haven’t cottoned to, yet. To get a taste for the scene we recently attended the Atomic Thrill A Minute Festival Sywell Aerodrome, England.
Atomic is a fun weekend comprising a rock-a-billy music festival coupled with a pre-’66 car show, some exhibition racing including a soapbox derby and the Demon Drome Wall of Death. There’s also a late night, adult danger and burlesque show and for the shoppers an extensive marketplace with a great variety of vintage clothing and memorabilia. Also, inside the Sywell Aviator Clubhouse there were hair and beauty stations catering to the attendees.
Even if there was no Atomic, Sywell is still worth a visit. Located in Northamptonshire, less than a 100 miles north of London, the aerodrome opened in 1928 and was used as a training facility during the second World War (Tiger Moths) and later as an important centre for the repair of Wellington bombers. What makes Sywell really interesting is the beautifully restored 1930s Art Deco clubhouse, restaurant and bar that is open daily to the public. Decorated with original photographs of the aerodrome, it’s a perfect place to enjoy that bygone atmosphere. There’s even the on-site Aviator Hotel.
Of course, many Atomic Festival goers choose to camp or stay in their period-correct trailers often towed behind period cars or trucks. However, like most things in Britain, they are a tad on the small side. For those who prefer to sleep under canvass there is even a “glamping” option for sleeping in luxury wigwam-like tents.
Unfortunately, after weeks of unusually hot weather, the conditions turned and the event suffered some changeable conditions, however, not enough to dampen the enthusiasm. In between occasional rain drops traditional-style, flag-start drag racing went off the line. Organized by Neil Fretwell and the Vintage Hot Rod Association, it was big fun.
This no-fee attraction was great fun made all the more so when the racers parade back down the strip. However, what was even more exciting was a demo by the BriSCA Heritage Stock Cars that are more akin to old Ford-based 50s American jalopys. The drivers gunned their old racecars up and down the track thrilling the crowd and at one point almost taking out this photographer.
As if the days are not exciting enough, Atomic really livens up as the sun goes down. There are five music venues and the action begins at 10 am and progresses well into the early hours with dance contests, DJs and numerous bands. There was also the Death Do Us Part danger show that is a modern take on a knife-throwing act.
For me, however, the real thrill was watching ‘Dynamyte’ Dave and Julia Seymour’s Demon Drone wall of death stunt show. Built in 1927, it is the oldest wall of death in existence. Watching their team of riders snake, race and clatter around the shaky wooden structure on vintage Indian’s and even an old midget-style racecar was an exciting end to a fun-filled weekend.
If you find yourself in Britain next summer, or want to take a road trip, we highly suggest this vintage weekend of fun and thrills.