Ton Pels, over 45 years of Drag Racing

Ton has been drag racing since 1970 and he started, and has raced anything from tiny 2-stroke bikes to double engined supercharged nitromethane burning monsters. Being one of the pioneers in European Drag Bike Racing, he is the very first Overseas inducted member of the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame. The Godfather Ton Pels has been racing since 1970 and started on a variety of 250cc two-stroke bikes, soon changing to a 500cc Triumph on nitro. In 1977 he brought out a double-engined Triumph and this machine received the first-ever set of Puma cylinder heads in 1980, which were designed by Ton. Rebuilt in 1982 and renamed The Double Dutch Puma, in the next six years, this bike won Ton a string of National Championships. Then, having started the Zodiac business selling aftermarket and performance parts for Harley Davidson, Ton went Pro Stock with a Harley and ran this machine until 1991, becoming the first ever Harley Pro Stock bike to run an eight.

In 1992, Ton and son and Crew Chief Vincent built their first Godfather Harley Drag bike and won the European Championship in the bike's first season. This bike also became the first European Harley (and third in the world) to break the 200 mph barrier, winning the 1996 European Championship in the process. In 2004 Ton repeated this feat and 2005 was the last year Ton as active as a drag bike pilot. In 2006 Roel Koedam ran the injected bike, but in the mean time a supercharged Top Fuel Harley-Davidson was being build, the bike that team Zodiac still runs and that is now ridden by Ronny Aasen: The Godfather VII.


OK, this first one isn't a drag race photo, but this is just to show you what Ton was up to before he started drag racing (trial as you can see). He has also done some road racing before that, but soon found that trying to beat factory race bikes with modified stock bikes meant seeing a lot of asphalt from really close by.


Ton started out on an ADLER 250cc 2-stroke (best E.T.: 16.3 seconds). Following that project, he built a Kawasaki 250cc 2-stroke which ran 12.7 seconds and had 4 horsepower more than the 250cc factory Road Racing engines in those days (he had it tested at 51BHP, and he did the porting by hand with bended files and a small dentist type angle grinder).


At that time, the English started experimenting with British supercharged Nitro bikes and the sound of the blown 4-strokes attracted him much more than the screaming 2-strokes, thus he started to build a 500cc Triumph. He won his first national championship and managed a best E.T. of 10.1 seconds with this bike (on the bike in the picture is current crew-chief Vincent Pels).


At that point he was ready for the real thing and in 1976 he started an amazing project of a double engined Triumph, which became one of the most interesting bikes in Europe. He first came out with this bike in 1977. Both in 1980 and in 1982, it had tremendous facelifts. In 1980 it probably got the first billet cylinder heads in the world, designed by Ton and engineered by PUMA in England.


In 1982 it got a completely new rolling chassis. It was called "The Double Dutch PUMA", always competed in the top-5 of Europe, and at the end cost about two pushrods per season of maintenance. With this bike Ton won several national titles and participated in all major international events throughout Europe. The last season he raced this bike (1987), it was the quickest Triumph ever with 8.001 seconds at 185 MPH.


In the meanwhile Ton had started up Zodiac Motorcycle Products, a wholesale company selling aftermarket & performance parts for Harley Davidson, for a Hong Kong based Holding Company. So, why not build a Harley? (which at that time was still quite unusual in European Drag Racing). So Ton and his son Vincent built a Pro Stock Harley Davidson (the first "Godfather" bike) and found themselves competing against all kinds of Japanese bikes. The last season Ton ran this bike (1991) he ended up #5 in the European Championship and the bike became the first Harley Davidson Pro Stock bike ever to run an 8 second pass.


Ton had enjoyed riding the Pro Stock bike, but by now he was in the mood for real speed again, so Ton & Vincent (T&V racing) built the first edition of the bike they still race now. The first season (1992), it had a 117ci. engine and in that year the Super Twin Top Fuel class was established and Ton immediately became the 1992 European Champion.


After some troublesome years with a 140CI. engine, the bike got a 150CI. "overkill" engine, a completely rebuilt chassis and a new body in 1996. This resulted in the 1996 European Championship title and breaking the 200 MPH limit ! The bike was the first European Harley (and third in the world) to break this 200 Mile barrier. In 1997 Ton became vice Champion (2nd place).


At the end of the 1997 season the chassis was so "tired" that the bike went out of control every single run. So next to yet another new engine (160CI / 2600 cc.) the bike got a new chassis, body and paint job. The 1998 season was used to tune the new engine and find some good set-up's. Ton took the 4th place in the FIM European Championship.


Before the 1999 season the clutch, heads, gearbox, cams, fuel system, ignition system, exhaust system and body parts were completely rebuild. The new "Overkill" engine featured three spark-plugs per cylinder and the gearbox got an ultra thick input shaft. The exhaust system got four (one for each valve) massive pipes. Two sticking out front, one at each side, and two sticking out the back. This was done because in the previous season the exhaust gasses literally "blew" the bike away. Also the bike got a completely new Kevlar/composite body, with a wild and radical new paint job!


After the 2001 season, in which Ton became European vice champion, the bike got new billet nitrated steel cylinders, new billet con rods, a completely rebuilt chassis, modified heads and clutch, changed ignition magneto position for better balance, new staged exhaust system and a new paint scheme. The 2002 season was ruled by broken primary belts and broken chains costing Ton a large number of qualifying and elimination runs. Ton did however take the European Speed record in July at Mantorp Park in Sweden. During the off-season a new clutch was made to solve the problems with the belts and chains and in 2003 Ton improved both his personal bests (E.T.: 6.60 sec. Speed: 337.55 kmh / 210 mph), won the race in Hockenheim and went to the European Finals leading the Championship. As bad luck struck him in the semi finals (20% leak on the cylinders) he just missed out on the Championship title and became no. 2.


The bike showed very strong performances in 2003, but the one thing holding it back was the frame, which couldn't handle the full potential of the engine. Therefore Ton & Vincent designed and built a new chassis for the 2004 season. In fact it became a brand new bike, because they actually only used the front fork and transmission of the previous bike.

Their hard work paid off big time, because it brought back the European title to the Zodiac team in 2004. After a rough start of the season at Santa Pod in May, Ton was no.4 in the Championship ranking. After that, he made it to the final at each race and therefore managed to climb a spot in the ranking at each race. This resulted in the championship lead in Norway in August and from that moment on the Zodiac team managed to hold on to their leading position by winning the last two races in Hockenheim and Santa Pod and clinched the European title.


2005 was the last year Ton was active in the hot seat. At a respectable age of 62 he was one of the oldest active riders to run Top Fuel bikes, and still feared and respected by his competitors. Sadly some technical issues and a lot of rained-off events prevented a normal season and he ended #3 in the championship. On August 2, 2005 Ton celebrated his 35th drag race anniversary.


Roel Koedam took the honors on the Godfather VI bike and ended 4th in the European championship, running consistent 6 second passes @ over 200MPH at the end of the season.


During the 2007 and 2008 season, Ton & Vincent had been building a new supercharged Top Fuel Harley, the Godfather VII. They were just in time to finish it for the last race of the season for some shake-down passes, and it all started… with a bang!


In the next few years, the development of the supercharged 103CI nitro bullet was taking longer that planned with some good results, but also some bad damage.


After a year with Job Heezen riding the Orange Bullet, Ronny Aasen out of Norway jumped on the hot seat of the Godfather VII. The main technical change was taking the transmission out and developing a state of the art 9-stage titanium clutch with an EM controller to regulate the clutch cannon as well as the fuel system. This resulted in winning the 2013 European Championship, making the Pels/Pels/Aasen combination very successful from the get-go.