National Championship meeting report
‘WOOD WOWS WITH WHAM BOY RACING AND BLUE PETER WIZARDRY!’
A weekend that had it all with contrasts in weather and racing fortunes, the eagerly anticipated major championship for the Classic Hot Rods saw an entry of 23 drivers, all looking forward to the opportunity to race for this coveted prize for only the second time in the formula’s history.
With last years winner 161 Daniel Holden having moved to National Hot Rod Racing for the start of 2014, a new name was going to be the order of the day. Qualifying took place on the Saturday, the points scored determining the starting grid for the big race itself on the Sunday.
192 Ken Marriott took the full advantage of his C grade stating position to win the first heat on the Saturday but that was seemingly the only thing that went by the book. 333 Lee Wood lost control in spectacular style with his hapless Viva bouncing pin ball style into those immediately around, particularly 247 Graham McCabe and 275 Chris Caton. McCabe, making the long journey from Bo’ness in Scotland to compete for the first time this season at the wheel of his brand new race car, a superbly prepared Vauxhall Chevettte styled in homage to legend racer Davy Evans – but with its own Scottish twist, was rueful at the damage received, but fortunately the car was good to go in other races. The same could not be said for Caton. The budget Midlands racer had panel and suspension damage along the length of the car and a lift on to the wagon in the pits was all that remained to be done. Wood in contrast was determined to repair his own not insignificant damage and beavered away between races.
In contrast to the dry heat one, the heavens literally opened and poured out its contents for heat two. Drivers rolled their slick shod cars onto a dry circuit, but just as the pit gate shut and rolling lap got underway, down came torrential rain and the drivers struggled to cope in absolutely no grip at all! 192 Ken Marriott certainly got it horribly wrong and went into the fence backwards on the opening lap resulting in extensive damage to his former Holden owned Anglia. Accidental bashes and scraps were unavoidable but 198 Andy Steward had the ability to add maximum downforce to the little grip his tyres had to take heat two just stealing the victory from long time leader McCabe.
Remarkably, despite his car looking more and more like a dishevelled sweet wrapper, 333 Lee Wood had managed to put his car back together in more or less the right place and in drying conditions again at the end of the day put it all together to win heat three.
Many had contrasting fortunes on Qualifying Day but two drivers were quietly consistent, namely 121 Charlie Schembri and 30 Jamie Bowring. Places in all races afforded these drivers a front fow start for the Big Race on Sunday. They were to be followed by Steward and McCabe on Row 2 and Marriott and Wood occupying Row 3.
But the Big Race was a whole day away and as much as the National Weekend is about racing, the social scene is just as important. After doing as much as was required to their race cars, many of the CHR drivers headed off to the local hostelry to enjoy the banter and race driver camaraderie that come from seasons and indeed years of racing together. Jokes and stories a plenty were swapped over food and drink and a good night was had by all. Drivers who had uncharacteristically struggled in qualifying were ribbed by fellows round the bar being described as “Tim Fox-slow” and “Darren Slow-ens!”
Sunday came with a huge improvement with the weather and as the morning moved on to early afternoon, the Classic Hot Rod drivers were confident in the set up that was required for the 30 lap race, if only their cars were up to it after the fortunes of Saturday!
With a brief level of fanfare the drivers took their places on the grid with Bowring on pole. After a lap to inject heat into the Avons, the pace car took the competitors on the slow rolling lap. The first attempt at the start however was aborted after the meeting steward declared that 121 Charlie Schembri had jumped the start.
The cars were brought to order than brought round for the second time of asking. This time there were no mistakes as Bowring floored it with perfect timing and led the charge pellmell down the home straight for the first time. Steward from row 2 dived to the inside of Schembri and in an instant was in second and up the back straight was raring after Bowring in car 30. Jamie, a tough driver who does not get intimidated lightly, sternly held his line as the first lap was completed. Steward was clearly in a hurry to get the hard work out of the way as soon as possible, get to the front and disappear into the distance and on to victory. This, however, was not how things worked out. Lap two, and into turn three on the west bend, Andy dived to the inside of Jamie and brought car 198 through. However the margin for room for this classic Steward manoeuvre was infinitesimal. Whether fault can be laid at one doorstep of the other, the combination of the rumble strips and car contact caused the 198 machine to whip around at high speed on the exit of turn four and crash rearwards into the plating.
The early exit for the pre-race favourite brought the race to an immediate halt and the meeting steward declared a complete re-start once again. The green dropped on a field where the form book had been laid wide open and once again Bowring stormed ahead to attempt to assert his authority. 6 Graham Fulker however was not reading any form book other than his own and in a car that he felt extremely happy with handling wise immediately bore down on Bowring trying to force a mistake out of the early race leader. In turn, 333 Lee Wood, in a battered but extremely fast Vauxhall Viva, had also sliced by McCabe and Schembri and was right up Fulker’s exhaust pipe. Battles developed separately in the middle order as a hard charging 8 Darren Owen made superb progress through the field tackling both his brother David and 45 Craig Boyd. McCabe and Schembri steadily slipped down the field and Charlie was involved in a race long duel with 144 Tim Foxlow and 192 Ken Marriott who was battling an ill handling mortally wounded car as much as anything.
Up ahead, it was all about the high speed chess battle between Bowing, Fulker and Wood. Lee explained later, “I knew I was quicker but equally I realised that Graham and Jamie would not make it easy for me to pass. I had to set the car up to pass clean at the right time. I looked at what Graham was doing, went into the corner a bit deeper to slingshot myself past. Luckily it worked on the back straight getting past Graham and a lap later I got past Jamie.” In passing Bowring, Wood had to quickly take the outside line past backmarker 31 Steve Gooding. Bowring looked to pass on the outside in the same way but on the apex of turns 3 and 4 elected his racing line a fraction too soon and the hapless Gooding made a breath of contact on car 30 sending Bowring into a spin.
Wood was away and clear, and although Bowring recovered some places in the last few laps it was 8 Darren Owen who continued to make progress tracked by 45 Craig Boyd. Both got passed the fading Fulker who admitted after ” My car starts well but fades grip and power wise. I engine defo needs a better racing head.”
Clear of any challenge 333 Lee Wood swept to a popular victory ahead of Owen and Boyd and all three drivers received a warm accolade on the victory lap. Lee put his victory down to a positive can do attitude. “I just love hot rod racing, I race with a great bunch of drivers and I enjoy racing and maintaining my car. I just want to thank my son Josh for his great help too. His application of copious amounts of gaffa tape helped me keep the car together! Couldn’t have done it without you Josh!”
The fine weekends racing was rounded off with a confident win for 88 Dave Owen in the all comers Grand national ahead of 6 Graham Fulker and 144 Tim Foxlow. Dave was delighted in taking his third win of the year at his local track, and it only served to enhance the saleability of the car. “The car is for sale at 10k. Its got a race proven Toovey engine in her and the car is well set up now for a new driver to win with it straight away.” Dave may have chosen to take a break from racing but he’ll have gone out on a high.