Last month, the Social Outcast dragster beetle was at Santa Pod's Green Light Nationals event. I got the chance to learn the meaning and story behind this incredibly unique bug; the numerous variables in drag racing as well as what a race weekend is like from a driver's perspective.
ROOF-CHOPPED, OUTLAWED & NATURALLY ASPIRATED
Last month, the Social Outcast dragster beetle was at Santa Pod’s Green Light Nationals event. I got the chance to learn the meaning and story behind this incredibly unique bug; the numerous variables in drag racing as well as what a race weekend is like from a driver’s perspective.
Social Outcast is a 1973 VW Beetle running a 2387cc naturally aspirated engine. This roof-chopped bug is raced, owned and built by Darren Shephard. He took the time to chat to me about what went into making this 11 second drag racing machine.
20 years ago the bug started out as Darren’s daily driver, until a friend suggested he took it to a Run What Ya Brung event at Santa Pod. The next minute it was a race car and Darren has now been racing it for the last 7-8 years. In its first run, it ran a 19 second quarter mile and has been clicking away at the numbers ever since.
“When I first started racing I never thought I’d be where I am now…you just try and do as well as you can, and you slowly get more and more involved, and the more involved you get the faster you want to go!”
SO WHY THE NAME ‘SOCIAL OUTCAST’?
“A friend of mine saw the name in an American motorcycle magazine and said that it suited me…as I’ll talk to anyone, but if I don’t want to I’ll just tell them where to go!”
WHAT’S THE MOST UNIQUE THING ABOUT THE BEETLE?
The part that I love most about the car is its roof-chopped look. You don’t see many like that which actually race. “It was originally built on a really cheap budget” he said. The paintwork was also something that stood out to me. It’s a combination of red oxide paint that’s had a gloss black dusted over it. Over time, this has created a patina optical illusion.
I asked Darren what he thought was most unique about the car…
“A bit of all of it really…I built it to look like a 60’s style race car, just to be different”
“It’s silly things I’ve done that no one else takes any notice of…like the vents on the back, because they get smaller towards the ends it took me days and days to do, but no one takes any notice…it’s just the little things that I’ve done that I personally like”
“It’s just a hobby that’s gotten way out of hand!”
WOULD YOU SAY IT’S AN EXPENSIVE HOBBY?
“It is and it isn’t”
“When I first built the car, near enough every single thing that I used, apart from the wheels and tyres, were second hand…even down to the windows, panels, rear wings, flip front, engine and gearbox…a bit of all of it”
“Over time things have been slowly renewed, but anything I take off the car I usually sell, so it’ll pay for the other parts”
HOW MUCH DOES A RACE WEEKEND WITH THE BEETLE COST?
Darren explained that each event can vary. For example, the tickets for this event including the electric supply were £250 – a pretty good deal for the whole weekend! Race fuel is roughly £95 a can and it’ll go through about one and a half each weekend. Then when you take into account other costs such as travel and food, a weekend can cost around £400 – £500 in total.
“It’s a lot of money, but it’s also a lot of enjoyment…you get to see a lot of your friends who you might not get to see otherwise”
“It can get very expensive when things break…no one likes it but it does have to be expected”
This was something that Darren unfortunately had to experience that weekend. During qualifying, the beetle suffered a breakage to the gearbox which cut his race weekend short. In the pits it was difficult to properly locate the problem, so Darren explained “we’ll just have to wait and see until we can get it stripped down”.
“Because there are individual rods for each gear, one of the bolts that hold the rose joint to the linkage had literally just come loose and then caused the damage”
“You can go over and over the car before the event, I’ll do it for weeks just going around checking things and you do find odd nuts and bolts that shake loose – but I’ve never had this weekend’s problem happen before”
Thankfully, since the event the engine and gearbox have both been stripped, checked and put back together ready for next weekend’s National Finals.
VARIABLES IN DRAG RACING
The cars current PB is 11.31 seconds and it had run an 11.8 second quarter mile that weekend. “It doesn’t seem like a big difference, but it really is…it can be down to anything like, tyre pressure, suspension, the driver and how they’re feeling, there are so many variables”
“Sometimes you can get yourself in a fluster at the start, just because someone else might have broken down in front of you. It might be something so small and trivial, but it does actually throw you off”
The rate of improvement for a car and its driver can depend on so many things which usually won’t even cross our minds. The venue might change their rules; your car might break and cut the weekend or even your race season short; much needed car parts might be unavailable; financial problems or even a pandemic for example!
It’s not as simple as just how fast the car is. There are a huge number of constantly varying factors that make this sport so challenging yet exciting at the same time.
“You can try different launches, change the rev limiter, a bigger burnout, tyre pressure…just altering it by half a pound can make a big difference depending on the weather or the jets or the carbs”
“It is a massive learning curve the whole time”
WHAT DO YOU LOVE THE MOST ABOUT THE CAR AND RACING?
“I love the racing because of the adrenaline…It’s never boring. Ever”
“I love the car because there are not that many with roof chops…there’s probably only 100 that race in the whole world, and that’s not a lot really”
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE GOALS FOR THE CAR?
“I’d like to run 10 seconds naturally aspirated, just off of carburettors without having nitrous or a turbo or anything, which is hard realistically”
“There’s not many people that are doing it, but it’s my personal goal”
“It is possible but it’s down to money…every time it comes apart you always usually end up doing a bit of an upgrade, sometimes without meaning to”
“As it’s gotten faster and faster, I’ve had a different style of roll cage made with chromoly tubing because it’s lighter and stronger”
Want to see this car in action? Make sure you’re at Santa Pod for the National Finals on the 25th – 27th September. Darren and his beetle will be there with the other Outlaw Flat Four club members.