IPSWICH 27.6.15. National series Round Seven


“Viva Lee Wood!”

Twenty five Classic Hot Rods arrived early at Foxhall Stadium Ipswich early on Saturday morning eager and ready to be part of what was going to be the most anticipated meeting in the ten year history of Classic Hot Rod racing. Blessed with summer heat in and basking in glorious sunshine, the drivers were allotted to their pit space area in the leafy wooded pit area with the sun shining through the glades. It had been a long time in coming, but after patiently waiting and courting the eye of Spedeworth International with their steadily increasing number of registered drivers and putting on plenty of spectacular racing up and down the country, CHR were finally to take their place in the biggest Speedweekend in the oval racing world – the National Hot Rod World Championship. True, the classics had been there before back in 2006, when as an embryonic demonstration formula, sixteen old style rods had brought a wave of nostalgia to the racing public. But now, as a matured fully fledged competition class, the best old school drivers were at Ipswich to take on the challenge of racing for the third running of the Classic Hot Rod National Championship Final.

As the sun blazed, the heat of the day rose, the sound of cans being opened could be heard amongst drivers chatting and socialising before getting down to the business of giving their iconic classic race cars their final once over. Many drivers had worked supremely hard to be there, particularly following damage received just the previous weekend at Hednesford. The stories of continual late nights came from 72 Gary Goodswen, 57 Mike Oliver, 247 Graham McCabe and 333 Lee Wood. Their commitment and dedication to the formula has been truly remarkable. But the biggest example of the pure hard work put in to be able to be at Ipswich on Saturday came from out trio of Irish visitors, 156 Gerry Rothwell, 100 Kevin Feeney and 175 Andy O’Donnell. Away from home and faced with significant damage to the Feeney and O’Donnell machines, support to the drivers was made clear by their fellow English racers. Fortunately, the lads were able to use Feeney’s English work base. Replacement parts literally came at the last minute and every night was a late one! The Boys had no time for seeing the sights when they were on ‘holiday’ in England! But the feedback they received from so many fans that morning at Ipswich made them realise that the effort they had put in had been so worth it.

The new drivers, 721 Steve Kite and 210 Hughie Weaver, who had debuted to contrasting fortunes at Hednesford the previous Sunday were here, together with the affable 166 Dave Stevens who was making his third and final novice grade appearance. Choosing the Speedweekend to make his debut to the formula – jumping in at the deep end – was local man 48 Gary Farrington. It had been a long journey for Gary to get his car finally ready, but with the lustrous looking black, green and orange Mk2 Escort, displaying its deep shine in the gorgeous sunlight, it has certainly been worth the wait.

At the other end of the scale, seasoned top men 144 Tim Foxlow, 198 Andy Steward and defending champion 333 Lee Wood were there hoping to realise their chances. 271 Jamie Johnson was placing his faith in his Crossflow and it was good to see 192 Ken Marriott back with the formula after missing Hednesford and wondering weather to sell up or not. Delightfully, the Marriott Anglia, damaged at the May Hednesford session had been fully repaired and made resplendent once again in block red and shiny black wheels. Also making his return was 16 Pat Smith.

Obviously, all the competitors were looking forward to the days racing. Nervous, and waiting for the thrilling surge of adrenaline that all race car drivers get so addicted to, everyone was looking forward to putting on a good show in front of the traditional bumper Speedweekend crowd.
On schedule, all twenty five classics came out on track for heat one. The format for the National Championship was to be two clutch start heats, raced from graded order and the accumulated points scored would make the grid for a 25 lap final, rolling lap start, with the top point scorers at the front. To inject the essential heat into the Avon racing tyres, the drivers set out on two installation laps. Drama ensued immediately as Kevin Feeney found that the luck of the Irish had deserted him! His offside rear wheel was cast adrift as the studs sheared and the surprised and disappointed driver of the 100 car had no option but to retire to the infield.

The actual green flag saw the Crossflow and pinto powered machines lift the clutch and drop the hammer. From his first ever CHR white grade starting slot, new driver for 2015, 265 Ray Harding, immediately took the advantage round the outside of Co Meath’s 156 Gerry Rothwell. It was a story of a clean fast race on the hot Tarmac. Anglias held sway as Harding led from yellow grade starters 16 Pat Smith and 6 Graham Fulker. Further back 198 Andy Donut Steward was making his famed progress from superstar and defending National Champion 333 Lee Wood was eating up the laps in his famous HB Viva. Smith was to pass Harding but all credit to the man from Burgess Hill as he maintained a fast pace and a tidy line to stay clear of third placed Fulker. Kite, Farrington and ODonnell were retirees in this race with engine problems but on the Tarmac, the positions were maintained right towards the end. Wood got into the grove and found the pace on the outside to pass and in the last laps got by Fulker and Harding to nab second. Smith took the first race of the day.

Heat 1 – 16 Patrick Smith Jnr, 333, 265, 6, 72, 198, 22, 247, 210, 144

Heat two appeared a lot more feisty in the boiling late afternoon sunshine. Harding repeated his feat of an early lead but Smith seemed to appear out of nowhere at the drop of the green and by the third lap 16 was ahead of 265. Irishman 175 Andy O’Donnell had mad a solid start in this race. 31 Steve Gooding was going a million time better than he had done in his last visit to Ipswich in May, but of the yellow graders perusing Pat Smith and Ray Harding, it was 271 Jamie Johnson who looked the most impressive. The higher graded drivers were in the midst of a real tough battle further back and the likes of Foxlow, Wood and Steward were certainly not finding things going all their own way in heat two. This allowed Johnson to maintain his momentum, and with his home built Crossflow doing a barn dance, 271 got by Harding and started to eat into Smith’s lead. Now catching is one thing and passing is quite another, but the what ifs went flying out the window as the Jamie’s over energetic dancers decided to leave through the barn door! With a con rod bursting through the side of the block, oil was everywhere on turn one! Johnson was stewn across the turn, 22 Rob Montagner had spun too after some sparing with Andy Steward and 58 Steve Lumley glanced the racewall. The chequered flag dropped in that climatic moment but Smith was soon not declared the winner! The meeting steward had judged that on this occasion Smith had jumped the start and was docked two places. This resulted in 265 Ray Harding being rewarded with his first ever Classic Hot Rod race win. To say Ray was delighted was a huge understatement and with his fiftieth birthday just two days away, this race win was his perfect present!

Heat 2 – 265 Raymond Harding, 57, 16, 6, 198, 144, 8, 210, 156, 333

And so to the big event for Classic Hot Rods in 2015: the National Championship Final. The stage was set by Spedeworth with a fantastic party atmosphere. Terry Newell was spinning the tunes and as Tony Christie continued to bellow out ‘Amerillo’ and the shirtless party goers on turn three really got into the occasion, the line up for the race for the Gold Roof was completed. Naturally, 16 Pat Smith and 265 Ray Harding were on row one thanks to their heat wins and third places finishes. Row two saw 6 Graham Fulker and 198 Andy Steward. Row three was made up of defending Champion 333 Lee Wood and 57 Mike Oliver and row four featured 144 Tim Foxlow and 210 Hughie Weaver. Position and form surely indicated the winner would likely to come from these first four rows. With all respect to Harding, clearly it was a question of which of the big guns, Foxlow, Wood and Steward would be the main challenger to Smith’s lead.

The tension mounted as the pace cars led the field on their way with the Ipswich CHR rolling lap tune of Spanish Flea coming over loudly on the PA. The field got away first time and it was clear that the boys were really going for it in this one! Harding did well just to keep up the way as Steward launched his challenge on Smith’s lead and Smith did everything he could to stay ahead. Both drivers used every inch of track – and more – as they fought tooth and nail for the lead. Crunch time came as both drivers went wide for the same piece to track on lap four out of turn two. 198 tank slapped the wall and broke a rear axle link. Still at high speed and truely at the limit of adhesion, Donut sought to drive out of turn four for the infield – only to be just glanced by the HB Viva of Lee Wood who was going at absolute break neck speed on defence of his title himself. So, as one favourite’s chances were extinguished, another sought to bring his challenge to bear on the leader Smith, and thus developed on of the most iconic of Hot Rod races as the challenger did everything he could to out race and force a mistake from the leader. As Wood challenged Smith, the attack and defend manoeuvres allowed 57 Mike Oliver and 144 Tim Foxlow close up and the race for Gold developed into to a four way chase. As battles raged down the places with 210 Hughie Weaver going door handle sparing with 8 Darren Owen and 192 Ken Marriott wanting to take his CHR shale racing, the laps were ticking away! Classics don’t have the luxury of 75 laps to allow the pick of race manoeuvres and in the few that remained, Wood tried every trick up his sleeve. His late breaking move on the outside line giving the momentum to sweep up the inside oh so very nearly paid off but Smith resolutely stood his ground and at the death, 16 crossed the line half a cars length ahead of the defending champion.

With stewards instructions singing in their ears over the race receivers, no permission was granted for celebratory donuts and the first four were quickly brought to the infield. It was immediately announced that there would be some adjudication into the result and after several minutes made light by the continual party music and a Mexican wave from the sun drenched crowd, it was announced that the man first across the line was to be docked two places for contact with Steward. Ultimately, Smith was removed from the results altogether for post race conduct.

That aside, Lee Wood was naturally delighted to have been awarded the win, so defending his National Title successfully after all. With Oliver promoted to second and Foxlow third, all three drivers lapped up a popular reception on the lap of honour – a clear endorsement from the Speedweekend crowd as to just how much they had enjoyed the spectacular racing the Hottest Stars in the Coolest Cars had put on for them.

Final – 333 Lee Wood, 57 Mike Oliver, 144 Tim Foxlow, 210, 8, 6, 22, 265, 247, 192

With such feedback and accolade still ringing in the CHR collective ears, this formula sincerely looks forward to becoming a regular addition to the biggest and most successful oval race weekend of them all at Ipswich!

Rob Hughes

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