2018

September 13

It appeared to surprise some that I wasn’t the or a voice on the mic at the BriSCA F2 Stock Car World Final this weekend.  But, why should I have been really? I don’t have the given right to be the go to man at a BriSCA World Final even if I am genuinely grateful that many hold me in such regard.  But the fact is, after holding sway at Mendips Raceway from 2001 to 2015 we went our separate ways. There were varying reasons, mainly that simply I felt that my time there had run its course and I had an offer from Spedeworth that I would have been silly to myself to refuse.  I haven't looked back, albeit with on exception and on hindsight I shouldn’t have accepted a one-off return to Mendips last year for the F2 British Championship weekend.  We disappointed each other and goes back to the old saying that you don’t go where you have been before.  Despite having had been an open and at times harsh critic of Mendips Raceway during my tenure there, Jonny Hoare has risen to the role and made it his own there, alongside the Stoxradio project and, on the whole, has more passion for BriSCA F2 than I do now. It was my suggestion, several years ago that the sport needed a female voice on the airwaves at a track and it is fantastic that Zoe Simpson has been the one to step up to the plate on that.  However, I disagree that a World Final should have effectively been her first go.  

I did have a prior engagement on the day of the meeting and hadn’t intended to go, but when that was cancelled I decided that it would be simply silly to sit at home and watch the launch of Strictly Come Dancing instead.  Plus, my brother still stood a chance of being in the race, and with our parents away in warmer climes recovering from a recent accident, I felt I should do my bit for the family too. 

Sadly, and I do not say this lightly, whilst I know for a fact a lot of planning went into the meeting/weekend there is no getting away that the whole thing didn’t gel and will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.  The organisation just wasn’t there.  Quite why the overseas time trials were not in the middle of the afternoon was not correct (I honestly assumed they would be and on arriving at 4pm was surprised that they were not), when they did get under way it was 20 minutes past the advertised start time. All of which added up to the World Final itself getting a green flag at 2035! For the record that is a whole hour behind the start of the 2013 World at Smeatharpe. I am not throwing stones from a glass house (unlike some) as I have now been involved in more World Final meetings that I care to remember. The meeting starting at 5pm (or after) and being abandoned due to time at 2325 isn’t acceptable for what is regarded as one of the grandee World Final’s in the sport and that people had paid £25 a head to see. Yes, I know Kings Lynn was the same last year and Cowdenbeath in 2014, but that is all beside the point.  I could go on. But there is no point. Too much has been said already on the social media, I am sure most of you will have read it and having been closely associated with the venue I am actually upset for the Bunter family, who needless to say have played a big role in my career and also disappionted that they do not appear to be taking too kindly to what is in some cases genuine questions from drivers and supporters alike.

I am afraid if you use Facebook to build up an event, as they did, you must accept that such a platform is a two way street.  Such a shame and damage to the ever shrinking F2 community and the venue itself that will take a while to fix.  Just a little bit of an admission that “hey sorry we got it a bit wrong” but I have not seen anything of the sort

Finally, on the F2 World Final, it would be a miss of me to not congratulate Gordon Moodie on his World Championship victory.  Quite simply, the best man won on the day and he thoroughly deserved it.   

This weekend though it is THE big one of the year at Skegness. The 2012 World Final there for the F1’s was one of the most unpredictable of all time and it promises to be just the same this time around, with a greatly improved venue under the ownership of Rob and Asha Speak and I will be part of what many like to call a dream time alongside the voice of Skegness Richard Kaletta and ‘The Ox’ Alastair Oxby, basically recreating the rapport we have had at the UK weekend for the past few years now, and I am very grateful to them too for nominating me to commentate on the World Final itself.  I might have been involved in several Worlds either the infield presentation, or as the case two years ago the live AMGTV coverage but this will be my first F1 World on the stadium mic.  Then, it will be to Northampton for a second attempt at the European Championship race as part of the sometimes maligned World Masters meeting which will also feature the NMSC Ministox ‘National Championship’ which is the de facto World title and the second round of the National Series aka Shoot Out for the F2s.  Thus, a busy weekend.  Then the weekend after I am looking forward to a first visit to Tullyroan for the Superstox World Championship.  The second oldest World title in UK oval racing as part of a great looking weekend including the National Hot Rods British Championship.  It might not appeal to all, but it does to me and coming from Irish ancestry I naturally enjoy a visit to across the Irish Sea. 

And for those who have asked me whether I have parted company with Autospeed. The simple answer is no!  I will return to my favourite track of Smeatharpe for the final three meetings of the season there, all of which look very exciting indeed.

And 2019? Never before have I had so much to think about...

July 31

As stated previously, I have not been updating this blog as regularly this year as I have in the past. There are varying reasons for this, mainly that there isn’t the requirement, coupled with me being busier than ever, going nowhere fast.  Especially if sat on the M25….  Updating readers on info seen is now in this age very much lead by social media.  Races are streamed live and even if not results, photos and information are up on the likes of twitter and Facebook and updated on sites like Stoxnet straight away.  You do not need to read it from me two to three days later that so and so won, someone else rolled over and a silly billy got banned.  It’s old news…

Quite where this is leading I don’t know. It may surprise and even upset some of you that I am not a fan of live streaming events.  They nipped it in the bud in other countries a long while ago and it is outlawed and adhered to and yet there seems to have been apathy or lack of understanding from the powers that be here and as such it has now got to the stage that is unstoppable.  Or is it? A video appearing on YouTube a day or two later but live streaming, no, sorry.

Therefore, you would have to be under a rock somewhere or in another system not to know that after weeks and weeks of that dry and sunny, in and some cases very hot weather, it just had to be July 29th that heavy rain fell on Northampton and effectively ruined the new surface ahead of the European Championships.  It was an even greater shame in that on the Saturday we had all seen that after the dust issues at the previous F1 meeting in June, it was indeed now working.  Yes, there were bumps (but so what, it’s dirt racing) but the surface held up well and the crowd were treated to some great Stock Car racing with a superb last bend move from Rick de Graaff in the F2’s and a storming drive from Dan Johnson in the F1’s, as well as a good win in the Trust Fund race from Bobby Griffin.

Sunday was a case for Deane Wood that he was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.  He openly admits that he is learning on the job on the surface, with guidance from Dave Coventry and Buster Chapman to name but two, who have been doing it an awful lot longer.  Were mistakes made ahead of Sunday? Yes, probably but equally some of the hysteria on the day from some – I witnessed some remarkable comments made to officials in Race Control – was unfounded.  The weather was ultimately out of anyone’s control, refunds were issued on June 24 because the Promoter held his hands up and admitted that there had been an error with the track that were causing the issues.  This time it was an act of god, for which refunds are rarely made. Even your insurance might not pay out in such a circumstance.  When I attended what was ultimately a “rain out” in Australia last year, I didn’t get my $50 back, but I could have kept my ticket for admission for another day, and on looking at their fixtures most would have been meetings that would not have cost that amount in admission….

With track surfaces changing, perhaps there needs to be room in the fixture planning in the future for a “rain out date” or “dates”.  To think that it does not rain in Australia, the USA and especially New Zealand is laughable and yet this is what they do, because they must.  Back when the shale tracks were actually shale here, they were just about driveable but as we saw on Sunday, the type of surface that Northampton is, as well as others, it becomes unraceable in the rain, particularly given that the one at Brafield is ‘new’ and faced temperatures that we seldom see in this country.  Times are changing and everything has to along with it and by that I mean everything from the cars, fixture planning and the general attitudes of some because otherwise it will be another nail in that proverbial coffin and there are enough of those already, and that is just an observation rather than deliberate negativity – because on the whole there are far more positives than negatives, the latter just need to be nurtured and advanced.

I do not usually respond to comments made via the afore mentioned social media, everyone has an opinion and I respect that, things are bad enough in every day life being shouted down for disagreeing with someone. But on this occasion, I cannot let pass and feel the need to defend Dave Goddard and myself on Sunday.  We were faced with a very difficult task of “carrying on regardless” even when it was obvious that the plans for the meeting were going to go down the tubes from the very moment the day began.  Yes, we are paid to do so – not as much as some might think – and we did so.  We were both fully aware of the decision that had been made by the F1 drivers committee regarding their European Championship because we had seen it on the social media the same as many others had done.  But, that is not who I/we were working for on Sunday.  We could not make an announcement regarding anything until we had been instructed to do so by those who were running the meeting.  And whilst it might be a newsflash to some, that was not the F1 BSDCA. 

My thoughts are/were that a representative of the BSCDA should have at least offered to take to the PA and explain the situation themselves, but no such was forthcoming.  It was left up to me, and I was fine with that because – see above – it is my job.  When the afore mentioned meeting I attended in South Australia last year was abandoned, Brooke Tatnell came to the pit gate and explained on the microphone that the meeting was not going to go ahead and the reasons why, and why they cannot race clay in the rain.  Yes, I know that is Sprint Cars and he is a professional race car driver. but it is much the same deal ultimately. 

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.  Yes, the rain stopped.  The track was coming on by what (would have been) mid meeting, a re-grade would have (probably) done the job, but there was nobody present to drive the plant to re-grade the track I’m told.  Would fans have waited an hour whilst this was being done anyway though?  The mood some of them appeared to be in I don’t think many would have.  I can sympathise. You paid to see an F1 European Championship and it didn’t happen.  But, the F2 and Rebels went ahead with theirs.  Yes, the F2 one was a farce and reminded me of that game show that Christopher Biggins used to do on Children’s ITV (what was that called?) but as the drivers noted – the conditions were the same for all, not just for one, and nothing will now take away from Stephen Mallinson and Ben Chalkley winning the biggest races of their careers.

But, we could carry on and on with the inquest. And on. It is in the history books now.  We are already passed it and moving forward and thoughts towards what is ahead.  If the Euro wasn’t to run on Sunday, having it as a heat on World Masters day was the only logical solution. That is going to make for a busy weekend and day at Northampton.  Some serious finger crossing for the weather…

July 11

It has been a while…

What a summer we are having!  Probably understatement of the year, but we do deserve it after the long and cold winter, there is much political uncertainty (it still amazes me how oblivious some are of it, maybe better that way…) but England are riding high in the Football and we are being treated to some great oval race meetings up and down the land and beyond.  Varied winners across all formulae, BriSCA F1 British Championship won on the last bend and last weekend, Spedeworth served up a Ipswich Spedeweekend widely regarded by many as the best for a number of years.  It was great being involved with it once again, even if it was hot and hard work throughout, to the point that when you are focused on the job in hand it is actually easily to overlook whether a weekend or meeting is good, bad or indifferent.  But, looking back, yes it was good and I’m grateful for the positive feedback received.

The National Hot Rod World Final was the feature race, as has been the case since 1972 and after the Saturday lap times where Glen Bell put in a super fast time to secure pole position it looked like he was going to be a hard man to beat, and for 60+ laps of the race it looked like he was heading to a second world title.  However, after around 62 laps he started to slow and then looked to be in a real trouble.  The good battle that had been going on between Billy Wood and John Christie for second was suddenly with him, and then with Bell struggling even more, past time and then the #9 car spun to a stop, on the racing line to bring about a yellow flag.  It was later diagnosed as a broken throttle and he had actually driven a least three laps on the starter.  Bitter luck for Glen.  Someone elses pain will always be gain for another though and it was to be Billy Wood’s day.  Christie challenged him in the six lap dash re-start, but he was struggling for grip by then and found himself fending off Chris Haird rather than chasing Wood and it was to be the latter’s race.  Forget the fact he is the son of the Promoters – Billy is very much is own man, he has been through an awful lot to get to where he is now and what he achieved on Sunday and he is a popular and deserved winner.  I was actually thankful I wasn’t commentating on the race itself, I might have ended up like the chap at Buxton in the 1987 Saloon Stock Car World which you can see on YouTube !

The rest of the weekend featured the usual vast array of Spedeworth formulae, for the weekend is a much a showcase and centrepiece for them as much as National Hot Rods.  The 2 litre Hot Rod European Championship on the Saturday evening, the only race under the floodlights as it transpired featured plenty of controversy including a rollover and was won by Adam Hylands, a busy man over the weekend.  The Lightning Rods are becoming a parady of themselves with their British Championship seeing contact, stop and waits, DD’s on the centre and contact after the flag.  Yes, really!  I really do not envy the meeting Stewards in such a situ.  It was Lee Skoyles who took the win.  The 1300 Stock Cars were really spectacular throughout, it was unfortunate that it started with a nasty injury for Dalton Leedell and their Supreme Championship went to Simon Berry with ‘Mungo’ inheriting the victory after first across the line Jack Mayle was disqualified on a safety technicality.  Many do still long for the Saloon Stock Cars at the Spedeweekend, but, whilst I do see where they are coming from on this, times have moved on and they do have Skegness which is now entrenched a week later and I’m just not sure it would work for either party if they were.  The Superstox have raced at every Spedeweekend and this particular one was dominated by the Roots family with Dan and Nick crossing the line first in every race and the National Championship saw Nick pull off a last bend move on Declan Salmon to make it a third generation of winner of the race following dad Chris and grandad Tony.  The Stock Rods saw Shane McMillan take victory, the Classic Hot Rods National Championship saw Kenny Purdie win, the Bangers Mark Almedia and the Ninjas Kasey-Jay Jones and Robbie Armit, two young drivers who are off to Ministox with the latter the ORCi version, which are still going strong in Scotland and the former the BriSCA/NMSC version.  All of that was just scratching the surface of the winners – the sun soaked crowd were happy – so if that is the case I am too.

Time to do it all again, albeit slightly differently at Skegness…

June 5

It was only ever going to be a few non-regular updates on this blog for the time being.  It is/was/is very easy to get involved in the debates going on behind the scenes and having done a lot of that over the years, it zaps the energy to an extent.  I managed to attend 89 oval race meetings, easily half of them I worked at in 2017. That is a lot of time taken up.  But equally, I have been doing it since 1996 now so do not know anything too different.  Dean Cox, who has taken over as the owner/editor of ‘Wheelspin’ magazine recently asked me to write an article on the state of the sport as a whole. That is quite a broad church, but really take away the negatives, and there will always be both sides to anything, the positives are currently far greater and the sport as a whole from the very basic formulae right up to the BriSCA F1 and National Hot Rods are currently healthy and strong.  All of this against a backdrop of austerity and rising fuel prices.  So, let’s be positive.  My article wasn’t one of towing the line looking through rose-tinted spectacles but really telling it as it is.

I do not get the chance to go to a circuit race meeting all that often with my involvement in oval racing, and often on a free day or weekend I don’t wish to hear a motor engine.  But, with it being a lovely early summer’s day I went along to one of my most local circuits of Thruxton at the weekend which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and to commemorate that their new corporate building was opened by two legends of the sport in Murray Walker and Nigel Mansell.  It was great to see both there, Murray in particular who looks and acts well below his 94 years.  94!!

Coming as a casual punter – as that is what I was – was I impressed on the whole?  £20 plus £5 for a programme and £5 extra for a grandstand, should I have chosen than option.  With it being an airfield track, much like Silverstone or Goodwood viewing isn’t the best there.  The programme produced by David Addison was a great read, giving the history of the venue with colour photos throughout and articles written by esteemed authors. As for the ‘show’ itself? I am not sure what they were putting on, what I was expecting and what people were expecting.  One cannot help but think that the 50th anniversary meeting could have and should have been a bit more than a Historic Club meeting plus two classes of Minis?  I believe there was also a Historic Club meeting on at Brands Hatch, less than two hours away at the same time.  There were a few demonstrations on track too, which I thought went on a little too long.  Some of the fields – particular in the Saloon car and Sports Car classes were too light for races that took up over an hour or more of the programme. The Minis had the best fields, along with the Historic Formula Fords although it was 5pm by the time their race had come along and many of the crowd were starting to trickle off.  Naturally, I took an interest in the presentation of the meeting on the PA.  Historic racing stalwarts Marcus Pye and Ian Titchmarsh.  Both extremely knowledgeable of course but lost in time in other ways.  Whilst it was not Ian’s fault, but for instance the last crowd gathered around the grand opening of the new building – a significant feature of the day involving Murray and Nigel – was played out without the said crowd hearing what was being said.  The interviews were conducted over a radio mic which went out over the PA which the crowd at the building couldn’t hear. I could see why this was but a lot of those stood around me, including the local BBC TV crew were getting agitated that this was the case.  Plus, if I was dressed in civvies at an oval meeting I was working at Deane Wood or Crispen Rosevear would have me for it. I know that some of those who I know personally will gasp that I have just written that, but, speak as you find, and I was a paying punter…

All in all an interesting day, good to see and great that Thruxton has reached its milestone considering it hit such a rocky road within a year of opening, and something different for me to go and see, but by the same token nothing much learnt.

April 30

Damn the weather.  Another bit the dust…. Or rather if only there was some dust.  I had my weekend all planned, just as did many others with Kings Lynn on Saturday and then what looked a busy and yet interesting meeting at Mildenhall the next day. I arranged a swap with the more regular Mildenhall mic man Andy Watts and he instead took the meeting I had been booked for at Aldershot and I was set to take to the mic again at West Row.  However, it wasn’t to be.  Heavy rain all day on Friday in East Anglia rendered the track not in a raceable state, coupled with the fact that the Speedway fence was up for what was to be a two-wheeled meeting and would need to be taken down.  It wasn’t just the rain on Friday it was still a fall out of wet, cold, ice and snow that had plagued the area throughout the winter. It was unfortunate that the cancelation came after many couldn’t change their plans for an overnight stay, but that is life unfortunately.  It is something that our American and Australian cousins have to deal with and it is probably something that ‘we’ might have to face up to a little more now.  The days of meetings never being cancelled or postponed are a thing of the past.

Kings Lynn, however, did go ahead.  Different track, different place, different situation and with the light rain on Saturday having passed, not only was the evening dry, the track was in perfect condition throughout.  Full credit to Buster Chapman, who was we have seen many times in the past can almost work miracles when it comes to preparing his track.  Great racing from the BriSCA F1’s, Saloon Stock Cars and National Ministox and whilst yes, the F1 Final was not as down to the wire as last month’s last bend offering, it was still very dramatic with the outcome in doubt until right towards the closing stages.  Had it not been for a yellow flag, it might have had a different outcome, maybe young Austin Moore might have held on but in a bit of poetic justice having come so close here last time it was Frankie Wainman Jnr who battled Craig Finnikin (now Dutch registered and calling in on his way ‘home’ from Blauwhuis), Dan Johnson and Matt Newson and beat them all and even had enough in hand to drive with just the one of them on the last lap of the race.  The Saloons saw three different winners in World Champion Dan Parker, who despite having won the biggest race of all, still celebrated his heat win with a big “yee-ha”, Scotsman Barry Russell in heat two which looked like going the way of white grade Alan Hooker until he spun after clashing with backmarker Jamie Sampson, but he made up for it by recording his first Saloon win in the Final.  The National Ministox were due for an East Anglian shale weekend, but it was just to be Kings Lynn in the end and it was Tyrone Evans who took the Final honours.  A great, good old-fashioned Saturday night of Stock Car racing.  I know I speak for many wishing that the Adrian Flux Arena was closer to my front door though!

The closest track to my front door is actually Aldershot Raceway, and with Mildenhall off it left one pondering what to do on the Sunday.  You don’t need me to tell you how bleak and cold it was throughout the country this weekend and it was very tempting to go home and watch the Grand Prix and/or BTCC – but no – I had to drive past Aldershot to get home, it was where I was due to be until 10 days prior so it would have been rude not to call in on what was the 10th anniversary of Spedeworth taking over the running of the car racing at the Rushmoor Arena venue.  There were 150 cars spread across five formulae, two of which were Junior with a total of 49 drivers across them. It was a shame it was so cold. I do not think I have ever been so cold at a race meeting anywhere other than Buxton outside of the winter months!

It is sobering in a way that a decade has passed since the old Fleet Motor Club moved on from Rushmoor and Spedeworth, under Deane and Janet Wood invested in turning what was essentially a flat patch of tarmac on the MOD grounds into a more permanent oval motor sport venue.  There are restrictions there, which are alas a fact of 21st century life but how great it is that the mainstream sport was brought back to a town that had featured so prominently from the 1950’s to early 90’s was back on the “map” again and with good meetings having taken place already this season, long may it continue and I am looking forward to being back there this Sunday, back in the commentary box this time.

April 17

Suddenly Spring sprung at the weekend, or at least at Birmingham on Saturday where the sun was shining bright, it was warm, there was lots of cars and lots of people.  Everything was positive and whilst yes, the racing at the meeting will not render it an all-time classic, I have seen worse. A lot worse!  It had been some time since I had watched an F1 meeting at Wheels, as I had worked at most for the past few years and it was good to wander around amongst everyone and chat to as many people as I could. It felt like old times in many ways and with the F2’s, what we have all been asking for and saying over recent years is that it is “not what it used to be” .. “we want it how it was”.  BriSCA F2 was probably the formula at Birmingham Wheels in the 00’s.  What went wrong in the meantime I could write a rather a lot on, and still not conclude, but changes were made to the rules at the end of last year for this, most significantly the new outside year Yokohama “van” tyre that was introduced at Northampton on Good Friday.  But this, a proper old fashioned near 60 car meeting, with drivers from all over the country chasing World Championship points it was a real test for the new tyre set up.  Going on what I saw, I would say that it is a success.  You could see drivers working a bit harder to control the car, they were having to work harder behind the wheel with visibly less grip, bend entry speeds were appeared to be slower and when one car made contact with another it visibly moved them more than had been the case previously.

But did anyone really think BriSCA F2 Vice Chairman Rob Speak, who put a lot of input into it, would get it wrong? Easter, with its varied weather and cold, didn’t really bring too many answers for tarmac racing but after Birmingham it was a thumbs up from the vast majority.  Hednesford the next day, not so significant as it is not a regular track for F2’s, but from seeing and hearing about it from not being there myself, again it was a good showing in mixed conditions.  Likewise, for the F1’s over both days, with both Finals won by Ashley England but the outcome not being decided until the very last knockings.  You couldn’t help but feel for Mark Sargent whose diff went within sight of the flag on Saturday.

So, with the positive vibes for many it was disappointing to see yet more negativity on the social media from the same suspects come Monday morning.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but why not just give it a rest or embrace or move on?  The changes at the end of 2017 were really the first since 2012.  The roll cage rule was a clarification of a rule that was already in the rule book, the side rail changes were a safety issue after drivers had received injuries as result of racing accidents and the introduction of the outside rear tyre was to reduce speeds and the costs of the use of tyres as some tracks that were more abrasive.  Look at the southwest – yes always an F2 stronghold – but there are 17 white graded drivers booked to race at Smeatharpe on Sunday.  Sheffield on the same day may have a restricted entry but it is fully booked with a reserve list.  The afore mentioned World Championship qualifying round at Birmingham on Saturday was 13 up on last year and Hednesford the next day five up and there was an 81 car British Championship last week.  I know numbers have nosedived in Northern Ireland, taken a dip in Scotland and are struggling in the North East but the rule changes cannot be solely to blame?

Outlaw’s have been around off and on a long time, but will face more and more struggles as time goes on, no matter how much goodwill and hope is put into them. They have restricted venues and scope.  So, instead of getting personal with me, saying that I should “come out of my commentary box and talk to some drivers” perhaps ask why are there so many of those who come from the North East of England racing Outlaw Stock Cars there and not at Barford?  Why did they leave F2 and why are they not coming back? It cannot be cost or the current rule changes because many of those racing in them were already gone, several years ago now. Why did they stop racing at their local track?

April 10

When I walked around the pits at Kings Lynn at the end of last month, at both ends, BriSCA F1 and F2 there was negativity about this, that and the other.  Yes, some of it there are real concerns but that is in many ways mirroring the uncertain world in which we all live in.  But other things I just wanted to close my ears to.  I didn’t want to argue or join in debates, I have done my fair share of that.  Just let the racing do the talking and that was just the case at the Adrian Flux Arena on that damp evening.  A really good meeting including a pair of exciting Finals, the F1’s especially so.   I tweeted after the meeting that whilst, yes, there are some changes that could, or should be made the product we have is a great one and the positives should be focused on.

Easter in between, which was busy, cold and damp for all in the sport it was back to East Anglia and this time Mildenhall, for the F2 British Championship and the first appearance of the F1’s at the venue since 2002 (yes, I know I was wrong in saying 2004 by the way – I’m not perfect!)  And lo and behold a mild afternoon and evening too.  When rumours were going around in the summer of 2016 that Deane Wood had purchased Mildenhall Stadium from what transpired to be the financially struggling previous owner promoters, I asked he confirmed that yes it was true.  My response was that it was great because the place had potential that was not being used under the incumbents and I was sure that he would make a go of the place.  Tongue in cheek I suggested that it would be great to have BriSCA F1’s back there.  And remember this was before Coventry Stadium was lost to the sport.

Fast forward 20 months and it came to be, at a venue that had undergone several positive changes in that time from a lot of track work, groundwork and lights in the pits as well as new floodlights around the Stadium and perimeter fencing. The F1’s paired up with the F2 British, a full blood BriSCA meeting there.  Fears that the track is too small for the F1’s were quickly eased and what is almost set to be one of the meetings of 2018 unfolded in front of us, in front of what was a great crowd and with that came a great atmosphere and it always makes my task a lot easier when there is such an audience to work to.  Ultimately though, the drivers and the racing they put on are the show.  A classic and spectacular F1 Final, won just by Stuart Smith Jnr from Matt Newson and then after the eight heats to determine the grid, the F2 British featured a superb battle for the lead between Gordon Moodie and Ollie Skeels until the effectively took each other out and this placed Chris Burgoyne into a lead he was not to lose.  There had been nothing from Chris in his heats to suggest he was going to come from such a long way down the grid to win, and by a commanding distance in the end.  As if the drama of the whole meeting and occasion wasn’t enough, it concluded on this great human story for as we know Chris suffered a back injury at last years British Championship meeting (at Bristol) whilst seeking to defend the title he won in 2016 which was serious enough that it might have ended his racing career.  So, to come back and win the title again is fantastic stuff, and the raw emotion of the moment from Chris and his family was plain to see.  As I said at the time, if ever there was a name synonymous with Stock Car racing in this country, then Burgoyne is it, and what we had just witnessed was special in so many ways.

As for BriSCA F1 at Mildenhall? Grand National winner Dan Johnson’s thoughts summed up those of many – “great track, great stadium, why cant we come here every month”  Now whilst I don’t think that would happen, it actually can’t at present, for “CoventryStox” having dates that they “own” and this year are not using is the main reason for the slimmer F1 fixture list, and Mildenhall’s date was one that Deane had to move across from Northampton, surely Saturday’s meeting will become an annual event at the very least.  It can be possible to have too much of a good thing, there is no real replacement for Coventry but to see and hear people leaving a Stadium absolutely buzzing with big smiles on their faces, from all sides, was very good to see and hear.

So, let’s lose the negativity, ride the bumps and focus on the positives.  

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.