It is 2017...

July 23

If I had £1 for everyone that asked me over the course of this weekend “I thought you would be at Mildenhall”….. I could afford myself a McDonalds meal, or something.  But, fact was I was never down to be there over the course of this weekend.  I was offered the job of working there on a regular basis when ownership changed late last year, but I declined because my schedule was already busy enough.  Equally though, that did not mean never and I am hoping to work there again before the season is out.  From what I hear, a lot of the issues over the course of the two days at West Row were unavoidable and unfortunate and it is very sad to hear that another F2 driver, this time Glen Scott, has received a back injury. Get well soon Glen. Well done to Deane Mayes on his European Championship win in the Saloons, he lapped the whole field in doing so, in a win even more dominant than Wim Peeters’ F2 World win there last year in similar track conditions.

I was perfectly happy with what Spedeworth offered me this weekend and that was at my most local track, where I was home in time for dinner and to watch Bears live in Alaska on the BBC. I have done enough travelling of late with more motorway (and air) miles to follow in the coming weeks. It was the first round of the 2017-2018 World Series for the National Hot Rods kicked off here just as it did last year.  It is not a favoured track by many, but to make the series work it must visit as many viable tracks as it can.  It was mainly a trouble-free day with three different winners with Chris Crane and Lee Pepper – who I called a veteran, yet we are the same age, a sobering thought – and then Billy Wood the Final, with a decisive move on the first lap.  It was Crane who came out leading the points though, looking quite at home quite quickly in his move up from the 2 litre Hot Rods to Nationals.  Former World Champion in that code, Dan Smith is set to follow for round two next month.  It what was in many ways an old skool afternoon of “Hot Rods and Bangers” (with some Ninja Karts too) the Bangers were the back to basics form and thoroughly enjoyable with good racing, good action, two rollovers and a great DD to round out the day.  It was great to see the legendary Roger ‘Wilko’ Wilkinson back out on track, a driver who I spent my childhood watching, battling it out with Keith Reynolds in a race.  Quite like watching at the old Aldershot Stadium.  Not that I recall Keith winning there too often though…?!  The Final went to Aaron Morris, who seems to have slipped away from the Saloons again, and simply enjoying a run around in the Bangers.  I remember 20+ years ago being told by many that Banger racing wouldn’t survive and so on, and yet the irony is that the form that is going the strongest is the one with a nod to the good old days of getting a car, stripping it out and simply going racing with it.  Long may it continue.  Joe Public and his children still make up a large percentage of any given crowd at any meeting and they don’t care who they are watching, just want to see crashing and spinning.

July 17

Looking back to last week, I went along to watch at Arlington.  Not too often I stand on the terraces at a meeting it seems, but with the Classic Hot Rods making a long overdue appearance in Sussex and the sun shining it was well worth it.  They put on a great show, found plenty of grip and an outside line with Dave Polley, on one of his guest appearances taking to that outside in the Austin A40 and ran out of laps to track down Tick Steward in the Ford Anglia.  Tick was once a regular in the Stock Rods here, but it had been the best part of two decades since he had raced here.  Prior to the concrete backed Armco.  Seeing the variety of cars and the style of racing was enjoyed by all.  There was a bit of unavoidable damage but I would say that their inclusion into the 2018 fixtures at Arlington are a given.  The 1300 Stock Cars put on a great show too, despite only having one winner all evening – Lee Pearce – the racing was a lot closer than that.

Saturday, it was off to Northampton for what was my fourth championship weekender in succession, this one being the European Championships for the F1 and F2’s.  As noted in the below post, being invited to be one of the front men for these events by the Promoters is a privilege, not a right, but I confess it is nice all the same to be in the position.  More to come in the weeks and months ahead; Saloon World, F2 World and F1 World.  But, for this weekend I joined Incarace incumbant Dave Goddard and we shared the duties of commentary and presenting. 

I am not going into a full meeting report for this, it  will be well documented in the press, already is on the forums and social media and I will be amazed if you are reading this that you won’t know that it was a “Green Day” – something that Dave and I totally overlooked on the day – with Nigel Green winning his first major F1 title and Michael Green following up his UK Open the previous week at Skegness with the F2 version.  The race in the F2’s was almost a bizarre carbon copy of seven days earlier at Skeg with Green leading virtually all the way ahead of Gordon Moodie and Luke Wrench, and neither of them could do anything about it each other.  It was far from classic stuff from the F2’s. I do feel for Michael, he has outdriven and outraced Gordon Moodie – yes Gordon Moodie – two weeks running, but people are, yes understandably, instead talking about the dearth of action or even contact in both races, and especially so the European.  It was the luck, or bad luck of the draw that Green drew one, Moodie three and Wrench four.  As I said a couple of times on the commentary, simply excellent drivers in excellent cars.  Is that what BriSCA F2 is really all about though?  I think it is fair to say that most are finally now coming together to conclude that there are issues on tarmac that need addressing sooner rather than later.  What to do though remains to be seen.  Nothing will get away from that fact however that of the 57 drivers that raced F2 over the weekend, already the lowest ever at this meeting, just 30 of them were from England.  If nothing is done where on earth is the formula going to be this time next year?

The F1’s have their own issues going on. They are still reeling from the loss of Coventry. That has punched a huge hole in their season more than any other formula.  That is just one though. In a similar vain to the F2’s, there is/was/is a feeling that the European Championship weekend was tired and they changed the format of the race so that the grid was made up with all points scored over the two days determining how they lined up.  Hardly rocket science and a tried and trusted method in other titles and formulae such as Saloon Stock Cars.  This triggered much debate, “it won’t work” said several, “how can it” Well, speaking purely as a fan rather than one working at the meeting I think it did.  There were drivers on the grid who wouldn’t have been so under the old format and it garnered interest throughout the weekend.  Whether it tainted the action as drivers played safe for points we will never know.  Green knew the score though, did what he needed to do all weekend, raced hard and fair and after heat and Final double man Scott Davids converted pole position to a jump start and then a messy re-start, Green pushed him wide and was never headed.  Ryan Harrison was the one to give chase but couldn’t get close enough to the 445 back bumper and third was a best F1 result for Shaun Webster.  Also, have to give mention to Todd Jones. His car did nothing but fail on him on Saturday and whilst he bounced back with good strong results on Sunday, he put him well down the grid.  But, again showing he fears nobody he shifted aside Stuart Smith, Tom Harris and Lee Fairhurst in one go to end up fourth.  A case of what might have been but plenty took notice.  The best is yet to come from Todd. 

I think BriSCA F1/BMB/BriSCA F2/Incarace/Spedeworth are going to have to at least listen to what people are saying though with regard the European weekend. I have had contact with several disgruntled fans in the hours and days since the meeting and whilst we are in the age of “Mr Angry at the I-Phone”, I do take on board with what is being said and I will pass them on. But, I am not connected with the powers that as much as some think I am to have any influence on what might happen for the future.  The European weekend is an important part of the infrastructure of the sport and a vital part of Northamption International Raceway’s annual revenue.  Moving it to another venue isn’t going to happen for 2018.  Maybe a different date, certainly away from the Dutch “dirt alternative” - or vice versa.  But, that is just one of many things that need discussing in a relatively short space of time.

And I had nothing to do with the music, or a certain song that was played!

July 11

Just as the music followers have their festival season in the height of summer, for those who prefer a different kind of noise, there is the Speedweekend season here – and there are similar in other countries too of course.  Naturally there are many who do not do them all, and seeing as I have slipped into working at both Ipswich and Skegness again this year a few who were at one or the other have asked me how they compare.  The answer is that they are too different to do so.  Ipswich centres around the National Hot Rods World Championship and is also the showpiece and focal point of the Spedeworth season.  Skegness’ weekend had a lot more humble beginnings, has never featured World Final (but has featured a World Semi Final – here is a test…. What year was it?) but is about the hardcore Stock Car racing, in many seasons it will be the only time that F1, F2 and Saloons are on the same bill and all that coupled with the seaside and Butlins Fun Coast location adds to the attraction, particularly those from Scotland who have a penchant for Skegness.  Early in the previous decade when (then) Promoter Hazel Cooke added a Thursday F2 meeting simply because there appeared to be a call for it from the (then) shale drivers, this then grew and grew when Saloons were added a few years later to what has now become a de facto Speedweek with the Thursday session, day off on the rides on the Friday, big night out on the town – including the official party in the Marine Boathouse – on the Friday ahead of the weekend itself.  And for many, they do tie in Ipswich beforehand and for the really keen Northampton the weekend after. Then there could even be Mildenhall the weekend after.  Or, this year for some there was Mendips the week before.  Anyway, all good. But, with all these meetings being a success we must not forget the domestic bread and butter meetings.  Do support your local track and formulae if you can.

Back to this past weekend, it was the first UK Speedweekend under the ownership of Rob Speak.  He does have grand plans for the venue, we know about that and an overused saying but Rome was not built in a day.  Suffice to say it is hoped that it all will be done in time for big events planned next year.  For this year though the crowds appeared to be up with Thursday setting the tone and with great weather throughout it was a memorable weekend.  Thankfully the thunderstorm arrived just, literally just as the meeting finished on Thursday.  Asha Speak was very impressed with my phone app that predicted its arrival to the minute!  Thankfully, it did not bring much rain and cause issues with car parking and camping.  F2’s on tarmac are much maligned of late, and rule changes are going to be happening for 2018 but the Thursday session was a good one for them, with the 36 car Final being very good and won by John Broatch whilst the Saloons showed a (slight) bit of evidence of saving it for the weekend.  It didn’t stop them going three wide though. Michael Allard won the Final.  The two formulae were joined by a good entry of F1’s for the weekend which was dry and warm throughout.  Run to the usual format, with the F2’s having a Final on Saturday night, which was won by Gordon Moodie for the second year in succession.  The F1 Final saw Nigel Green pull off a successful last bend lunge on Frankie Wainman Jnr and the Saloons had lots going on in their six heats.  The Saloon UK Championship was race of the weekend with multiple lead changes and re-starts.  Sig Madgwick, for example, had the lead at least twice and yet ended up tenth.  Michael Allard and Shane Davies ended up practically last and yet were second and third going into the last corner!  But, it was to be Simon Welton who simply made sure Allard couldn’t have him on that last bend who took the victory to add his fourth major title.  It has been a long time since a Saloon Stock Car driver held four major titles – I’m not so sure it has ever been done?  I jokingly said at Taunton in May that the “Champions grade” was going to become the “Simon Welton grade” and it is looking to be that way.  The 43 car Raymond Gunn Tribute, preceded by the sounds of “Dignity” by Deacon Blue was the typical carnage, and it was the ever-improving young gun Cole Atkins who took the victory.  The World Championship at Cowdenbeath next month promises to be epic, a must see event and despite Welton appearing to be dominant, he isn’t, it is wide open.  After having some good racing leading up to their UK, the F2’s fell flat, not helped by a large pile up at the first attempt of the race.  Moodie simply couldn’t catch Michael Green as he took his first big win, although unlike the Saloons it is not one sanctioned by their association, it takes nothing away from Green’s win though, and it will be interesting to see how he and Moodie match up at this weekend’s European at Northampton.  The F1’s Final was won by Todd Jones, the second Final this year the car has taken as Harry Steward won their version of the UK there back in May.  Having kept everyone waiting as to whether he will, or won’t take his Semi Final place (on his own track) in a few weeks’ time, Speak made the announcement on track that he will.  What happens next will, suffice to say, be very interesting.  Will I be introducing him on track at Ipswich in September?  My bet is I will be….

July 3

The Ipswich Spedeweekend.  The showpiece of the Spedeworth calendar since the late 1960’s and the World Championship for Hot Rods, latterly National Hot Rods since 1972.  Until you go, you do not appreciate how big it is. I have childhood memories of the camping on the heath, something that stopped in 1990, before many of today’s drivers were even born now – showing my age – and being excited in the weeks leading up to it.  Once again it was an honour to be asked to work at the event, joining regular Foxhall commentator Nick Knowles and Graham Woodward.  There will be a huge amount of reports written on the meeting in the various publications, and I am pleased to note that so far, going by the social media that the weekend was well received by all.  The weather was ideal, dry and sunny and not too hot.  Had it been 30’c that would have been hard for all.

Coming into the National Hot Rod World Final I, like many others, had predicted the race would be a Northern Irish whitewash given that their World Series had been the most competitive ever, and the signs had pointed that way before at the Thunder 500 with Glenn Bell’s victory in that.  However, whilst Bell did end up being the fastest from the Province it was Chris Haird who took pole position, not a massive surprise, whilst Rob McDonald was more so on the outside of the front row. Bet Fred were taking bets on the pole, and Haird was the favourite – had I had time to bet I would have (typically) lost some.  Just over 24 hours later was the race itself, with the morning build up and the interviews on the grid, conducted by myself and Graham which were also filmed by Martin Hunt Videos if you didn’t catch them at the time.  Varied views of the drivers, but I did sense a generallu happier and more at ease grid this year to last.  It was interesting to note that there is a feeling that many would prefer reversed grid heats to determine the grid rather than the best of three lap times.  I’m really not so sure.  I still have memories of that 1989 crash for Roger Peck, George Polley and others on the Saturday when there were reversed grid heats, and some who never actually got into the World Final.  Food for thought for the NHRPA but I cannot see the system changing any time that soon.   The race itself only saw the one leader, with Haird leading all of the 75 laps and survived two yellow flag periods.  It was not the most exciting World Final one will see, but equally it was good and clean and a thoroughly deserved win by Chris, for his third World title.  Behind him, the race for second place was a good one.  McDonald and Carl Waller-Barrett (who started on grid three) held sway until well into the second half of the race but after that it was Irish Points Champion Dave Casey who made the moves and first passed Waller-Barrett and then McDonald.  I did ask him about his car coming on late in a race in his pre-race interview, I got something correct at least.  The Northern Irish challenge though really came to little.  The best they could do was a battle for fifth, good it was too between defending title holder Adam Maxwell and John Christie, who was at the wheel of the car first used – to victory – by dad Ormond 21 years ago.  Quite what went on with the Ulster charge this year, who knows, there probably isn’t an answer but they will be back.  However, the race of the weekend came in the meeting Final, the Nick Thomas Memorial, remembering a man who played such a key part in the Spedeweekend for a long time.  In a mesmerising drive, Christie took to the outside line and passed car after car until he went around Gavin Murray with a lap and a half to go to take the victory – and received a standing ovation in doing so.

 The Lightning Rods had their World Championship race too, which was this year the feature race on the Saturday evening with the reverse grid qualifying heats on the Saturday afternoon.  As is so often the case with the formula that is so watchable there was drama and incident and a controversial finish, for the second year in a row where the lead was lost on the last lap.  However, for Ben Murray it was bad news, the lead that didn’t look likely until Aaron Stewart lost his good lead after hitting debris was deemed to have been gained by moving over across the white line and he was docked two places and thus for the fifth (!) year running, this was a World title that did go to Northern Ireland.   The remainder of the feature races were run on Sunday with Chris Lattka adding another title to his tally with the Stock Rods European Championship, it was Lattka 1-2 with Jonathan second and Chris dedicated his win to his cousin Chris Burgoyne, recovering now at home after his F2 crash at Bristol the previous weekend.  The 2 litre Hot Rod National Championship was won by Willie Hardie, adding it to his British title whilst the Classic Hot Rods National Championship (held on Saturday) was won by Craig Boyd.  The 1300 Stock Cars were in great form all weekend with fields of 40+ across their five races although their Supreme Championship was to be decided at post race scrutineering with first and second both failing and it was Ben White who won.  The Superstox had two feature races, the Eaton family trophy on Saturday which was won by Dutchman Joep Brouwers, perhaps with a slightly generous white grading, but he had not raced for 20 years, so impressive never the less in a car he had not driven before.  It looked like he was heading for similar in the National Championship which rounded out the meeting on the Sunday.  However a yellow flag changed all that, it looked like Jason Cooper might be in with a shout for the one Superstox title he had not won, but he crashed out at the re-start, Brouwers was knocked back and it was to be Randal Lynn who took the victory, and becoming a force to be reckoned with very quickly since he switched to the formula late last year.  

Excellent stuff all round. Well done to all.

Next stop – Skegness!

June 26

It was good to be invited back to Mendips Raceway this weekend to add to the team there for the British Championship for the BriSCA F2’s.  In case you didnt know (!) I was the commentator and presenter there from 2001 to 2015 and it was there where, for the 2003 Semi Finals I did an impromptu ‘grid walk’ which became the mainstay of the big events, and when I started at Autospeed later that same year something of a southwest thing.  It was good to do it again, and be involved (amid what is a busy summer for me) One should never take anything or anyone for granted, the Bunter family didn’t have to ask me back and I thank them for that.

The weekend itself though, probably not the F2’s finest hour in many ways. Amongst other things, the meeting will ultimately be remembered for two contrasting things, one good, the other not so.  The good one, a new and exciting Champion in Craig Wallace, the bad the huge crash that curtailed the Saturday racing on the penultimate late of the last heat, heat seven in which Chris Burgoyne received a back injury after being involved in pile on oil after Steven Gilbert’s engine let go.  Chris would have won the race, and although he was not to be at the sharp end for the grid for the British Championship, a title he was to be defending, he would have been right up there given everything and the remainder of the 2017 season will be far poorer without him. But, the focus is on getting better and recovering and I join everyone in wishing him a speedy recovery.  Amongst those other things would have to be the entry.  A disappointing 45 cars for this, which was only four more than the midweek World Championship qualifier had 45 minutes down the road at Smeatharpe five days previous.  That was bad enough but there were 60+ booked in.  Where were the rest? 

The front row of the British consisted of Nathan Maidment, who won all three of his heats and Gordon Moodie who won two of his, and only just missed out to Dave Sansom in his third.  The other heat, that ill-fated heat seven was awarded to Burgoyne, on the last completed lap and on the basis that the yellow flags were called for cars 41, 328, 542 and 639, something which is backed up by various angles.  Chris and the rest unavoidably crashed under yellow.  I can understand the point of view of those who felt they lost out by missing the crash, only five of them, but in the circumstances the correct decision was made.   The British race didn’t make it past the first bend until there was a red flag.  Moodie appeared to go before Maidment who went in hard with the bumper on the first corner, neither stood a chance of making the bend and in they went, taking others with him.  The complete re-start, with a reorganised grid now had Luke Wrench on pole position but he was not to last a lap either as he found himself forced three wide with Dave Polley and Chris Bradbury and rolled up the plating and over.  Polley was out too.  The Steward kept it yellow this time, a wise decision and it set up a great race for the lead between Chris Mikulla, Bradbury, James Riggall, Craig Wallace and Andrew Palmer until, and to the surprise of many – pleasant surprise – on only his second ever appearance at the track it was Wallace who battled his way to the front and commanded the race from that point on to take a very well-deserved win.  Riggall pipped Bradbury on the line for second, something I missed despite being stood right there (!) Wallace now books his place in the National Series for the Silver roof in the Autumn.  With the damage during the weekend, and in the British, the ‘meeting’ that followed did somewhat fall flat with inexplicably uneven heats – there is the old joke about the “Spedeworth half cars” but this was way beyond that – and the meeting Final proved to be a runaway win for Moodie, all repaired from his damage in the main race.  He isn’t too impressed with Maidment, and made his point strongly when I interviewed him afterwards. Maybe we haven’t heard the last of that.

But, whatever, aside from Wallace’s victory there were few positive vibes from the weekend I’m afraid.  On tarmac the formula is looking lost and is sleepwalking into a summer of discontent from where I am looking…. I do hope those “behind the scenes” really do have their thinking caps on.

Next stop though - the biggest oval racing weekend of them all, the Ipswich Spedeweekend.

June 22

If times were not sombre enough with the mood of this country at this present moment in time, the oval racing family took a triple hit this week.  On Monday news broke of the passing of former Superstox legend Dave Pierce, having battled illness in recent times, then on Tuesday we learnt of the passing of Andy ‘Titch’ Gardener who had a career that spanned more than two decades in Saloon Stock Cars, Superstox, 1300 Stock Cars and then V8 Stock Cars.  Then, on Wednesday a real shock and the sudden passing of BriSCA F2 driver Luke Branston.  Luke had only raced three days previously, a long way from his Leicester base in Cornwall, chasing World Championship qualifying points.  He died in an accident at work at a tragically young age.  My condolences go to all the families and many friends who are feeling the loss of all three this week.

Racing wise, it was a double helping of school night action this week in the searing heat of the warmest June since 1976, which I, like many others cannot remember.  The annual midweek session for the Taunton World Championship qualifying round, being staged on such a night comes about on two levels and that it is tied together with the St Day round to encourage any travellers down to the region and it is also something of a throwback to the much missed days of Newton Abbot, St Columb and St Austell which always run their round midweek.   It was a very good entry, and produced racing to match.  Smeatharpe produces spectacular sights on a grey day, so under the sun, dusk and then floodlights on mid summer’s eve was a real treat.  My full report of the meeting can be found on the Autospeed website.

http://www.autospeed.co.uk/race-meetings/results/tuesday-20th-june-2017.ashx

The following evening, Arlington Stadium Eastbourne and thus the opportunity to work at my two favourite tracks two nights running.  It started on the sombre note, with the minutes silence for Dave Pierce and Titch Gardener which I was honoured to lead, and I thought it appropriate to lead out of it with “Rule Britannia” which was Dave’s own lap of honour music – yes, he won that much…  For a midweek date which was otherwise domestic, and close to the Ipswich Spededweekend that the majority all want to race at, the 19-car entry was a good one and included plenty of travelling efforts from East Anglia.  It was one of them, Jason Cooper who is fast becoming an all-time great of the formula (that’s if he hasn’t already) with a hat-trick of wins.  Yes, yellow flags played their part as Sam Reed could justifiably feel a bit aggrieved from losing what could have been his first win in heat two (and ended up with a lot of damage too) but that is the nature of the sport in the 21st century, sometimes caution periods can count for or against you and on this occasion the cards fell Cooper’s way.   The 2 litre Hot Rods saw a heat and Final double for George Turiccki, this was his second Final of the season at Arlington, a track he appears to take to very well.  Both the Superstox and 2L Hot Rods will contest their National Championships at the afore mentioned Spedeweekend.  There were not so many Bangers.  There is a strong Banger racing scene on the south coast, there always has been but many of them appear to be now looking towards the “Back to Basics” meetings rather than the 1600cc which have been the staple diet here now for well over a decade, or more.  They did put on a good show though and gave three different winners in Rob Haines, Rob Barnes and James Vockins.

June 17

My goodness that was a hot one.  In the depths of winter when it’s cold and grey and/or lashing rain (not that we have seen much of that this year, at least not in the far south where I live) we all dream of a the fabled “long, hot summer” Well, three days in…. A happy medium would be nice and having got stuck in traffic at the Dartford Crossing on the way home from Ipswich and not returning home until well into the small hours I decided to write Sunday off and sat watching what was an exciting conclusion to the Le Mans 24-hour race instead.  It was the hottest ever Le Mans race too, going back 85 years.  I also then sat following what was going on at Northampton on the social media.  Literally seconds after the big coming together between Dan Johnson and Tom Harris (not I haven’t referred to it in another term… as I wasn’t actually there) I was able to sit and watch it replayed on my smartphone.

Saturday, also a hot one and for me it was the “Thunder 500” meeting, a bit of a warm up for me working with Nick Knowles ahead of the Spedeweekend coming up in two weeks’ time and then the BriSCA F1 World Final at Ipswich in September.  It was just the same for both the F1’s and National Hot Rods too for this meeting represented the last chance to have some track time ahead of their respective big days.  In the days leading up to the meeting the F1 entry hit 60 cars at one point, which showed many things, not least the tarmac scene is so strong this season and the simple fact that the World is there.  In the end, there were 51 cars including all the big names and three from Netherlands.  As far as a recce goes, unlike the Hot Rods we do not know yet who will be in the big event yet and whether this meeting showed any form guide? Not really.  It is that close and competitive and this was proved by former Saloon Stock Car World Champion Steve Webster romping off to his first Final win in F1’s from his yellow grade start.  Steve will not be a feature in the World Final this year at least but second and third in Nigel Green and Ryan Harrison could well be. Dan Johnson was going well with a good heat win and looked to be heading to a podium in the Final but crashed out on oil on the penultimate lap.  Stuart Shevill Jnr and Neil Scriven were the other two victors, the latter twice including the Grand National which ran right to the curfew at Foxhall Stadium and thus we were not able to do a proper presentation for him.   National Hot Rod wise, a good and varied entry, but a few of would-be World title protagonists were not present, instead deciding to concentrate on the big race itself.  That said, the signs are the drivers from Northern Ireland will take a large amount of stopping – pick any one of their number – with Chris Haird the most likely Englishman.  Will it be that simple though, really?  I’m sure it won’t but Glenn Bell’s heat and Final double by his own admission will stand him in good stead for the race 15 days later.  The National Ministox completed the bill on their only outing at Ipswich this year.  There is a school of thought that perhaps the track is a little too fast for them, but whatever, the 11-16 year olds put on trio of fantastic races, almost pack-like racing with places swapping and changing and bumpers going in.  As I have written and said many times, these are the drivers of the future…  Lewis Evans, already European Champion despite being a diminutive 13 years of age won both heats before Charlie Guinchard took the Final, having almost launched Catherine Harris towards Kesgrave, who bounced back to second and Chloe Serpell made third.

A warm, sultry but thoroughly enjoyable evening that it was great to be part of and had plenty of feel-good about.

June 5

Saloon Stock Cars at Aldershot.  Words that I grew up to.  It was the old Aldershot Stadium, where the ‘New Formula Stock Cars’ made their first appearance in 1968 and were a mainstay until its closure at the end of 1992, having become known simply as ‘Stock Cars’ and then with the coming of many other formulae ‘Saloon Stock Cars’ in the late 1980’s.  But, those Thursday evening meetings, where there were seven races of Superstox and Stock Cars and everyone was grateful are some of my earliest memories of life - getting home from school and going off racing in the evening to watch Deane Wood verses what was often the whole George family or maybe even some East Anglians might be there such as Eddie Aldous and Willie Barnes.

Spedeworth and Saloon Stock Cars have had a chequered history, it was not so long after the old Aldershot closed that it went awry for the two parties.  One could easily write a book on the history of Saloon Stock Car racing, and I just might do that one day, but, as with many things, it was a combination of factors that lead to it and Aldershot going probably was one of them. The regular (then) Saturday evening dates were gone for the southern based drivers and whilst there was still Wimbledon and the occasional summer Wednesday at Arlington, it wasn’t the same.  In East Anglia, the drivers had been tempted away to race at Trackstar (which then consisted of Swaffham, Skegness and Kings Lynn) again for varying reasons that there is little point in going into now, Spedeworth opted to introduce 1300 Stock Cars to effectively replace the Saloons.  The 1300’s, which then had a more simplistic build, were lighter, had cheaper engines and tyres took off, many of the Saloon drivers swapped across and that was that.  The Saloons remained strong in East Anglia with Trackstar (and RDC), as well as in Scotland with GMP and in the southwest with Autospeed and for decade plus that is pretty much how it remained, they formed the Saloon Stock Car Association, but did have a few dates on a guest basis at Spedeworth and Incarace venues.  It would be all too easy to say and think that with Deane Wood taking on Mildenhall Stadium last year that it has allowed Spedeworth back into the SSCA fold, but this is not actually the case.  The Saloons had already made a successful return to Ipswich early last year, with the Steve O’Dell testimonial (Steve was pretty much the last man standing when it came to Saloons and Spedeworth in the mid-90’s) and Mildenhall or otherwise, meetings at Spedeworth venues were set to be on the cards for 2017 in any case – such as the final farewell to Wimbledon and the meeting coming up at Yarmouth in the summer which has been talked about, even if on the quiet for a good couple of years or more.  But, the return to the town where they first appeared, home to the new Aldershot Raceway since 2008 was most welcome and it goes without saying that I was honoured to be asked to commentate for the meeting. “Welcome to Saloon Stock Cars at Aldershot” was honestly something I never thought I would be saying.

The entry included Eddie Aldous’ son David, himself a multiple champion – and it was great to see Eddie present watching on too – and Willie Barnes’ son Tommy, and Matt Fuller – son of Roy and grandson of Joe, both of whom raced at the old Aldershot all with Deane Wood to oversee it all.  The races saw the Saloons of 2017 vintage, now with the rules much more akin to how they once were in many ways on fine form and three different race winners.  Scott Greenslade became the first ever winner at the track in heat one whilst heat two saw World, National and English Champion Simon Welton come through from the back of the grid to the front to win, a race that featured a rollover for Keiren Bradford.  The Final went the way to Lee Sampson with a convincing win from Bradford, none the worse for his earlier roll and Deane Mayes.  The rest of the meeting saw the Rookie Rods put on some close, if not typically controversial races (at times) with the Final win going to Callum Martin, the Junior Rods much the same with Perry Cooke winning the Final in them and some very entertaining Back to Basics Bangers, proper Banger racing which included a couple of Piggy Back Races which were well received by the good sized crowd.

Sometimes in the different atmosphere of Race Control one can see things differently on many levels.  Literally a glass house.  But, to see big smiles at the end of the meeting and people who had never seen Saloon Stock Cars, or rarely – given that Aldershot does have a loyal fanbase, it was certainly judged to be a success.  We can all look forward to the second visit in October.

May 31

If you are all-out on Bank Holiday weekends, the third in six weeks, there isn’t another until August now!  It did mean another vast selection of oval race meetings to go to, and plenty of Bank Holiday traffic too.  I do not go and “watch” a meeting all that often any more, given that I am working at most of those I go to, but I did go to my most local Aldershot on Sunday with the Superstox on the programme, racing in the Brian Street Memorial meeting and fittingly they were the stars of the show with a trio of good races in mixed weather and associated track conditions after a mid-afternoon thunderstorm.  World Champion Jason Cooper won in both the wet and dry, but was made to work hard for his Final win by Randal Lynn, who is one of the most impressive newcomers to Superstox for quite some time.  There was a healthy looking white grade too which bodes well, and yes, whilst numbers in total couldbe better it is not always about that and racing wise, currently with only one exception, if I were to have the choice of going to watch an F2 meeting on tarmac or watching Supers, the latter would be my choice.  BriSCA F2, the BDF or whoever it is that sit round the table and discuss such things have got to sort their show out before they seriously start to whither on the vine.  The big “summer” weekends on tarmac coming up for them at Bristol, Skegness and Northampton will be watched with interest. Just the wrong kind of interest, maybe.

The one exception to the tarmac rule is Smeatharpe/Taunton, which due to the nature of the track does buck the trend in terms of both numbers and exciting on track racing, as witnessed at the Benevolend Fund weekend the one previous.  Coming at the end of a Bank Holiday weekend this time around, and the afore mentioned Speedweekend, it was never going to break the entry records, but still fielded the highest number of cars for F2 on tarmac over the three days.   The meeting also featured Crasharama for Unlimited National Bangers – once upon a time an all Banger affair, now part of a four formulae one which is another sign of the times unfortunately.  But, still the big names in big cars helped swell the crowd to a very large one, and that is also what matters.  The entry list may not have been the size of a till roll, and there was a lengthy delay following an unfortunate crash for Adam Brocks, but the fact that 85% of the crowd were still there at 6pm to watch Tommy Hutchings deliver the last hit to Steve Carter to win the DD says a lot.

Perhaps sometimes those of us who go to much, see too much and therefore expect too much…

Here is my report from the meeting on the Autospeed website  

http://www.autospeed.co.uk/race-meetings/results/monday-29th-may-2017.ashx

Next up for me is being part of a first, and a return into the same deal with the Saloon Stock Cars having their first ever meeting at the Aldershot Raceway but it is also something of a full circle homecoming as it was at the original Aldershot Stadium on the other side of town where they made their first ever appearance 49 years ago.  As outlined in my previous entry below, the formula is current riding on the crest of a wave, but, they too are still recovering from that heavy Taunton weekend and there could be one or two missing that might have otherwise been there.  But it still promises to be a great meeting, on a track that should suit them well – see you there!

May 23

As I said when I did my meeting introduction on Sunday at Smeatharpe; “Just Wow”… And that was in the main to describe the Saloon Stock Car action the previous evening which was mesmerizingly good.  The drivers putting on such a great show made my job both easy and difficult in equal measures as it was often hard to follow.  What then followed on Sunday was a great National Championship won by Simon Welton, to add it to his double World Championship titles and the English he won only three weeks earlier at Kings Lynn.  It was as good as a flag to flag win, but that makes it sound more simple that it was.  He was forever deep in back marking traffic and even as late as the very last lap he was being hit around all over the place and Tommy Barnes even attempted a kamikaze attack.  Excellent stuff and well done to them all.  The Saloon Stock Cars really are riding high but none of this has come about by accident.  Rewind over five years ago, on tarmac at least they were all at sea.  Tyres were an issue, drivers were finding themselves having to spend far too much on engines and the cars were too low and handled too well.  Sound familiar?  The SSCA have worked to change all that.  Yes, maybe the current isn’t universally loved – tyres never are in anything - but the tread ruling appears to work, the construction rules clearly work and above all else the Zetec engine has levelled it up to the point it all aids to the kind of racing we now see. 

The BriSCA F2’s never fail to entertain at Smeatharpe and produced a great weekend set around the Benevolent Fund Trophy.  59 cars raced in total over the weekend, the highest on tarmac so far this year.  Gordon Moodie was at his best, winning Saturday night’s Final and then coming from the very back to win the Bun Fund, with two laps to spare, leaving his current Superstar peers well behind.  This books him his place in the National Series silver roof shoot out at the end of the season, and as he said when interviewed after, it was a weight off his mind.

But, in my own opinion, tarmac F2 racing is awry, what I commentated on at Skegness the previous weekend was largely just cars going around very fast, and much the same as the SSCA did with Saloon Stock Cars those few years ago, those that sit around the BriSCA F2 table are talking, yes, that much was revealed last week via a post on the website, but will have to do some acting soon.  The “shale-mac” meeting at Skegness next month will be watched with interest as will the upcoming big tarmac weekenders in the summer at Bristol, Skegness and Northampton.

http://www.autospeed.co.uk/race-meetings/results/saturday-20th-may-2017.ashx

http://www.autospeed.co.uk/race-meetings/results/sunday-21st-may-2017.ashx

May 16

With “The Ox” in his Kings Lynn box, I was on substitute duty for the Saturday of the F1 UK Speedweekend at Skegness and then on Sunday I was at my most local venue of Aldershot for National Hot Rods, in what was their penultimate World Series round ahead of their big event at Ipswich in July. The F1’s too were in a qualifier too at Skegness on Saturday, with their race for the gold roof also coming at Foxhall Stadium, in September.  Two very different formulae in the higher echelons of the sport.

Whilst the F1’s are a little in the doldrums on the shale tracks in this country at present, still suffering from the loss of Coventry in many ways, there are no such issues on tarmac with a 62 car entry on Saturday, including a welcome return of some Dutch participation with Rob Speak looking to re-foster links between Skegness and the Netherlands, more specifically Venray.  It was also great to see enough “dual purpose” drivers and cars present to warrant a heat of their own.  Ultimately though, there was no stopping Ryan Harrison as he took a heat and Final double.  He could be a serious threat for the World…. It will be interesting to see what is what when the F1’s get their only other meeting at Ipswich next month.  The following afternoon in the UK Championship there was to be a surprise.  The F1’s run in graded order (unlike the F2 and Saloon versions in July) and it was Harry Steward who went on to win that one from a white grade start, using Todd Jones’ car.  All very interesting.  It was just a couple of years ago that Harry was in the ORCi Ministox, but it was the NMSC Ministox put on some fine racing on Saturday, with four of the five races being won on the very last bend.  Cannot ask for more than that?  There is set to be several retirees at the end of this year in those I believe, having reached the upper age, it will be interesting to see where the likes of Guinchard et al go next and how they do.   The F2’s get their UK weekend in July of course, and considering a World qualifier was taking place at Stoke, the 39-car total was not too bad.  It was the reigning UK Champion Luke Wrench who kept Gordon Moodie at bay to win Saturday’s Final.

It may have appeared odd to some that I was at Skegness on Saturday and then Aldershot Sunday, but this was long the case (one goes where the work is!) and the National Hot Rods too are performing well, with close and competitive racing and a variety of winners.  This was the penultimate round of the English World Series.  Aldershot is not a favoured track for many of them, but, they do need the variety of venue as has been written and said many times.  Where would be the sense in running every round at Hednesford or Ipswich?!  It is/was (and still is) tight at the top of either end of the top 18 of the chart that will denote the qualifiers for the World and that coupled with what are the tighter confines of Aldershot compared to some of their other venues there were probably always going to be bumps and scraps.  Rubbing is racing and all that…. I wouldn’t want to be a Steward for any formula, let alone Hot Rods!  However, it did lead to penalties in the Final on Sunday, which may yet prove significant.  Paul Gomm can justifiably feel hard done by, and slapped by the commentators curse too as just as I had said that if he remains in the lead AND then has a good night at Northampton in the final round, he might scrape on to the grid for the World Final.  But, typically, just as I said that Steve Dudman mistimed his opportunity to get to the infield following a spin, cut across the track in front of Gomm and took him out of the race.  It was Chris Haird who came through to win, having had the lead of the World Series for some time, he had lost it at the previous round and it looked a possibility that this win could have put him back to the top, but a day of what was ultimately playing it safe for Kym Weaver still see him at the top heaing into the last round at Northampton.   The Classic Hot Rods had their annual visit to Aldershot and it was great to see the Escorts and Anglia’s charging around a heat and Final double for Graham Fulker whilst the other went the way of Tick Steward, all whilst he boy Harry was winning an F1 title some 180 miles away.   The Ninja Karts had their British Championship, a very competitive race meeting it was, and ultimately a Scottish 1-2 with Robbie Armit adding the British to his European title, beating home Charlie Hardie Jnr.  It is easy to forget how young these drivers are....

May 2

The word from Omrop Fryslan is that the online stream of their coverage received double the number of viewers than was anticipated, which suffice to say is very pleasing for all concerned.  It was good to have the positive comments first hand both via message and face to face over the weekend. Whether the same will happen in the United Kingdom however, remains to be seen but let’s not get carried away and lose sight of what we do have here, and we are in the midst of a great season coming together. 

It was a swift turnaround, as I was off to Kings Lynn on Saturday with incumbent on track presenter Matt Black unavailable I was offered the opportunity by Trackstar to stand in for the meeting which featured a World Championship qualifying round for the BriSCA F1’s and the Saloon Stock Car English Championship, the first major title for them this year.  The Adrian Flux Arena never fails to deliver the goods (in my eyes, anyway) and once again it was a great evening of proper Stock Car racing, backed up by what was surprisingly the first visit to the track by the Heritage F2’s, where there was a legendary name Final winner with Andy Webb winning that one.  Yes, the Andy Webb, 72 years now, Graham Bunter runner up in the Final a mere 67 years and third Alan Nicholson 74 years old!   The F1’s were lacking just a couple of big names, with Tom Harris and Team Davidson opting for some big track tarmac racing at Venray instead (a nod to the World Final at Ipswich) and Final winner here last time Mick Sworder having curtailed his shale racing after that meeting, after suffering engine troubles.  But, Stuart Smith Jnr was present as was World and British Champion Frankie Wainman Jnr as well as younger brother Danny, fresh from Blauwhis, ditto Craig Finnikin and European Champion and current WQ points leader Dan Johnson. Throw in Nigel Green, both Harrisons, it was hardly weak at the top.  There was also a strong lower grade entry too, with a mid-20’s grid for the white and yellow grade race alone.  One of the names in this was Richie Ahern, the son of the late 70’s star of the same name who had previously dabbled in Saloons, then raced National Bangers for some time before (finally, some would say) moving into the F1’s.  It was a quiet debut, but I doubt that will stay the case for long.

Matt Newson and Stuart Smith were the heat winners, the latter showing his displeasure at the track watering during yellow flag stoppages when interviewed on mic.  I didn’t really lead Stuart to the water (no pun intended), it is not the first time he has put his point of view across here.  But, his comments were enough for track owner and curator Buster Chapman to want to publicly put his side across too.  It was hard to argue against what Buster had to say.  I can understand where the drivers are coming from too, as it is not only Stuart with this gripe, but it is not as if it is not known it will happen, plus the conditions when they do change are not just for one, but for all.  It is not an easy situation.  Neither was a packed grid of F1’s for the Final.  Smith looked the quickest but tangled out and ultimately the race was a great one, but for second place as Mark Gilbank “checked out” as they say in Nascar and went on to taka a relatively surprise victory, but almost half a lap.  Danny Wainman made second and Johnson withheld a last bender from Finnikin to take third.

The Saloons were as magic as ever, a trio of great heats with plenty going on and lots of tactics too, given the points on the heats determined the line-up for the English.  It was all yellow grade heat winners, perhaps proving the point that the star men were preoccupied.  Tommy ‘Pinto’ Parrin, Max Stott and Jake Swann were these three winners, whilst Billy Smith found himself in hot water with a coming together with Marcus Skeels.  Consistency proved key for Simon Venni as he started on pole position but was an early spinner – as where several others – the opening laps even an old hand like myself struggled to keep up with what was going on.  A yellow flag after Carl Waterfield rolled settled things down, just a bit and it was World Champion Simon Welton who held sway all the way to the flag in a commanding drive.  However, it did almost go wrong for him as he encountered a clutch of back markers on the last lap, one of them Tommy Barnes which is surely a nightmare scenario (?!) and an inspired comeback drive from Venni who got close enough to attempt a last bend lunge.  Welton had it covered though and said in his interview that he had always dreamed of having the Cross of Saint George on the roof of his car – that is now the case.  Venni was perhaps left thinking that it was a case of what might have been in second and Jacob Downey was third.   I spoke to sponsor John Halifax about his time in the Saloons, Wisbech Stadium and the golden era but I think East Anglia is currently on the cusp of another one.

The Bank Holiday weekend I was lucky to be able to work at two of my top three favourite venues and Monday it was Arlington Stadium, Eastbourne for what is one of the biggest crowds of any given season there and the biggest vehicles too with Big Van Banger day.  More like buses and campers but great fun and entertainment from them all.  Perhaps on hindsight the support was a bit strange, but fixture planning is not an easy task, trust me.  The Junior Rods put on a trio of entertaining races, with a bit of unfortunate damage.  Caine Silk made it a heat and Final double whilst in the 2 litre Hot Rods George Turiccki successfully defended his Southern Championship title.

April 27

Plenty of food for thought from my working trip to Blauwhis. It has been great for the coverage to receive positive feedback, it was a pleasure working with Omrop Fryslan – essentially the Dutch version of S4C – and the crew at FAC and I would like to personally thank Colin Casserley for helping to broker the deal between myself and them all.  It was also great to catch up with and meet some Dutch friends and catch up with old.  There once was a time, and not so long ago where (and I don’t think I am being unfair here) the Dutch lagged behind us in various ways with regards the running of Stock Car racing but over the last decade that has changed dramatically, so much so that I would even go as far as saying they are leading us now.  A perfect example was the TV coverage.  It happening, and being watched by many (at work, on a weekday) in the UK has naturally opened up the whole TV and streaming debate.  The British Promoters do discuss it.  But, weak as it sounds, the Netherlands is the Netherlands, the UK is the UK.  In Britain there are an awful lot of other factors to consider.

The dirt track scene in the Netherlands is booming.  50 or so of each F1 and F2, the Wednesday evening “bolt on” works well, making it a Speedweekend in the midweek.  The Dutch only really get a couple of chances per year to watch Stock Car racing under lights, something we take for granted and it looked excellent under them on Wednesday.   There was UK success in the Wednesday Final as Craig Finnikin took the honours, in the F2’s it was World Champion Wim Peeters who stormed to the Wednesday Final and then did just the same in the King of Dirt the following day.  He is going to be a hard man to stop from winning his second gold on the bounce in September.  I wouldn’t even bet against another Dutchman in the top three, or even a whole Dutch top three as World of Shale Champion Patrick Tersteeg and Michael Schutter are all very fast, and capable. In the F1’s, it came down to a great battle.  The different format used on Thursday but Danny Wainman on pole and whilst he did have the lead on more than one occasion, with yellow flags coming into play it was ultimately a determined Jan Roelof Wijbenga, a local star who took the victory ahead of Dirk Greidanus with Finnikin third, who did look to challenge for his second Final in a row but his car appeared to go off in the last few laps.

Great supporting formulae too with watchable races from them, and to prove just how things have moved on in the country, the Dutch have gone from having no real (or at least credible) junior formula to call on in the recent past, to having Junior F2 with the young teenage drivers in fully fledged F2, just with no-contact.  Wim Peeters is a perfect example to come from the formula (as one of its first drivers) Richard Falkener is the latest.  Tsjalle Greidsanus took the Final honours.

I have come away very impressed.

April 25

A busy week this week, but it started at my most local venue Aldershot Raceway and my first visit there this season and a great meeting it was too.  I always enjoy a bit of driver and or/crowd interaction and it was pleasing that Spedeworth opted to have a good old fashioned public draw to determine the grid for the 1300 Stock Car English Championship, preceded by a grand parade.  It certainly made the race what it was, for the current front runner in the formula Billy Smith drew dead last and it was won from pole by Lee Jordan, new to the formula this season and only graded yellow.  European Champion Ian Beaumont couldn’t catch him, much as he tried and had to settle for second and wily Diggy Smith was third.  The next 1300 race was a good a Stock Car race you will see anywhere, in anything, won by George Morphy whilst the rest probably all went out at one stage and some crossed the line in disarray.  The third race came down to a huge last bend lunge from Billy Smith on to Dougie George.  Fantastic stuff.  I am looking forward to working there again when the Saloon Stock Cars made their first visit there in early June.  Back to the town where they first debuted 49 years ago.  The domestic Bangers, Spedeworth V8’s and Ninja’s played there parts too, sadly not watched by that great a crowd, but probably understandable given that it was sandwiched between two Bank Holiday weekends.

Talking of Bank/Public Holidays – would be good to have one mid-week, wouldn’t it?  Well, if Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party wins next month’s election by a landslide (which he won’t, by the way) we will have the Patron Saints days off.  Australia, New Zealand and most other parts of the Commonwealth have a day off for Queen Elizabeth II’s official birthday, the UK does not but in the Netherlands they do have a day off for the King’s Birthday and that means a day off to go racing.  Blauwhis / Blauhus (it translates in either version to “Blue House”) What they did a couple of years ago was tag an evening bash to it the previous day and within that short space of time, given the boom on dirt/shale racing in the country the “Kings Battle” has become one of the biggest meetings of the year here, indeed, given the number of competitors one of the biggest in Europe full stop.  The maximum entries for both F1 and F2 have been reached.  For this year, the promotion has joined forces with the local TV company to bring out the meeting live, including an internet stream and for that it will be to an English language commentary.  And that will be provided by me.  It is an honour to be asked and I am very much looking forward to it.  Given that there will also be a lot of Dutch speaking people listening and watching in, apologies in advance for the mispronunciation of some of the names.  At lot of it all will be trial and error but there could be a lot to come from this with some of the leading promotions within BriSCA in the UK taking a keen interest for the future.

Whilst yes, it is not a holiday in Britain, if you can watch, it will be from around 11am on Thursday morning. Here is the link; http://www.omropfryslan.nl/racing

April 19

Easter. With the moveable feast of the fall and rise of Jesus Christ (well, that is we have the days off for…. believe or otherwise) falling late this year it was not the start of the season it can be for some.  I cannot remember the last time I didn’t go to a race meeting on a Good Friday, I’d even go as far as using the word never for it was always the original Aldershot Stadium and when that closed Mildenhall, which used to stage F2’s – and some raced there in the afternoon and Long Eaton in the evening (sound familiar?) - before it became the regular Autospeed ‘away day’ to Ringwood, which I then became involved with and for the 11th year it was Northampton. Yes, 11 years. That is scary.

Good Friday represents the only time that the BriSCA F2’s, National Hot Rods and Saloon Stock Cars come together on the same programme and a great show it was too, with great racing from all three but the stars of the show, for me, were the Saloon Stock Cars with three of the four races culminating in last bend “lunges” to use the technical term and a great multi car battle for the lead in the Final, the outcome of which was not decided until the very last bend.  The Saloons are riding on the crest of a wave, particularly in their East Anglian heartland where the coming of the Zetec engine in the past couple of years has appeared to even it up no end, especially on the tarmac tracks leading to meetings such as the one at Northampton last week.  If only there would be such interest in the southwest….  The F2’s had the biggest entry on tarmac so far this season by quite some margin and drivers from all four corners of the country, many making the most of doing two meetings on the same day.  A record number did both Northampton and Skegness I believe.  For Skegness, it was the first full BriSCA meeting for new owner-promoter Rob Speak.  I have yet to get there since he took over, but that will change, I am looking forward to working there for the UK Speedweekend for the F1’s next month and then again over the UK Speedweek in July.

My full report from the Northampton Good Friday meeting can be found here; http://www.autospeed.co.uk/race-meetings/results/good-friday-14th-april-2017.ashx

Busy times ahead, Sunday, nice and local and Aldershot which will feature the 1300 Stock Car English Championship and then in the week that follows, a trip to the Netherlands.  The 27th is a public holiday there, and the Frisland dirt/shale venue Blauwhuis are going all out for their F1 and F2 meeting, over two days – Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon.  How great is that, a Speedweekend in the middle of the week.  The local TV company are filming the main meeting live but are also bringing out a live internet stream.  Suffice to say this goes out to the world and for that they have the requirement for a native English speaker.  I was honoured to be asked and I am looking forward to my visit.  So, you can pretend to be busy at your desk next Thursday with your earpieces in……  Following this it will be a swift return and trip to Kings Lynn, working at the F1 World qualifier and Saloon English Championship meeting and then Eastbourne on May Day, working to one of the biggest crowds of the year there and their annual Van meeting.

April 12

It came slightly earlier this year, with Easter being later, but the tarmac Midlands double header World Championship qualifying rounds at Birmingham and Hednesford have actually been an early season feature for the best part of two decades now and always well anticipated, as for some time it has been the annual visit for the BriSCA F1’s to Hednesford and for this year it was a return to it being an annual visit for the BriSCA F2’s too. Plus, this time, I was invited to work at the two meetings too with Dave Goddard off on his circuit racing commitments at Rockingham.

Birmingham first and a very full pit area with a great entry of F1’s – although ultimately not up on the corresponding meeting last year –  the F2 entry was probably short of what many might have hoped and expected, there didn’t look like there would have been too much room to accommodate them anyway.  For the F1’s, this was their first tarmac meeting of the season, aside from the “demonstration” at Wimbledon last month.  There were plenty of shiny new paint jobs and cars on show but there was no stopping one man, and that was Stuart Smith Jnr.  When I interviewed him on stage at Autosport International in January (you can watch it on YouTube) he said the best better watch out and he wasn’t joking.  He seriously threw the gauntlet down on tarmac and there was more to come the next day.  The F2’s had a star studded entry, but as is often the case at this time of year the grades are a bit awry with quick lower graders destined for bigger things, all simply getting away leaving the current star graded names to be scrapping over the crumbs.  The same was true in the F1’s to an extent too.  But for the F2’s, for two thirds of the Final it looked like young Jonathan Hadfield was breezing his way to a maximum score.  However, severe engine troubles saw the 142 car slow to a stop and it was instead Ollie Hertzog who took the maximum score instead. 

Birmingham had been an evening befitting of summer and Hednesford Hills the following afternoon saw a nice treat of clear blue skies and warm temperatures.  The biggest track of all the small ovals in the UK is not to the liking of all, and the entries were never going to be as big here.  But, still plenty of cars and a few additions from the previous day too.  For the F1’s, it was Stuart Smith Jnr who got away again and won both of his heats and was the clear favourite for the Final.  However, track expert Micheal Scriven (also a heat winner) had other ideas and built a good lead from his blue grade start in the Final.  Smith was closing in over the late stages, and later disclosed his engine had developed a slight misfire.  He was close enough to attempt a last bend lunge, but it didn’t come off and Scriven took the victory, amazingly this was the third year in succession that he had taken a heat and Final at this meeting!  Smith bounced back to win the Grand National.  Ominous signs for Ipswich, although plenty of water to pass under the bridge between now and then.  In the F2’s it was Ollie Hertzog who picked up from where he left off at Birmingham by winning both of his heats, but in the Final he was hunted down by Luke Wrench who went in for the last bend hit, perfectly timed and executed and he took the victory by less than half a car’s length. Never the less, an impressive score from Hertzog who is looking set for a jump to Superstar on May 1.  The Grand National also came down to a last bender, this time between Michael Green and Kelvyn Marshall, with the 2015 World Champion getting the better of it for what I believe was his first win of 2017.   The National/BriSCA Ministox completed the bill on both days, with a combined programme for the Sheepy Farm Trophy.  There was plenty of interest here as ever, with the stars of the future and it was the current top driver, Charlie Guinchard who rounded the weekend as the top scorer, and won the trophy Final too. It will be interesting to see what his next move is at the end of the year.  However, it is Jack Witts who was the stand out, a few years of domination ahead from him looks quite likely.

April 4

Despite a very busy April ahead, I still made the relatively last minute decision on Saturday to make the trip to Mildenhall Stadium.  If you cast your minds back, I was there at the beginning of the new era for the venue last September and the changes were starting then, with the pits being improved greatly but since then even more are now evident with the new floodlights, perimeter fencing and general tidiness, such as the painted steps and designated walkways.  All small things that make a big difference.  More changes are still to come, too.  So, if you did go to the BriSCA F2 World Final last year and leave in disgust, then do give the place another look if you can.  I did have the chance to work at Mildenhall, but with a full enough programme already, a regular 300 mile round trip to do so wasn’t for me.  Andy Watts, however, is the perfect man for the job at West Row and he was heard doing a fine job on Saturday.

Yes, there are still creases to be ironed out to bring it up to the level that I, we or us expect from the Spedeworth branding that the venue is now under, but compare and contrast now to the afore mentioned F2 World only seven months ago.  Rome was literally not built in a day.  The place oozes potential, as has already been shown and proved by being used as the backdrop for Ed Shearen’s “Castle on the Hill” video.  It was surreal turning on the TV in Australia a couple of months ago and seeing Mildenhall on it.

There had been issues with the track at the first meeting of the season, but this had been rectified by a new pipe being laid on the pit bend and completely resurfaced and the shale being put back down and regraded.  What the BriSCA F2’s, 1300 Stock Cars and National Bangers found this time was a super smooth shale way and the F2’s in particular some fast and furious racing, which even for an old hand like me was not easy to keep up with given the size and nature of the track.  It was the World Championship qualifying round for the F2’s and after heat wins for Scott Aldridge (whose engine promptly blew as he did so) Josh Coleman and consolation for Michael Lund it was Dave Polley who came through to take the feature race win with a commanding drive.  The Grand National was decided on the very last corner when Bradley Blyth nipped past long time leader Josh Rayner.  The 1300’s put on a fine show and it went on to be a second Final win in the space of a week for Billy Smith and actually his third in a row as he won here the previous time too.

In some ways I must have been mad just going to watch, with a trip to Devon the next day but I was very glad I did and it was great to see so many faces on the terraces, familiar or otherwise on what was reportedly the biggest crowd of the year so far at Mildenhall.  So, in late, up early and off to Smeatharpe for what was a busy Autospeed day with 16 races across four formulae and a packed pit area once again.  Smeatharpe is the kind of venue, a bit like Arlington – or indeed Mildenhall – where a duff meeting is very rare.  This one failed to disappoint with great action and racing throughout.  For Polley in the F2’s, I’m not sure who was following who, me or him but he was present here once again and made it his second Final of the weekend.  Two tough Finals at that.  He is looking at the top of his game right now.  

The remainder of the info can be found in the report below, linked to the Autospeed website.  For this weekend, it is a trip to the Midlands, and the World Championship double headers for the BriSCA F1’s and F2’s.  Always an early season highlight and for both the F1’s and F2’s the only chance to race on the big Hednesford bowl this year.  I am very much looking forward to working at both, and if you are going, I will see you there.

 

http://www.autospeed.co.uk/race-meetings/results/sunday-2nd-april-2017.ashx  

March 28

Since the BriSCA F2’s last raced at Kings Lynn at the beginning of the month, on the first weekend of the season it has been announced that the World Championship will now be run at the Adrian Flux Arena in place of Coventry in September.  With this half in mind, Trackstar took the opportunity to do a bit of fixture shifting and rather than have this as a restricted entry, it was opened up to all, the one in just a couple of weeks remains also as unrestricted and the one originally scheduled for May is due to be moved to September, the week before the World itself.  That will mean it is paired up with one of the rescheduled Coventry F1 dates. The 1300 Stock Cars were taken off of Saturday to allow for the extra F2’s and the F2’s taken off May.  Hope you are keeping up here...  Whatever, it meant that this was a good old fashioned BriSCA meeting of F1 and F2 and potentially my last chance to see the F2’s here until the World itself, so naturally I was there.  I was thinking on the way there when exactly the last time there was just a meeting of F1 and F2, once common place but now rare and in honest truth, only Trackstar at the Adrian Flux could pull off such with the kind of entries to make it a full meeting too.  With glorious early spring weather to greet it, it was a great evening of shale Stock Car racing in front of a large crowd, and as an aside it was nice to see some faces who more usually only go to Coventry and venture to KL for a big meeting make the trip for this.

For many of the F1 Stock Car drivers and teams and their fans, this was the start of their season, having sat out Belle Vue the previous week.  There were several new and totally rebuilt cars on display, and much the racing was hard and fast, typically all evening, even though all the race victories ended up being runaway ones.  The first heat actually doubled up as the final of the 2016 white and yellow grade final and was won by Mark Sargent and then Frankie Wainman Jnr made light work of the pack – which naturally included all the star men this time. Mick Sworder won the consolation, having tangled out of his heat and then went on to totally dominate the Final.  He won by the length of a straight over FWJ, but one got the feeling that it could have been more if he really wished to.  Craig Finnikin was third.  The Grand National went the way of Mark Woodhull. 

Considering the entry was open to all, perhaps the 66 car total of F2’s was a tad disappointing, but equally let’s be realistic, still the highest of the year that will not be topped for some weeks yet and it included a smattering from the Netherlands once again including World Champion Wim Peeters, on his first UK appearance of the year, in a new car from Randall Motorsport, fresh from their workshops just down the road near Wisbech.  Heat one was a race of attrition and saw Sjeng Smidt Jnr lead home fellow countryman Michael Schutter in a Dutch 1-2, Rob Mitchell won by a fair distance in heat two and the reigning world number two Steve Wycherley took heat three before Courtney Finnikin took what was possibly her first shale win (?) in the consolation, out-dragging Carl Issitt to the line.  The Final was a typically rumbustious affair and it looked like going to Sam Wagner and one stage, before Tony Blackburn got in front but was then reeled back in by Issitt who passed and went on to win.  This means a return to the star grade for Issitt, who could still be a dark horse for gold in September.  Blackburn made second and third was a certain Gordon Moodie, who spent much of the race blended into the scenery only to pop up in a trophy place right towards the end.  Those who think Gordon cannot win in September are missing so points on so many levels…  The Grand National went to Michael Lund, a race in which Finnikin rolled, for the second meeting in succession here.  

And to Sunday, and very much the end of an era.  The last ever meeting to be staged at Wimbledon Stadium and most likely the end of motor racing in London.  I didn’t actually have a sentimental last drive up the A3, I came in a totally different way having stopped halfway(ish) after Kings Lynn and relied on google to have a trip through the inner suburbs of London.  Actually, very nice it looked too in the sunshine.  As did the grand old lady, in her own way, when I arrived with the market-come-car boot sale in full swing.  In the sunshine, it was a pleasant afternoon, walking around the track, reminiscing, looking in the ‘old’ box where as a teenager in 1994 I first officiated at a race meeting, as a lap scorer.  I had been trying to think what my earliest memory of going to Wimbledon is and I have two, neither are of racing.  One I shared last year on this blog, after the passing of Pete Welland and that was of sitting eating Fish and Chips on the kerbside after his had a Final win and the other, probably actually before is of a nasty incident I witnessed as a four or five year old where a mechanic badly cut his finger on the fan of an engine in a Superstox.  Funny how these things stick in the mind and it taught a young child of the potential dangers around cars for sure.  But beyond that, the many years of the great racing, thrills and spills from all the various formulae, the cigarette smoke filled large grandstand, the Banger World Finals, Best in Britain’s, “BP Night”, Superstox World Finals, my dad's "Thomas The Tank Engine" carnival float - which he won a TV for, the Ministox World Final one year that took almost three hours to run (and ended up with three drivers claiming they had won) the sounds of Alan Cullen on the commentary, my immediate and extended family racing there and as well as all of these Wimbledon is one of only three tracks that I took to the other side of the fence at.  It wasn’t a success (far from it!) but I did experience going through the tunnel and into the arena.  The drivers are not (were not…) making it up it made one feel like a real gladiator – something that no other track can offer in exactly the same way.

There were so many people I knew there, some I hadn’t seen for a long time, others for a very long time, others I was not too sure were still with us (but was naturally pleased to see they are) and others I see regularly. It was an honour to be involved with the presentation of the meeting on what was a great, but very sad occasion and leading the staff out, behind Promoters Janet and Deane Wood, just how meetings used to be opened back in the 1960’s ahead of the National Anthem will be a memory that will live with me.  I will also say how great it was to see and work alongside Jim Gregory again. For so long the absolute voice of Spedeworth, he taught me an awful lot, perhaps without either of us realising it when I worked alongside him over 20 years ago and was he always very supportive. It was great to hear him again, back for a race at this very last meeting.  The display from the Old Skool Superstox was great, and seeing and hearing of all those names from the past was very special and seeing some of them take to the track too, Steve Monk throwing a replica of his mid-70’s car around was a sight to behold.  The racing from all three formulae was excellent with the 1300 Stock Car wins going to George Morphy, after Wilf Bridges was dumped out of it and smashed around right in the closing stages, Ian Trapmore and the very last race for them, the London Championship went to Billy Smith – a driver with DNA going right back to the pioneering days of the sport.  The National Hot Rods also had World Championship qualifying points to go for, vital for some at this stage in their campaign and apart from a bit of a clash in the Final, it was pleasing to see that none went into the infamous Wimbledon fence for one last time.  Steve Dudman, who first raced at Hot Rod at Wimbledon some 35 years ago took both heats but wasn’t able to convert his pole position into anything in the Final, which was won by Shane Bland who was, suffice to say very emotional at being the last Hot Rod winner here, a track he has always gone well at and a venue his former World Champion dad Gordon had success on, not only in Hot Rods but Super Rods too.  It was the Superstox (then known as FII Stock Cars) that opened Wimbledon in 1962 and it was duly fitting that the 2017 version closed the show.  Tony Roots was a big local star at Wimbledon for a long time in a variety of formulae but most notably Superstox and the car he won the 1997 World Championship with is still going.  It was originally in driven by eldest grandson Nick but now in the hands of Dan, and the teenager drove the wheels off of it to win heat one, for what was his first Spedeworth race win.  Then in a superb race in heat two, big brother Nick beat a hard fight with Jordan Salmon and Martyn Coles to win and it was the latter who held sway to become the last ever winner at Wimbledon.  It was always going to emotional whoever won the last race, but there was the added significance of the long-standing links between Martyn and his dad Nigel who was Howard Cole’s long time mechanic.  Martyn carries the number 511, which was Howard’s F2 number, Howard won the 1978 Superstox British at Wimbledon and Martyn was quick to dedicate this last Wimbledon win to him.  One of Howard’s last cars has been restored to its former glory by Mark Johnson and was part of the Old Skool display.  The links and the history are everywhere.

There will never be another place like Wimbledon Stadium for our sport.  On hindsight, it is pretty good and surprising that an inner city motorsport venue in a city such as London has lasted as long as it has.  But, as per my own closing comments on the mic on Sunday, it will take quite some time yet for it to sink in that it has gone.

March 14

Sunday was a case of wishing to be able to get to two places.  The end is really starting to become a reality at Wimbledon now, with the final goodbye stages taking place as part of the meeting there was a display and demonstration of actual Speedway bikes and some of the stars of the famous old Wimbledon Dons team.  A name that was also shared by the Superstox Auto Speedway team in the early 1970’, a team that featured Jim Davey, Pete Welland and Steve Monk amongst others.  Speedway had a long history at Wimbledon Stadium and the track for some time had a unique layout for the cars of shale straights and tarmac bends, with the Speedway track being that bit smaller.   When the Speedway effectively folded at the end of 1990, moves were made to tarmac the track and this took place in the summer of 1991 with the grand opening of the new surface, complete with smart new rumble strips in August of that year and conducted by Derek Warwick, the 1973 who went on to compete in the meeting in World Champion Darren Innocent’s Superstox.  When the old Aldershot closed at the end of the following year, it gave Wimbledon a re-birth and many of the big meetings that had waned a little during the late 80’s were back to the fore and many big title meetings were staged there, and many great memories were made.  Speedway did make a somewhat ill-fated return in 2002 and 2005, firstly by a crazy idea of taking the shale up and down from the tarmac track between each meeting and then laying a very small track inside the Stock Car track.  This was in the then Conference League (bottom tier) and it was a disaster for all concerned.  Times had moved on from when the cars and bikes shared a track previously, it ruined a lot of the car meetings (especially if wet) and the crowds for the Speedway were very low, to the point that they quietly disappeared at the end of just their second season.  I actually went to that last Speedway meeting.  I cannot really even remember why I was there on a Wednesday evening in Autumn but I was.

I will be back at Wimbledon for the very last meeting at the end of the month but on Sunday it was the start of the season in the southwest, at Smeatharpe, a venue that never fails to produce the goods, particularly from the BriSCA F2’s and this was again the case.  Here is my official report from the meeting.

http://www.autospeed.co.uk/race-meetings/results/sunday-12th-march-2017.ashx

March 6

Yes, the “main” season is here.  Although as we have found countless times in the past, the weather was better and warmer in the actual winter!  Never the less with the exception of Stoke, which Startrax took the most sensible option on, the show went on. But for me, still struggling to shake off the remnants of bronchitis I managed to end up with in Australia and bearing in mind the weather and having been to the opening King’s Lynn the past two years and it being wet I opted not to make the near seven hour round trip this time. If I stayed away it might stay dry for Trackstar – and this was pretty much the case – so Graham and Paul owe me one there (!) Birmingham, on the tarmac for what looked another good meeting is also a 300+ mile round trip, Ipswich likewise and to add in that I had a busy day ahead working at Wimbledon the following day, I was one of those looking online for info from the hardy who were out and about. I don’t necessarily agree with the live online filming as I have written before, but if everyone is doing 90mph on a motorway for instance, you are tempted to do the same are you not?  Thus I saw almost all the races from KL and some from Birmingham and Ipswich too, whilst sat in my chair with Ant and Dec in the background… 

For Sunday it was that relatively easy journey up the A3 once again to SW17 for the first of this year’s eagerly anticipated Stock Car meetings, with it being the return – and last – appearances of both the BriSCA F1 Stock Cars and Saloon Stock Cars.   The Saloons jumped at the chance, but for the F1’s a somewhat indifferent approach.  An out of season meeting (it wasn’t all that long ago that their first meeting of the season was the first Coventry, in April), a long way from where most are based with work in the morning and with no points on the meeting.  But, what we got was what we got and to me, no matter how many cars having the F1’s at Wimbledon for one last time carried a lot more significance than many of their own drivers and fans appreciated.  Wimbledon is set to be London’s last Stadium to see Motor Sport.  It was London where the sport first appeared, the direct ancestors to BriSCA F1 at New Cross on Good Friday 1954 and they went on to have a history in the capital city, albeit not ultimately that a long one with racing at Crayford, Harringay, Wembley and West Ham, not to mention a whole host of London based star men, before the return to Wimbledon in 1996 which lead to a one-off appearance for them there until 2007.  It was the fact that the distance, the struggle to get cars there and that in the more recent years the venue has only run in what is the closed-season for BriSCA that there has not been a meeting there.  Thus, the low entry shouldn’t have been a surprise, plus the BSDCA were more for it only being a “demonstration” meeting.   The Saloon Stock Cars on the other hand had something of a homecoming.  It was the first time back for them since 2006, and prior to that it was 1998 and 1995 but in the years before Wimbledon was one of their tracks, as a leading Spedeworth formula and the second track that they raced at in 1968.  To me, Spedeworth and the Saloon Stock Cars going their separate ways was always regrettable, something all sides probably now agree on.  But, with Deane Wood taking over Mildenhall Stadium last year, the Spedeworth group is effectively now part of the SSCA and this can only be a good thing for the continued growth of the formula and it is great that there are two meetings at Aldershot and one apiece at Yarmouth and Ipswich as well as the continued Mildenhall dates this season.

Wimbledon Stadium is a shadow of its former self, it has been written and said many times.  But it was great to see so many, including many friends who I see up and down the country at other tracks, make the long trip for this one and even a coach load of Dutch all keeping the faith even with a low entry of F1’s booked.  They were not to be disappointed and the large crowd make for a great atmosphere and good for myself and Graham Woodward to work with.   As the words on the BSCDA website said today; Although it was expected the small field would, in effect, take part in demonstration events, the four races turned out to be anything but, as star men Todd Jones and Mick Sworder clashed swords throughout the night” This is maybe a little bit of an understatement but, fair play (no pun) to them both.  They clashed bumpers, Sworder came back at Jones with a big hit which lifted a fence post out of the ground (!) and ironically Jones went on to win the race and then in the Final, in their battle Jones came back with a revenge hit which saw both land in the fence.  And broke it again.  Jones was actually damaged too much to continue for the rest of the meeting although Sworder did manage to get his car movable to come out in the Allcomers and do some rear ending during and do-nuts after.  Mick has his own history with Wimbledon.  It was there almost 25 years to the day that he took his first adult win in a Superstox (which went on to become a hat-trick on the night) and he would have dearly loved to have had a win at this last meeting, but it wasn’t to be.  He entertained, as did Todd, who himself started on the Spedeworth tracks before moving across to BriSCA F2 & F2 via a hugely successful Saloon Stock Car career.  The Final went the way of Paul Ford, all the way from Scotland who then surprised the racing world by announcing his immediate retirement from racing.  What a way to go out on though.  The last ever F1 winner in London/Wimbledon was to be Micky Randall, who had a very good evening with a win in heat one followed by two seconds.  Third in the Final was Danny Colliver, the former Saloon National Points Champion got in some invaluable track time – and in the varied conditions – in his new class.

It was a shame that the weather and track did not stay dry, for the Saloons looked very good in practice. Not that the wet or damp track during the racing did anything to detract from the action or the racing.  There were 40 cars present from all four corners of country and from the Netherlands too. Michael Allard rounded out the evening as the top points scorer with the other wins going to Jacob Downey and Jamie Sampson.   For the Superstox, it was not their last outing at Wimbledon as they will take much more of a centre stage at the last meeting in three weeks’ time.  But they were not to be outdone with good action and racing.  Billy Smith and Martyn Coles ended up being the top dogs, with a heat win each and then first and second in the Final and for Billy this meant two Final wins in two days in two different formulas as he won the 1300 Stock Car Final at Kings Lynn the previous evening.  Impressive stuff and as I said in my commentary, if he was to take to a class and stick to it, he would be the main man in it.

February 27

After the grey skies a of Murray Bridge in South Australia it was the grey skies of London. I’m not sure if it was meeting three, four or five given than some track chasers do not count away meetings, plus the afore mentioned was rained off after one race so doesn’t really count? Who is counting anyway?  What we are, alas, counting is the number of meetings that are left at Wimbledon Stadium.  Just four more after this previous Sunday.  It was the last time that I will have sat and watched a race meeting there from the crowd/terracing.  I can remember seeing the first ever Lightning Rod meeting staged at Wimbledon, 25 years ago, when they were then an Incarace and Arena Essex formula.  Alan Cullen, then the commentator firmly disapproved of cars with no roof fins and “an awful lot of contact” if I recall.  Well, not that much has changed in a quarter of a century.  The Lightning Rods are never likely to be a box office formula but are always watchable.  Their World Championship race at the Ipswich Speedweekend last year that which I commentated on was as good and controversial race as you would see in anything.  So, it was perhaps only fitting that their last ever race at Wimbledon, for their last ever London Championship ended in controversy after the leading trio of Richard Warner, Ben Murray and Lee Skoyles all came together.  The latter was deemed responsible for the crash and although he crossed the line first was disqualified after video evidence was viewed.  Therefore, it was Jason Busby who came through to win.  The meeting also featured the last appearance from the Rookie Rods, where Matt Farren took the victory and the 1600cc Bangers, also their last outing (as the next two Banger dates are for National and Back to Basics respectively) Steve Saw was the Final winner whilst the track championship was won by Mark Almeida. 

This Sunday will see the return of the BriSCA F1 Stock Cars to the capital and the Saloon Stock Cars too, all together with the Superstox (who will take more of the centre stage at the very last meeting at the end of the month)  Yes, there may not be a huge amount of F1’s, but enough to rattle the roof and the Saloons by contrast are set to field one a huge entry, bringing back some great memories of their long history there.  I’m looking forward to working the meeting alongside Graham Woodward (we are going to do a slight role reversal to the norm with me more inside, and GW more outside) and note that if you haven’t got a ticket they are all sold out and if you haven’t got a ticket there is no entry.  However, I do note that some fans are selling them on via various means, so all my not be lost.  It will be a great night to help see off a great Stadium in a great way.  Something Coventry Stadium has not had, but that is another story for another time…

February 5

Whilst I am not in Australia just to watch racing per se, being in South Australia whilst the Aussie World Series Sprint Cars were in the area for a double header it would be rude not to.  First up was Adelaide on Friday evening, a venue I have previously visited in November 2013.  It had a change of ownership late last year ahead of the new season (remember the seasons here cover two years each time and run in the reverse to ours, from October to April) and is now known as Adelaide Motorsports Park with changes made, particularly around it being a more family orientated show and the biggest being moving most of the dates from a Saturday evening to a Friday, apparently reverting back to the day it previously ran 20+ years ago.  Adelaide on a Friday evening rush hour is not as bad as it could be, but even so, not easy all the same and the start time of the meeting was moved back to 7.30pm to accommodate with Hot Laps and time trails before-hand.  As well as the latest round of the WSS the meeting also featured a field of eight Late Models and 11 Street Stox.  With the track requiring a lot of prep between the races, especially for the Sprint Cars and racing not really getting going until nearly 8pm it ended up being a late one, with the feature race for the Sprint Cars not starting until after 11!  It was worth the wait though, with a great race.  Brad Keller had to survive about 10 re-starts – no exaggeration – to win and in doing so fended off World of Outlaw stars Brooke Tatnell (the race was for the George Tatnell Memorial) Jamie Veal and James McFadden.  The Adelaide track is probably not banked enough to be contusive to mega Sprint Car racing but never the less a great facility and even though it was well after midnight when we pulled out of the car park, nobody really seemed too fussed with this.   It was a lovely warm evening in Adelaide on the Friday and whilst the following day was warm too, the weather forecast looked decidedly dodgy for the next instalment at Murray Bridge, which is a venue in a rural town just over an hour to the east of Adelaide.  A new track to be ticked off the list never the less, Murray Bridge Speedway is a great little venue, a little banked bull-ring which the Sprints get singing around.  All the stars were back from the previous, but, just as the pre-meeting practice was taking place (Hot Laps) it started to spit with rain.  The spits turned into actual showers which delayed the start of the meeting.  The (controversial) decision was made to ditch the time trials and revert to drawn heats (basically just as we have in Europe)  The rain then stopped and it looked like we were back on track, it was re-graded and more Hot Laps were staged.  The meeting started with the supporting Formula 500 (Micro Sprints – 27 of them in attendance) but there was to be one race.  A heavier shower came over and saturated the track.  Sprint Cars do not race in the rain and the meeting was abandoned.  A great shame for all, none more so than the Murray Bridge track itself.  Of its three rounds in this years series, the first was curtailed after the heats due to rain, the second over the Christmas period was rained off rather than out and didn’t happen at all and now this one, rained off just prior to racing.  Cannot help the weather though, but it did lead me to think that “we” are fortunate in the UK/Europe that the show does go on regardless – but naturally, different cars, different times.  But, with Australia appearing to get more rain than it once did, hopefully this will not be too regular occurrence.  My ticket is of no use – no money back – and I wont be back here any time that soon, so if you know of anyone heading to Murray Bridge Speedway I have two tickets going for free…..

January 19

It was always going to be a case of what will be will be regarding the Oval Racing side of things at the Autosport International Racing Car Show at Birmingham’s NEC this year.  It is still the biggest of its kind anywhere in Europe and second only in size to the PRI show in the United States.  Many openly question the short circuit motorsport involvement but this is exactly why. It is, or should be, a huge shop window to petrol heads and potential competitors from far and wide. Therefore, being part of it is a boost for one and all.  It was well documented during last year that the oval side, that had been born out of the old “Brentwood Show” held during the mid-90’s changed management with Malcolm and Brenda Forbes, who had held sway with not only the show but actually more significantly the Live Action Arena since 1999 retired after last year’s show and the whole thing was brought under the umbrealla of the Autosport group, which in itself was in the process of being purchased from Haymarket by the American Motorsport Network Group.  Complicated?  Yes a bit.  This is without doubt which led to a period of uncertainty surrounding the oval racing input with a lack of communication which really boiled down to both sides assuming the other was going to answer the bell.  Oval racing withdrew, both sides did talk, had a rethink and returned.  I had always been kept up to date and knew what was what, I had been booked to present on the Hall 10 stage as per the norm late last summer by ASI but I do confess that for a while I did wonder what it would be that I would be presenting!  In the end, deals were struck for oval racing to return, the F1 BSCDA did their own deal to get themselves as part of the Live Action Arena show and there were effectively three official oval representations in the static show from the Spedeworth group (which is part of the ORCi and of course BriSCA) and the ORCi itself and a joint display from BriSCA – showcasing F1, F2, V8 Hot Stox and Micro F2’s under the leadership of Paul Brown.  There were also several other show cars further up the hall that had been signed through a deal with McGill Motorsport.  There was plenty to look at for those that did come.  On a stage I hosted two very good hours of BriSCA F1 content, working alongside the always professional Team Wainman and Stuart Smith and the BSCDA representative Paul Hines and the new driver official driver PR rep Neil Randon.  We also had National Hot Rod awards and this included an interview with World Champion Adam Maxwell, Saloon Stock Cars were represented by double World Champion Simon Welton as well as National Points Champion Deane Mayes and Adam O’Dell, who is set for a joint campaign in both the Saloons and 1300’s this year.  It was probably the F2 content that was missed the most.  Where in the past we had great presentations and interviews, but for varying reasons they did not happen this year, although it was good to talk with 2015 World and European Champion Kelvyn Marshall about his year as the gold roof, the attempt to defend his title and also this year’s National Series, which was announced during the weekend of the show but not actually at the show.

There is plenty of water to flow under the bridge from all sides between now and the 2018 show.  There are plenty of ideas and scope to do things different, and better.  But, if we learnt anything from the world in 2016 coming into 2017, it is that nothing is certain.

January 7

A whole box of VHS videos from the 1990’s was unearthed in my dad’s loft recently and whilst it is humbling to think that this era is very much archive, it is what it is.  Amongst them was my very first (official) race commentary at a track.  This came at Ringwood Raceway on October 12 1996, and it wasn’t just any meeting.  Big ORCi title meetings were few and far between at the New Forest track even then, and with their regular man at the time Barry Prosser being unavailable the Slack family took a punt on the young me and I ended up being called up for one and this was the English Championship for the Stock Rods.  It lead to a regular spell on the mic there from 1997-99.

Looking back at that evening, it is a classic case of everything has changed but very little has changed.  I have not been a regular at Ringwood for many years now, and whilst it underwent massive changes throughout the 90’s under the Slack family ownership, it has not really changed an awful lot since.  Stock Rods too are still very much visibly similar to as they were then over 20 years ago, in what was a time where the Toyota Starlet and rear wheel drive was on the way out, being steadily replaced by the Vauxhall Nova, which had been around a few years but was not competitive everywhere.  Some Nova’s are still seen in the Stock Rods but have largely been replaced by the Corsa B and C’s now.   A few drivers that featured in the race are still seen today, Graham Moreton raced the car I bring mention to only until a couple of years ago, before switching to an Opel Corsa, Lee Pepper is still active in National Hot Rods and significantly Stuart Smyth is still a leading light in Stock Rods, so much so he took a hat-trick of wins at Wimbledon over the festive period.  The English Championship saw a good win for Mark Paffey, who is still seen at most meetings all over the place now, albeit without a car to race.  He had come through the ranks at Ringwood, being his local track before looking for bigger and better things at Spedeworth and judging by the tone of my voice in the commentary it was set to be a big shown down between he and near neighbour Stephen Weeks, but the latter retired early on.  Mark Barber often went well on his visits to Ringwood, if I remember rightly and proved to be a tough competitor for Paffey on this occasion.    The meeting also featured Bangers (as they were simply known then – there was only one Banger class then, rather than the pick and mix we see on fixture lists now) and saw several drivers still racing on track such as Richard Beere, Steve Hunt, Scott Weldon, Jon Ayles, Simon Bryne and Keith Reynolds and the Ringwood Special Rods, a formula that does still race at Matchams I believe, in a loose tie up with Mendips.  On this occasion that man Mark Paffey was hopping from one to the other and came close to winning three races in a row.

Having to blow the dust off my VHS player was a bit of fun, the first ‘video’ I put in found itself chewed up.  That was my first commentary at Mendips some five years later (but I do know the excellent CVS have the full back catalogue if need be) It is easy to think that DVD’s have been around forever now, but 1996 was the best part of a decade away from them becoming the norm from those filming at meetings.  As for the internet in 1996?  Only a very small minority had that again, we were several years away from it becoming the norm.  Facebook? The social media site that most seem to lives their lives through was not invented until eight years later and most people didn’t sign on for it until 2007 or 2008. 

I wonder what we will be looking back on in 2037?  Scary to think…

Here is the 1996 Stock Rod English Championship, originally filmed by “Action Man Charlie” and digitally remastered by http://www.matt-parker.co.uk/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7O2gPcxlTcc&t=829s

January 2

A very Happy New Year to you!  Let’s hope that 2017 is a good one for us all.  Sometimes though I’m not so sure what people constitute as good, bad or indifferent.  So many left 2016 feeling that it had been a very bad year.  Yes, certainly there have been many better but was it really that bad? Really? 

That said, 2017 for myself did start on another reflective note whilst travelling up the A3 to what was my first meeting of the year, on New Year’s Day to watch at Wimbledon Stadium.  Over the past four decades I have probably spent three quarters of them here, or a day very near to it with the ‘Winternationals’ meeting being the menu of the day.  It was once a meeting that was shown live on ITV’s ‘World of Sport’ and members of my own extended family featured on it.  All available on YouTube….  For the past few years, it has actually been spread across both festive offerings in the capital for the past.  But, as we know, it is not likely that this will be the case for 2018.  There is still hope, due to the very hard work of the Save Wimbledon Stadium Action Group the 13,000 signature petition was delivered to 10 Downing  Street last month, and the Prime Minister's office will look at that and Heritage England have informed that they will take a real look at he the request for the listing of the site. But, that said, the official line remains that we are entering the last three months of racing at Wimbledon, with the last few meetings planned, four of them ticket only given the reduced capacity of the venue.  The National Banger World Series meeting on the 29th of this month, the BriSCA F1 and Saloon Stock Car meeting on March 5, the last ever Banger meeting on March 19 and the very last meeting of all on March 26.

January 1 2017 turned out to be a very wet afternoon in London which certainly led to testing conditions for the drivers and officials alike, but naturally the show went on and given the tough conditions, the racing was good enough.  The Superstox have been a permanent feature at the ‘Winternationals’ for as long as anyone can remember.  It would seem that one or two of their number are sat on the fence (no pun intended) with regards what they are doing for 2017, with one or two of the East Anglian based drivers seriously looking at swapping to shale racing and F2’s.  Or even doing both.  One who did mention this was the case when I interviewed him post winning the Best in Britain here in November was Jason Cooper.  With his RCE away being altered to the 2017 Superstox specs, he reverted to his old HCD chassis for this meeting and it was to be another title for the 482 car.  Recent convert from Swaffham Randal Lynn proved very hard to catch in heat one though, and the pair swapped and changed the lead on the last lap before Cooper just got there.  Lynn held on for what (I believe) was his first Spedeworth win in heat two before Cooper won the Final.  Veteran Dave Pike, who often goes well in the wet did keep him in his sights though before being passed by Jordan Salmon in the closing stages.   The honour of being the very first winner of the year fell to Rob Rice in the Historic Stock Cars and he then went on to make it two in the next race too before the Final went to Collin Moss.  The 2 litre Hot Rods were down on numbers, with many appearing to be in the winter re-build phase (who can blame them?) Three good races though and after Chris Crane won heat one it was George Turickki who won heat two and then successfully defended his ‘Winternationals’ title ahead of Gavin Botfield and Dan Smith.   The 1600cc Bangers completed the programme.

I believe the tickets for those meeting that require them at Wimbledon are either sold out, or practically sold out now.  But if you can get there before the end of March when it is the end, do so…