March 12

It was a week later than planned but the 2018 season commenced after the weather associated issues.  For Smeatharpe (Taunton) it proved to be a bonus in many respects, as a window of opportunity allowed for a swift reschedule to six days later and gave the opportunity for a Saturday early evening meeting, mainly under the floodlights.  A decent sized crowd, entries to match and the racing didn’t disappoint either, with a fantastic F2 Final featuring a five-car battle for the lead and the win being decided on the last corner.  You cannot ask for more than that?  There was plenty of shiny new machinery on show for the Saloon Stock Cars too, again – and in my opinion – boosted if anything by the meeting being paired with Aldershot the next day.  It certainly gained both meetings three, if not more cars that might not have others been there.

Here is my official report on the Autospeed website; http://www.autospeed.co.uk/race-meetings/results/saturday-10th-march-2018.ashx

A swift turnaround on Sunday and it was my local venue of Aldershot with the Saloons present for one of several Spedeworth/Incarace dates (away from Mildenhall) this season although for this it  was always going to be an early season date, with the weather has it has been it has held up some winter builds and/or re-builds and there does appear to be some not happy with an off-season camber rule change too.  The upshot was a bit of a slightly disappointing entry for them, although I do maintain that it might have been fewer had Taunton not been rescheduled to the previous evening.  This was my first of what is for this year could be just a sprinkling of commentary dates with Spedeworth. I did offer myself for an awful lot more, but with a full roster of commentators I am grateful for what I do get and will look forward to meetings such as the Big Vans, Bears Bash and Classic Carnage at Eastbourne during the Spring and Summer and also the first appearance of both the V8 Hot Stox and National Ministox at Aldershot in August. 

Mother’s Day is a bit of a poisoned chalice for running a race meeting on.  I can recall the days of the “Mother’s Day Massacre” (which political correctness as it is, it couldn’t be called such now) being a success at Wimbledon many years ago.  But that was then, this is now, and Deane and his team probably knew they were taking a gamble running on this date, but with National Saloons and National Bangers on it could and should have paid off.  But with grey damp weather and the entries for both just not really coming it didn’t really and I felt for them.  16 Saloons isn’t enough at Aldershot and whilst they did put up three good races, including a last bend Final victory for Michael Allard it is fair to say that they were not as good as they were on either occasion last year.  The National Bangers under 1600cc Aldershot Open was once a big event, getting triple figure entries a decade ago but the format doesn’t appear to work now. The domestic/Rookie Banger scene not what it was and (probably understandably) the Back to Basic Bangers being much more popular and have effectively taken over from what they were. A lot of the ‘National’ drivers prefer to take part in the big car meetings only and it has left this meeting in limbo somewhere.  It was moved from the end of the season last year to the beginning of this one and whilst there was double the entry from last Autumn and double the action it still hardly had the feel of a championship meeting about it.  It was the same outcome too with Jason Jackson, aka Boxer Jack winning all three races and retaining the title.  Jason took part in the South African tour and raced in a National Hot Rod there at the beginning of the year.

How great it would be if he could find backing to get a ride in one over here?


February 4

Hello from Australia!

It is hard to believe that my first oval race meeting of the year was in Australia but it is what it is, with Wimbledon gone and those meetings that were on in the UK during January either not appealing to me, or I wasn’t available for it was never the less the first time for a very long time that I did not go racing at all during the first month of the year.  That is the loss of Wimbledon of course.  I could have been at either or both Arlington or Taunton last weekend, my two favourite tracks in the UK as you will know, but I had long since been booked for the BriSCA F2 Benevolent Fund dinner and awards evening in Coventry, which is always a pleasure.  A great evening it was too as ever, I was humbled to receive an award myself too, all I do is my bit. The full run down of the evening I have written some words for which will be in the March issue of unloaded 7.3 magazine. 

From Coventry it was home and then to South Australia via the Footballing nation of Qatar (!) It is the height of summer here, the equivalent of August in the northern hemisphere and with it getting towards the business end of their racing season, which traditionally is the total reverse of ours in that it starts in October and runs until Easter or April, whichever comes first.  The past two years on what has become a bit of an annual pilgrimage to Australia I have taken in the Australian 410 Sprint Car World Series with two meetings in Western Australia in 2016 and then two in South Australia this time last year, albeit one of which was rain abandoned a race in.  No fear of that this time, with glorious summer weather in South Australia but no World Series this time.  It is good to see that some organisers and promoters are at least willing to go well outside the comfort zone, for they re-jigged the World Series dates this year and have included two rounds in Tasmania, which will be next week.  To put that into perspective, that would be like BriSCA F1 having a rush of blood and running a couple of Shoot Out rounds in Northern Ireland….  Yes, exactly.

I’m not here on a racing trip per se, I have (or had) plenty of racing in the summer at home but with a very good-looking meeting on at Murray Bridge, on my birthday it would have been rude not to take the hour journey from where I am based in the southern suburbs of Adelaide to have a look.  As I say, the important end of the season as the meeting featured the Late Models 2018 Australian Championship, Speed Car 2018 South Australian Championship and almost reduced to a supporting role, a domestic meeting for the 410 Sprint Cars.  Murray Bridge Speedway is a well-appointed venue yet keeps a bit of rustic charm and a small track by Australian standards too. South Australia itself only has a similar sized population to Hampshire and Surrey put together and therefore, although yes there were many present from across the country, the size of the crowd and number of cars racing was impressive.

This is not to say that everything in the garden is rosy in Australian oval racing, or Speedway as they refer to it here.  Many of the issues that are faced in the UK are faced here too, not least the menace and/or love and hate relationship with the social media and there also does seem to be a bit of political infighting going on too.  My previous visits to this state have included a trip to Adelaide Motorsport Park previously known as Speedway City, just to the north of the city but it would seem that venue is now on its third promoter in as many years, Sprint Car racing of any kind has disappeared from the schedule and they are looking towards Stunts, Drifting, Burn Outs and Back to Basic Bangers (yes, really) instead.  The reasoning?  Sprint Car racing is too expensive promote and run with the gate returns just not matching up.  Does that sound vaguely familiar?  But all that said, per head of population there is no denying that the sport IS more popular and recognised than it is in Britain. 

I touched on the social media thing, but one thing that they do have done correctly in Australia is the “live filming” with those stood with their phones in the crowd.  As I have written on my previous visits here, from looking around on Saturday night there was nobody doing it.  They have managed to make it totally socially unacceptable.  Maybe it might happen at smaller meetings I don’t know but for the vast majority of bigger meetings, including most of those involving Sprint Cars they have a live TV production standard feed via the internet – “Clay Per View” – google it, where there are several options from paying for one meeting to subscribing for a full year for those unable to be at a track and can thus watch a meeting at home.  I do know that this HAS been discussed by the British promoters, and yes, I was involved in a similar thing in the Netherlands last year for the Kings Battle meeting at Bluwhis.  The slight difference in that was that it was a live TV broadcast that was also broadcast via the internet, albeit with a different audio feed.  The British promoters fear that if they did have something like they have established in Australia (and New Zealand) that many would instead stay at home and they would lose revenue.  I’m not so sure there is any evidence of this down under, but, of course another different set of circumstances.  AMG TV were blocked from broadcasting the F1 World Final live from Coventry in 2016, an experiment in place there and then was lost, but it is surely something worth trying.  Otherwise, I fear we will be seeing more social media posts of “anyone going live at X track tonight”

As for the meeting and racing itself, it reflects Australia itself.  The show is very professional in the main, it was £17.50 for five hours’ worth of racing but also on the other hand they are frustrating in other ways.  As I have found on my many other visits to various venues here, they waste far too much time in the early parts of the meeting with general faffing, pointless time trials, heats that are split too thinly, caution periods that are far too long and – without wishing to sound like a Stoxnet thread too much – just a bit too much track work.  All those things mentioned are fine, but when the meeting is running towards its curfew time, the feature races – the climax of the evening – are drawing near and a lot of these are done away with in the name of time, why bother with them in the first place?!   The Late Model Australian Championship was a nail biting race, with many a caution and the long likely winner, Craig Vosbergen having dominated all weekend (there were heats on Friday evening) losing out four laps from home on a re-start when the low line he had been using suddenly lost his grip and the winner Darren Kane swept around the outside of him.  Many of the drivers present for this had taken two of even three days to get there.  The Sprint Cars found themselves pretty much third on the programme, most of the drivers only got two races and the A Main had to be cut to 20 laps with no build up or the ‘four wide’ (see above!) but it was a great race between veteran Robbie Farr and local driver Ryan Jones who swapped and changed the lead several times over the closing laps and crossed the line in a near dead heat.

January 15

The first blog of 2018 and it hardly gets things off much of a positive note. The Autosport International Show at the NEC in Birmingham is a petrol head’s paradise with just about every form of motor sport on show, it is the biggest show and exhibition of its kind in Europe and from 1999 to 2016 years it has had a dedicated oval racing section, autonomous in many ways to the ‘main’ show which run by Malcolm and Brenda Forbes of Waltham Services Events. On a personal level it was an honour to be asked to work as one of the stage presenters in 2010, 2012 and then as the main host on the ‘Hall 10’ stage from 2014 up to and including last year. However, nothing is forever, times change, and people move on.  Malcolm and Brenda retired from their involvement in the show after 2016 and things seemed uncertain for 2017, there appeared to be a fair bit of misunderstanding behind the scenes as to who did what and how, a nod to how well the Forbes’ had run the show in many respects but after talks that ebbed and flowed between the main oval promoters and organisations, it went ahead more or less as it had done before alongside investment from NASA and the BTRDA. 

Plans were made a lot later than had been the case but with all the usual displays and features, such as the stage interviews and so on. Whether it was down to the new management not investing the time or not, there was a feeling throughout that it was not the show it was, footfall in the oval racing area was a long way down on what it used to be (40% less fixture lists were handed on 12 months before) and the promoters who had put a great deal of effort in, most notably Deane Wood along with Steve Rees and the rock and mainstay of the show for many years, Paul Brown, were left pondering what to do for the 2018.  When it was time to open negotiations with the organisers of the show, themselves now under new ownership (note that Haymarket was sold to the vast expanse of what is the American owned “Motorsport Network”) last summer it became quickly apparent to all concerned that the costs that were being requested, and were apparently non-negotiable simply outweighed the requirement to be there and thus the ORCi as a whole decided to give Autosport International a miss for 2018.  I have never felt the need to pitch for a job that I am already doing in any genre so did I not contact the management of the show as to whether there would be a job on the Hall 10 stage for 2018.  They did not contact me either.  I am fortunate enough to have the ear of the promoters within the sport, who are always fully open and honest with me off the record and I was informed on numerous occasions that the ORCi/BriSCA et al were not going to exhibiting at the show.  The Live Action Arena, again a separate thing and the F1 BSCDA had undertaken their own deal to be part of that.

Therefore, given all I knew and had been told to be fact, I was as bemused as anyone to see that the Autosport Show promotion and press releases were advertising the oval section of the show to be as per the usual, with “stage features, star interviews and announcements” and there was even one with a quote attributed to Autosport’s Andrew van der Burgt stating that “those who run the sport would be on hand to answer any questions”.   The plan of the show that was on display throughout the exhibition clearly showed the marked-out areas where the oval stands – ORCi, BriSCA, Spedeworth etc – were to be and yet a contingency plan clearly wasn’t put into place. So, whether the management of Autosport International thought that ‘we’ as oval racing would come to the party at a late stage is not known, but presumably was the case.  But, whatever, with a lot of customers who had purchased tickets year on year receiving press releases via their email and post stating all the above, many booked for this year expecting the norm – and despite wordage in both unloaded 7.3 and the BriSCA F2 Newsletter – perhaps on hindsight, the ORCi promotions via their own websites could have produced a short statement in early December stating that they would not be present and the usual features would not take place.  As late as the October points chart for BriSCA F2 I read clearly that “The Novice of the Year (Euan Miller) would receive his trophy at the NEC in January”.  Thus many still went at the weekend oblivious that they were not going to see what they thought and it has naturally lead to a number of comments made on the social media.

All of this said, McGill Motorsport, themselves with a long association with the show via their large trade stand have long used the floor space that they get as part of their deal and arranged to have many oval racing related cars on display.  That continued into the show this year, and the BSCDA’s deal came with some hall space where one of the features was the replica of Stuart Smith’s ‘Hertz’ car from the 1970’s.  There were indeed a lot of oval racing cars on display, arguably as many as ever and more than I expected and whilst they did represent the wide range that the sport has to offer from the various micro-junior classes via various Rod and all points in-between up to BriSCA F1 and Saloon Stock Cars.  Notably and some might say controversially there were no BriSCA F2 Stock Cars as part of the exhibition but neither were there any National Hot Rods.  Given what the show was this year, did that really matter though?   The 2018 BriSCA F2 and Saloon Stock Car Fixture Lists were available, via the McGill stand although many of those who did go were naturally not really looking for such on a stand selling the parts at McGill sell and missed this.  Again, no fault of McGill, they were there to promote their business and sell their goods, not first and foremost promote the sport and someone else’s business. 

Ultimately it was exactly as I thought it would be.  I was in two minds whether to go, as having worked at and been so closely involved in an event and then not be part of it is, or could be a bit like that person who “pops in to say hello” after they have left a place of work.  Yes, they only do that once don’t they?!  Despite the actual number of cars on display, and very nice efforts too, there was a feeling that these were cars just sat in Hall 10 of the Autosport International Show with little or nothing to explain to the casual show-goer as to what they were, where they race and so on.  There was absolutely no atmosphere and ultimately very little point in those who took the cars there making the effort.  This is not a finger poke at the McGill’s, without their assistance there would have been very few, if indeed any Stock Cars, Hot Rods and Bangers in the exhibition.  It is not a poke at the promoters either, as I fully support their stance in not going this year.  It is simply a regrettable situation all round.  Yes, the National Autosgrass Association were present with many cars, a great stand between Halls 9 and 10, large sponsor boards and their faces and names on hand with the information in both written and spoken form.  But, they have a different business model to BriSCA/ORCi, plus they may be “field racers” but many compete on a budget way over what our oval races run on and NASA obviously feel that it was worth it to foot the cost that the ORCi would not.  It would be very interesting to hear what NASA thought and how they found the show, without the official stamp from their ‘Stadium’ cousins and the stage, which they surely paid for as part of their stand and wasn’t there, and which they used to utilise just as well as we did.

The Live Action part of the show, which to many who go is just a big thing as the exhibition part itself I thought was a great improvement on last year.  There was a varied display featuring stunts, Autograss, the inspirational Billy Monger and Mission Motorsport, Terry Grant, a NASCAR display, drifting, Autograss and yes the F1 Stock Cars, celebrating the roots of the sport with cars from 1950’s replicas up to a group of current drivers putting on a show.  Some might not like to read this, but I do think the Live Action has moved on from having two or three oval classes involved.  I do not see what either party got, or would get out of it now.  Would the crowds watching have taken too much notice of half a dozen Hot Rods doing half a dozen laps?  Would they notice an F2 Stock Car 10 minutes later if half a dozen of them did half a dozen laps?  I’m honestly not so sure.

It goes without saying that discussions will take place with regard next year but one cannot help but think and that for a whole host of reasons, for oval racing and the Autosport International Show the good times are gone, the ORCi had their re-think in 2016 and it came to be for 2018. It is now time for ASI to have theirs and see where everyone ends up.