Haird is Euromeister at Lochgelly
Former world champion Chris Haird lifted the 2013 European title at Lochgelly Raceway on the first staging of the event in Scotland for more than two decades. Haird turned up the heat after a stoppage in the final to record a convincing victory, chased home by Ulstermen Keith Martin (himself a former European title holder) and Adam Maxwell.
Despite being without the reigning champion Sean Murphy, there was still a healthy entry which turned up to do battle on what, for many of them, was their first sight of the superb Fife facility.
That healthy entry was mostly made up from English, Scottish and Northern Irish drivers, but with absolutely zero participation from Southern Ireland. Quite why that was I have no idea. Most notable of the absentees was of course the aforementioned Murphy, who I think most people had been looking forward to seeing defend his title – I certainly had, anyway.
Just the same, twenty seven cars mixed in a still fairly cosmopolitan style, were certainly enough to have some fun. In no particular order Jason Kew, David Brookes, Gavin Murray, Colin Gomm, Chris Haird, Kym Weaver, Danny and Terry Hunn and Danny Fiske went in to bat for the English, while the Ulstermen comprised World and National champion Glenn Bell, Mark Heatrick, John Christie, Adam and Tommy Maxwell, Keith Martin, Stewart Doak, Gary Woolsey and Andrew Murray. Ranged against them for the ‘home team’ were Rob McDonald (yes, I know where he races normally), John Sibbald, Graeme Callender, Billy Bonnar, Craig McLaren, Ian Donaldson, Jim Cowie and Ian McGuigan. Plus we had one very welcome continental visitor, Winnie Holtmanns having made the long trek to represent his native Germany.
Mind you, there should have been a further English entry, in the shape of Shaun Taylor, Shaun having unfortunately blown his engine in Friday’s free practice session. Always a bit of a gutter to travel hundreds of miles and not even make a start in one heat, but sod’s law does seem to state that you do have to go to another country to scatter an engine, it can never be a track just up the road!
So….Lochgelly. I already had a fair idea this was not going to be like just any other oval and, as Neil has so eloquently described elsewhere, it most certainly isn’t. I can’t really add all that much to his description apart from joining in the general praise of the pits, scrutineering bay, race control building, café and food (the home-made soup was ace!) race view parking, friendly and helpful staff, etc, etc. I will just say that the toilets not only had toilet paper in them at all times but it was quilted toilet paper into the bargain! I can’t say that’s something I’ve ever encountered before at any race track (no, not even Rockingham) and certainly adds weight to HRP’s claim that W.D.D.F.A. Believe me, they definitely don’t! They even have one man employed to continuously litter pick and keep the immaculate toilets immaculate throughout the meeting and supplied with the aforementioned paper. “33 rolls I put in there yesterday”, he proudly told me at one point.
Although, strictly speaking, Lochgelly Raceway (they’ve done away with the rather quaint Thunder Valley moniker used by the track’s builders) is really Willie Hardie’s pigeon, I was buttonholed by his dad fairly early on Saturday, Charlie insisting that when I’d been all over the stadium, he wanted to know every single last thing I didn’t like or would change. Of course, when people are clearly trying so hard and equally clearly have already spent an absolute fortune, one is tempted to be as nice as possible and apply sugar to any bitter pills too. But this was obviously not what Charlie wanted and he came back to find me on Sunday afternoon to hear the verdict in detail.
OK, so I think we all knew already that having a ‘weeper’ continuously leeching water out of the newly constructed back straight race-view terracing and onto the track at the exit from turn two was hardly ideal, so naturally I brought that up. ‘First job for tomorrow morning’, he growled. That had clearly impressed him about as much as the only partly operative (and very expensive) digital camera system in race control! I’m betting whoever installed that may well have been ‘notified’ about the rectification work needed by now…Then I mentioned about the nice looking, but very unpleasant if not actually dangerous to walk on, shingle covering the far end of the terraces. ‘We didn’t put that there and don’t like it either – second job’ was the response to that one. Les has already posted a photo on Facebook of the new concrete replacement terracing going in, by the way.
I’d left the likely-to-be-touchy subject of the track itself being too short, too narrow, an odd shape (unless somebody was trying to copy Aldershot-Tongham) and a bit ‘undulating’ till last. After all, the Hardies didn’t build it to start with, it’s not going to be easy to change and, what’s more, making the oval too user-friendly for Nationals is not necessarily going to get the best out of the contact formulas. Suffice to say that, although the thought of altering the existing track would clearly not bother HRP very much, there is going to be what the National Speedway Directory might refer to as a ‘Lochgelly 2’ in the future. Watch this space…
From a spectating standpoint, I found the track, with its one hundred per cent elevated spectator areas, and the entire oval arena thus sunken into a bit of a bowl, most reminded me of St Columb. However, any further similarities pretty much ended right there.
So, to the racing.
With early evening sunshine and a relative lack of wind combining to create conditions that pass for ‘warm’ in Scotland (certainly in April), a good night’s racing certainly looked in prospect. I was also looking forward to seeing how close to daylight the huge floodlighting towers were going make things when darkness fell!
While Callender was very slow away at the green flag, Bell instantly turned pole into the lead, just as one might have expected. But before he could really start work on extending his lead, Heatrick came flying into turn three (my vantage point for this one) backwards, airborne, and missing a wheel! Red flags for this certainly weren’t a shock, Brookes getting disqualified for causing the rumpus and Sibbald having to briefly vacate his car which was thought to perhaps be on fire – all rather a lot of drama for a race which was hardly a lap old.
The re-start was headed away by Bell once more with Kew keeping him close company. Right behind them McDonald and Gavin Murray were hard at it for third with Murray going past into turn four, only to have McDonald return the favour at the same spot on the very next lap! It was all rather reminiscent of the first time the Nationals went back to Skegness; nobody really knew what they were doing or what line to take, leading to lots of mistakes and therefore lots of overtaking.
Sibbald collected a blue flag for delaying Christie, John eventually driving around the outside to go by at the slippery turn two exit, with a very confident looking Haird right in his wheel tracks.
Kewy kept the pressure on Bell hard until he was able to pull off a superb sleight-of-hand pass between turns three and four, snaking between the leader and a backmarker to hit the front going onto the home straight.
Murray and McDonald were also able to relegate Bell while Haird was looking ominously quick now as he raced past Christie in a three wide moment going down the back straight, and believe me, there really isn’t much room for that sort of thing at Lochgelly! They did all manage to get away with that but another hiatus was coming in any case with yellow flags being thrown when McLaren smacked the back straight wall hard.
This latest pause had no effect on Kew’s lead position but definitely looked like it had made life awkward for Bell whose line was taking him through the water (and probably anti-freeze) left by McLaren’s crash. Every time Glenn sped past the scene, a little mist of spray came up from his outside wheels with an increasingly sideways entry into turn three the result. This left Glenn sixth by the end with McDonald and Haird second and third.
Weaver and Martin duelled for the lead at the start of heat two, the pair soon to be joined by local expert Donaldson, but this was another race which was going to be interrupted by caution flags. Kew and Fiske had already got together in front of race control and done some synchronised spinning before both of them got going again, Fiske collecting a black cross as well. But the pair were going to come together again a couple of laps later, this time clashing with Tommy Maxwell along the back straight as they tried to un-lap themselves. This was what got the yellows another airing, Callender and Brookes (losing large quantities of water from the Puma) departing to the infield during this pause.
The re-start enabled the sharp-looking Donaldson to get the jump on Martin, the Scot looking for all the world like he was going to take Weaver for the lead as well (Kym was already being blue flagged) until his isolator switch chose just that moment to cut out.
Weaver and Martin then resumed their fight for the lead, the battle coming to a dead stop on the penultimate lap when Weaver’s brakes failed, plunging him hard into the wall at turn three and ending the race under yellow and then red flags. Gomm also stopped at the same place, Colin having smacked the wall hard in a ‘lack of room left’ incident which mullered both wheels on the left side and gave him a brief visit with the medicos as well.
Having professed a dislike for the track after practice and then suffering those spins in his first heat, Fiske had obviously had a word with himself prior to heat three. The Diss man took off like a rocket at the green and never allowed anyone remotely near him for the duration.
Second spot came down to a fight between Holtmanns and Adam Maxwell, with Adam eventually making it past down the inside into turn one, and going on to finish about a quarter of a lap down to Fiske.
There was still plenty to watch further back though, where McGuigan was dicing with Haird, Christie and Andy Murray (all of whom made their way past in the end) while even further back there was a good scrap going on between a big bunch involving Woolsey, Doak, Gavin Murray, McDonald, Bell and Danny Hunn.
Spurred on by the presence of Christie on his bumper, Haird was still grafting hard at trying to get nearer the front when he found he couldn’t take fourth spot away from Terry Hunn except by the less favoured outside route. A loud bang signalled that Chris had slapped the wall along the back stretch, the move outside eventually allowing Christie past and then Andy Murray. Haird didn’t give up trying to take them both back again (and got a rare black cross to prove how hard he was trying) and finally re-passed Christie, couldn’t re-pass Murray and gained a place back anyway when Hunn got a penalty – whew!
All of this meant that Haird already seemed like a good bet for the win once he’d annexed pole for the final but it didn’t look like it was ever going to be too easy with quick Ulster racers Murray, Martin and Adam Maxwell all around him.
Haird was the first to break and had already established a healthy lead when both Hunns and McGuigan clashed at turn one, although without managing to block the track. With a yellow thus avoided, the rest pressed on, Martin, Kew, Andy Murray and Adam Maxwell all disputing the places. It was during this that Kew and Murray got together with the now backmarking Terry Hunn, who was still not quite back up to speed and minding his own business going onto the back straight. As Kew and Murray became locked together, they clouted Hunn into a half-spin-cum-T-bone situation, the three of them grinding to a halt out by the barriers about three quarters of the way to turn three. It looked to me as though they might be just about far enough off the line to be safe but, with race control already broadcasting Raceceiver warnings, Cowie and Bonnar ran into the others at full chat, creating a monumental crash involving all five cars and totally wiping out the mounts of Bonnar and Murray.
Following some medical assistance for Billy, a necessarily lengthy clean-up operation, two dust-off laps and a cut in total distance by five laps, the race resumed.
Now Haird got his head down and the concentration control turned up to a ten as he swiftly left Martin and co. behind and simply got further and further ahead, only tapping off once he saw the five lap board. “Och, he was just playing with them”, commented an admiring Scots fan standing next to me, and he had it about right.
There was still plenty to watch behind him though, with Martin and Maxwell doing their best to keep the leader in sight, while Woolsey, Gavin Murray, Doak, Christie, Bell and Fiske were all involved in a hot places dispute. It was Bell who finally got the best of this scrap to claim fourth spot after taking a chance and a dive over the turn four rumble strips in order to pass Woolsey when several blue flags directed at #940 weren’t having the desired effect.
As they came for the flag, the cruising Haird was still comfortably ahead of Martin, around a quarter of a lap up on Adam Maxwell, around half a lap ahead of Bell, who had a big gap then between himself and the still duelling Woolsey and Gavin Murray, Fiske and Christie, with no-one else on the lead lap.
Not surprisingly, it was a somewhat depleted field that was going to race for Sunday’s revived Scottish Open Championship, where once again we were blessed with some pleasant weather, involving lots of sunshine, quite a bit of wind, and one short shower which didn’t manage to put too much of a dampener on proceedings. Something which did, however, was waking up to the sad news of Nick Thomas’ death. Deane Wood had told me the previous day that he thought the end was nigh, but I don’t think even he thought it was going to be that very night.
I have to say that I found this very upsetting, and still do. Not only was Nick a good friend, he was a man for whom nothing ever seemed too much trouble. My life would have been very difficult on many a bank holiday without Nick chucking me the keys to his office at Foxhall and telling me to just plug in my lap top and work in there, and this was only one small thing he did that helped me out so much. We had a lot of laughs together down the years and some really enjoyable times at the NEC, when Nick would be on the Spedeworth stand with us, always with a fund of outrageous stories and gossip.
It also quite simply does not seem possible that he has been taken from us so quickly. The last time I saw him, he was still the same old Nick, in fine form and fettle, laughing and joking as usual, and I still can’t really imagine going to Ipswich and him not being there. We had long ago reached the conclusion that we must be the only two people who’d been at every World Final. We both kept thinking ‘Oh, so-and-so must have been at every one surely’, but when you asked, there had always been a holiday which couldn’t be cancelled, or something else which had prevented a full house. So we were a bit of an endangered species by the look of it and I rather thought we both had a few more to see yet; sadly, I was wrong.
Following a moving tribute to Nick with a minute’s applause before the commencement of the meeting, Sunday’s racing got underway with the events of the afternoon dedicated to the memory of another fine National Hot Rod person who was also taken far too soon, Scottish hero, Malcolm Chesher.
That depleted field I mentioned meant that there was really no alternative but to make the heats two ‘all in’ rather than three split.
The first of these looked like being something of a gift for Donaldson, as he’d drawn pole and had looked quite capable of winning the previous evening even when having to come from behind. He did indeed take the initial lead too but was being pestered by Gavin Murray all the way, the East Anglian going in front at turn four a few laps before the yellows came out after Adam Maxwell and Holtmanns had collided on the back straight and become stuck in the wall.
The restart saw Murray and Donaldson run to the finish still in the premier places, with everybody lucky to avoid a heavy downpour which helpfully waited until the race was finished before turning the track into a skating rink for the Saloon Stock Cars instead.
With Haird having only got home seventh in that first heat he needed to make something out of the second one and, with a row three start, that did seem a distinct possibility.
There were still spits of rain in the wind but nothing to really worry about when Martin led heat two away, with Adam Maxwell and Haird immediately busy scrapping over third spot. Chris piled the pressure on in heaps until finally rewarded with an opening down the inside going through turns three-four, which translated into a pass at the other end. The small advantage Martin had as a lead was soon gobbled up, and Haird’s confidence was definitely showing as he went outside and deliberately drove over the (admittedly dusted) ‘weeper’ two laps running before darting down the leader’s inside along the home straight to wrap it up.
Once again, there was the briefest of showers after the finish, keeping our luck with the weather going strong.
With the new Euro champ having again claimed pole for the final, it was no real shock to see him fend off an early challenge from fellow front row man Kew and then simply pull clear to take the Scottish Open title as well and with it, the inaugural Malcolm Chesher Memorial trophy.
Saturday 27/4 European Championships
Heat one: 174,117,115,95,962,9,278,76,994,844,700,308,629. NOF
Heat two: 994,940,996,997,369,339,467,77,39,174. NOF
Heat three: 304,76,467,997,115,
Final: 115,994,76,9,940,95,304,962,467,629. NOF
Sunday 28/4 Scottish Open Championship for the Malcolm Chesher Memorial Trophy.
Heat one: 95,700,117,940,174,996,115,962,994,339,369,629,77,871,76. NOF
Heat two: 115,76,994,174,629,940,962,117,700,871,77. NOF
Final: 115,174,940,962,76,117,871,369,339,467,77. NOF
39 dropped two places for contact in heat three, Saturday.
Note that all results & penalties are subject to official confirmation.