Reflections back & to next horizon from one of Canada’s all time most versatile drag racers…..

To say that London’s Paul Noakes’ involvement in drag racing is deep is probably a rather blatant understatement. The likeable, very professional and competent driver has throughout his career (now 35 years in) dabbled in our sport with many projects — both past and present.

While I’m sure I am missing a class of competition or two from his “done that” list — I can’t think of too many drivers out there that have actually been in the cockpit and guiding Top Fuel dragsters, Top Alcohol Funny Car cars, Nitro Funny Car cars, AA/Fuel Altereds, Nostalgia Funny Cars, Top Dragsters and even Pro Mods – down the drag strip.

Paul Noakes — one of Canada’s most accomplished and resolute drag racers – (in the confines of his “home office”!)

After first getting his advanced ET license (signed off by Bob Elliott & Herb Rodgers) back in 1988 Paul’s first ventures down the track came driving his highly influential father Brian’s original 1972 Dodge Challenger Funny Car (Wheeler Dealer) – which was powered by a cast iron BBC.  Next in line came a Ford Probe bodied FC which was acquired from Herb Rogers and with a supercharged Hemi engine program (from Barry Paton) – a machine which first put the team at a level where they could actually qualify for IHRA attended races.   Over the next few years Paul and Brian focused mostly on local funny car races as well as some Quick 16 (with the Dodge Challenger). 

It was about 1995 when the Noakes team began to earn some racing notoriety — with their first accomplishment being winning the 1995 Canadian FC championship that was presented by John and Sharon Fletcher at London Motorsports Park.

The team then ventured out further — into the U.S. Midwest’s UDRA league where they won a number of events and the 1996 UDRA overall championship. In 1998 they built their own first new car — a Mustang bodied car in order to chase IHRA racing a little harder.  With that car they won the WAR (World Alcohol Racers) Championship title (in 2004),

It was in 2005 that Paul purchased the other half of the racing team from his father Brian – taking full ownership of future direction.  As time went on – success progressed nicely as Paul Noakes’ name became a prominent one particularly within what was the IHRA’s very significant national event scene.

In 2006 Paul collected his very first IHRA “Ironman” by winning at Michigan’s Milan Dragway.  He also won the AC Delco IHRA Canadian Nationals held at Cayuga Dragway a bit later that same summer.

For many seasons and the majority of his driving career – Paul Noakes raced a variety of successful Alcohol Funny Car entries.

In 2007-08 he won four more times in IHRA – including at Grand Bend Motorplex’s Mopar Canadian Nationals, two years consecutively.  His best finish in IHRA World Championship season points came in 2007 – when he placed #2 behind Laurie Cannister.

After the IHRA changed hands and dropped the AFC class — Paul made the change to a “screw blower” configuration.  At first with that he dabbled mostly locally within Canada’s then developing NDRA (National Drag Racing Association) — winning 3 of their 4 events.

It was in 2012-13 however that his team began participation within the much higher profile, very competitive and financially risky NHRA TAFC class.  After winning a couple of Lucas Oil Divisional races,  Paul Noakes then won his first NHRA national event “Wally” – prevailing at Maple Grove in PA in 2013. 

In 2016, Paul acquired a new McKinney chassis outfitted with a newer Mustang body and with that upgrade finished high within the NHRA’s Jegs Allstar competition for his NHRA North Central region – 2nd place.

It was after that when a combination of ever escalating racing expenses combined with some failed sponsorship renewal did force him away from that level of racing.

“After I decided to step back from chasing NHRA level races — I just did some local match racing,” Paul reflected.  “But then I sold off the Funny Car operation and began more Junior dragster racing — so I could spend more time with my daughterBrooklyn.”

Since that time, Paul’s primary focus while at the drag strip has remained with development of his daughter from within Junior Dragster levels to now fast dragster racing.  In between that and being a certified Automotive tech teacher (@Saunders Secondary School – London ON),  Paul has and does continue to drive – but now exclusively on a guest appearance basis – at least so far.

“Back in In 2009 I was fortunate enough to drive for Bob & Cathie Floch in the “Bullet Bob” Nostalgia FC,” he said.  “It was then that I crossed graded my license.  That eventually opened up some other opportunities — including some nitro — and more recently with Gary and Karen Kraus (from Western New York State).”

That is Paul Noakes driving the Paton Racing TF dragster during testing (2011).

Paul Noakes (in the Pony Up FC) versus Bruce Litton in match racing action – 2023.

Noakes has also done recent stints driving the Nitro Nostalgia FC owned by Randy Caldwell (“Nitro Maniac”) as well as the wild and wooly “Pegasus” AA/FA owned by Gary Kraus.

Paul, who was deservingly inducted into the Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame in Montreal in 2020, has in more recent times secured his NHRA Super Comp licence and also revealed,  “I only need one more more full pass to successfully obtain my Nitro Funny Car license.”  Both aspects pertaining to future direction & possibilities.

For Brooklyn, who began driving Juniors at age 9 – she is the next generation (3rd) driver for the Noakes drag racing family tree.

That’s three generations of family racing! : Brooklyn – Paul – Brian Noakes

Success has come both rather naturally (due to her family background) and also quickly.  She prevailed to win the Ultimate Showdown Championship in 2017 at the age of 12. In 2021, she won her St. Thomas Dragway age category and also the Grand Bend Outlaw 330 Championships.

Brian & Paul Noakes’ ongoing focus has included overseeing the transition of Paul’s daughter Brooklyn though and up from Junior Dragster racing.

“Brookyn and I have traveled south together a few times,” Paul added. “Down in Mississippi, she lost in the 3rd round of eliminations at the World Finals.  She then placed R/UP at both the Bracket finals in Martin MI, as well as at a PDRA race in US Dragway 42 – all of which gained her some great experience.” 

In 2022 Paul did graduate Brooklyn’s racer career to the next level — when he purchased TJ Shippling’s Super Comp dragster, which was then subsequently totally rebuilt.  Now a designated Top ET car, Brooklyn drove it initially at 1/8th mile races only — at St. Thomas Dragway.  But in 2023, during Grand Bend Motorplex’s Canadian Nationals event — she did get a first taste of racing 1/4 mile – and needless to say that impression stuck.

“So when I let Brook drive her first 1/4 mile race,” Paul explained.  “I stood on the starting line while she qualified for the Top Dragster field — watched her run 7.38 secs 185 mph.  When that number flashed up — I was dumbfounded and thought what was I thinking — letting my 17-year old go that fast!   When she returned to the trailer I was nervous and ready to stop her racing 1/4 mile.  But her reaction when she got out of the car changed all that — she said — “I’m so done racing 1/8 mile Dad —that was wicked”!”

Brooklyn Noakes has now graduated to next level Sportsman dragster class racing.

Brooklyn has now turned 19 and attending the University of Windsor with a goal of becoming an elementary school teacher. The financial strain reality of funding University did result in some more conservative season planning.

“This coming year my plan is to get Brooklyn into Super Comp racing so we can once again play in the big stage of NHRA,” Paul affirmed.  “For 2024 we are focusing on getting NHRA grading points so we can move forward towards an ultimate objective — NHRA Super Comp World Championship contention.”

Paul & Brooklyn’s team will welcome a new sponsor this season — Engineered Racing Services joining Tri Corp Transportation and Karl’s Truck Service.

Posted by Bruce Biegler 

DragRaceCanada file photos by:  Dave Hilner, Stacee Richards, Blake Farnum & Bruce Biegler