National Championships 2005, Hednesford, August 13/14
The Thompson twins triumph
Graham Brown reports: Following speculation in the programme about whether somebody named Thompson, either Ian or Steve, might win the Nationals, the pair wound up first and second respectively following one of the hardest fought races of recent years. And with Ian scoring a rookie victory, and Steve finishing runner up at only his second attempt, John Christie continued the theme of new blood success by lifting an outstanding – and it has to be said generally unexpected – third spot.
There was a fairly whopping entry which teetered on the brink of being 50 cars until a couple of last minute cancellations. Even so, 45 of them actually raced, and with Incarace only able to accommodate six heats due to time constraints, one thing there was never going to be was a shortage of cars on track!
Plenty of interest among that entry too, not least the NHR debut of Scots Stock rodder Davy Philp at the helm of Ricky Hunn’s spare Corsa. Andy Carlin was back in action after a long break in the family’s ex-Richardson 206 while son Lee takes a break himself. Ian McKellar was there for another welcome blast in the Team Haird TT, and Russell Wilcox was giving his ex-everybody (most recently Neal Smith – Malcolm Foskett) Fiesta an airing, while Ralph Sanders had his ex-Leon Fasey car repainted and sign written in his own slightly more familiar colours.
There was a massive Irish invasion from both sides of the border, which included ROI racers James O’Shea, Pat and Tom Casey, Mike Riordan, Joey Butler, Les Compelli, Mike Riordan, Des Cooney, Neville Stanley, Shane Murphy, Barry English, Malcolm Clein and Pat Canavan.
The North weighed in with all three Woolseys, John Christie, Keith Martin, Stewart Doak and Thompson too of course. Even more of an international flavour was added by the appearance of Winnie Holtmanns, who will soon be able to manage more than just the odd word of English if he spends much more time here!
In fact, we had almost anybody who is anybody in National Hot Rod racing in the pits, with just a few exceptions, most notably Nigel Steward (illness), Phil Spinks (working at Olympia), Mike Thurley (harvesting) and Clive Richardson (undisclosed).
So with all those cars in place ready for a weekend of action and six full quality races laid out in front of us, Saturday’s racing seemed set fair to be an absolute classic. Well, even if you weren’t there, you can probably guess what happened next – oh yes; rain.
The drizzle which had started around 9 am had converted to the forecasted real thing by late morning, and was still hard at it when start time rolled around.
It was two of the Southern Irishmen who splashed away into the heat one lead, with Cooney leading and Pat Casey second until he went very wide leaving the East bend, allowing Chris Haird, Stanley, Ricky Hunn and Rob Hadfield through. Stanley adopted an extremely wide line which eventually gifted third to Hunn. As the leaders headed into backmarking traffic Haird closed up to have a go at Cooney while Hunn closed in on the pair of them. Things looked to be shaping up for a grandstand finish, but in the end, Cooney began to draw clear of Haird again and Hunn couldn’t quite get on terms so that was how they finished. Wayne Woolsey doesn’t look to have inherited his dad’s detestation of the wet incidentally, as he got home in fourth.
The rain was falling even harder for heat two, in which Norman Woolsey underlined his love of rainy conditions by pirouetting on the first lap. The race kicked off with a ’04 v ’05 world champions battle, Blackman leading Martin. It was Tom Casey against Steve Thompson for third/fourth and, as might have been expected, Andy Steward was going like a train from his rear of grid start.
As the rain intensified Canavan and Murphy both crunched into the West bend barriers. The leaders started to spread out a little, with Casey dropping Thompson and then overhauling Martin for second. Carl Boardley put the Tigra ahead of Thompson too while Martin fell off the lead pace as his car went sick, undoubtedly with wet electrics.
Seven laps from home Casey got up with Blackman and applied some pressure for a while, but was eventually defeated by simple lack of vision when he got swamped with spray from the leader’s car. And if Norman Woolsey was as unhappy as ever in the rain, it clearly doesn’t bother the boys much, with Gary putting in a sterling performance this time to claim fifth.
With the rain still persisting down for heat three, there only ever looked one winner, with Steward parked on the outside of row two. He might well have been bemoaning a lack of decent wet tyres, but still took less than a lap to get in the lead and never looked anything other than very comfortable staying there throughout.
As for the rest, it was Andy Holtby and Ian Thompson who were carving up second between them, with Thompson going by eventually as they rounded the West bend. That wasn’t the end of it though, as Holtby came back at the Ulsterman hard when they encountered traffic and regained the place with a classy outside pass, only to have Thompson relegate him again when they had to deal with another back marker.
All this was allowing the fourth placed Boardley to close in fast, and he too managed to pass the hard trying Holtby nearing the finish. By then most eyes were on Thompson, who very nearly got on terms with the leader in the dying seconds but eventually ran out of laps.
Although the track was still very wet, the sun had emerged by the time the fourth heat came on track. Wets were still the tyre of choice, so naturally, no one on the grid was best pleased by a delay to the start. This was caused by Tom Casey having apparently come out for the wrong heat and then refusing to leave the track when asked. For the normally placid Casey to be this adamant about something, there clearly had to be a problem of some sort, one Tom himself later laughingly described as “A language barrier!”. During the draw he’d become convinced he’d got “D10” when in fact he should have been “C10”, and as both he and the ‘real’ D10 (Riordan) had so far been showing up for the correct races, it had taken a while to come to light.
When they did get going, the blinding sunshine wasn’t helping drivers or officials much, but Murphy made the best of it initially to take the lead. Wayne Woolsey obviously still felt the wide outside was the way to go however, and proved it by taking over at the front along the back stretch. Murphy lost a further place when Colin Smith went through and another to Blackman later on.
Blackman was clearly in the groove by this stage and overhauled Smith too with six to go. Like Thompson in the previous race however, he ran out of time to do anything other than narrow the gap between himself and the leader.
The oval was bone dry when qualifier five rolled around, bringing with it a phenomenal increase in speeds, even more than might be expected normally. Maybe it was something to do with all that rain having washed the asphalt exceptionally clean, perhaps added to the cool damp air now available to the motors. But whatever the reason, by the end of the evening lap times were falling into lap record areas.
The higher speeds brought about an increased number of incidents too. Things started badly for Holtby and Wayne Woolsey, who both ended up in the West bend Armco, and it wasn’t long before the yellows were waving for Norman Woolsey and Canavan, who were propping up the barriers at the other end in a dodgy spot.
The RoI pairing of Barry English and James O’Shea were in charge up to and beyond the caution period, but with the cars closed up for the restart, third man Boardley suddenly looked ‘the man most likely to’.
Carl got the jump on O’Shea the moment the green came out, James staying in touch until a ‘moment’ leaving the West bend allowed Philp, McKellar and Dick Hillard by. Further back, Cooney went spinning with some help from Tom Casey as Boardley set about relieving English of the lead. While Carl busied himself with that, McKellar found a way past Philp and took Hillard through with him. Boardley piled the pressure on the leader, English having a bit of a swoon as he left the East bend. Boardley went for the resulting gap and the pair made contact, English falling back to fourth by the time he’d recovered with Boardley getting the lead but a black cross to go with it.
Black cross or not, Boardley was off and running once in front. He swiftly pulled out a quarter of a lap gap over what was becoming an increasingly hard dice for second between McKellar and Hillard, with Christie now fourth and closing on those ahead too. Such was Boardley’s pace that he’d extended his lead to almost half a lap by flag fall, but that didn’t save him from a two place docking for the incident with English, the penalty therefore handing the win to McKellar.
The final heat didn’t start well, with two crashes and two restarts. The first was sparked off by a collision between Colin Smith and Murphy and quickly involved Sanders and Clein too. Murphy was in the wars the second time as well, Compelli, Riordan and Blackman also becoming entangled.
When the race finally got underway for keeps, it was Doak leading with Matt Simpson second ahead of Hughie Weaver, Steve Burgess, Neil Stimson and Ian Thompson. Thompson was looking really handy by this stage and was soon up to third, taking over second before too much longer. Doak still had a healthy enough lead, or at least, he did until Billy Bonnar spun on the West bend exit and obstructed the leader as he went round. That was all it took for Thompson to hit the front.
It was initially a short lived lead however, as the yellows came out for Bonnar and closed everyone up, with the order behind Thompson now Doak, Stimson and Tom Casey. Thompson made an electric start though with Stimson able to catch Doak napping as well, Stuart going down another place when Casey nipped past too.
Thompson looked to have it all wrapped up until he suddenly slowed entering the last bend. Stimson and Casey were now at it for second but fortunately for the leader, were just too far back to take advantage of his last minute loss of speed.
With qualifying over, the importance of putting together three good results was underlined yet again once the grids were compiled. Despite having won nothing at all so far, Blackman was sat on pole with Boardley alongside, an almost entirely predictable front row really. Casey accompanied by Haird on row two certainly wasn’t though, and there was plenty of interest not far behind either. Wayne Woolsey/Doak row three, Martin and Ian Thompson (despite missing one heat altogether) row four, McKellar (still showing his class) and Steve Thompson row five and Hillard/Christie (starting to show his) on the sixth rank.
It took a little while to get the race going, with several last minute problems. Martin had had problems with his brakes even before the grid formed up, and once it did, Steward was forced to retire with clutch trouble. Then Riordan had to cure a misfire and sadly we lost McKellar at the last minute with a flat he discovered too late to effect a change. Steward and McKellar’s problems allowed reserves Mike Oliver and O’Shea to join in, and then they were off.
Predictably Blackman snatched the lead from the drop of the green with Casey keeping Boardley back in third, Haird, Wayne Woolsey, Martin, Doak and Thompson the next to stream through. With Doak stuck on the outside he got railroaded back a whole bunch of places while somewhere in the frantic opening laps, Woolsey got his right rear bodywork punched up onto the tyre. He tried to continue with smoke pouring from the car but a black flag and eventual deflation of the tyre at the same time put him on the infield.
Up front Blackman, Casey and Boardley were tied together vying for the lead with a gap back to Haird, Martin, Ian Thompson, Steve Thompson, Doak, Hillard and Christie. It wasn’t long before the leaders were in traffic, but negotiation of the back markers changed nothing about the order. Once back on open road for a bit, Blackman started to drop his pursuers and Martin overtook Haird, who looked to be in some kind of trouble for a while as both the Thompson’s went by too.
Next Doak had a spin crossing the start/finish which cost him six places, shortly before Boardley finally put a successful pass on Casey to go second. Another Woolsey car – Gary’s – was trailing smoke now and he was forced to abdicate twelfth place shortly before mid-distance.
At that halfway point, Blackman was still leading but with Boardley closing fast, Casey and Martin were dicing for third, it was Thompson versus Thompson for fifth, then Haird, well clear of Hillard and Christie carrying on a long dispute over eighth, Burgess, Simon Bentley and Doak, with Stuart now the last car on the lead lap.
Once Boardley caught Blackman, the race was on with a vengeance and it really did look as though whoever got the best of this battle would take the title. In and out of traffic they went with Blackman always in front but Boardley all over him and trying inside, outside, anywhere for a pass.
But the pace was starting to tell now as the infield became littered with retirements. Compelli, Cooney and Stimson all departed in quick succession, then Martin’s car started a smoke trail which looked suspiciously like a big brake problem and he too was gone before long.
Still the lead dice raged on, with Boardley heaping on the pressure and continuously looking up the outside until he actually bit the bullet and hauled himself alongside. But the battle had been slowing the pair of them down, and suddenly, Casey was back there with them, forcing Carl to stay outside whether he wanted to or not. This was the pivotal moment; if Boardley got by now….
But he didn’t. This race was notorious for destroying braking systems as long ago as the 1970’s and despite the technical advances since then, it still is. As they hared down the home straight Carl hit the brakes going into the East bend and had the pedal go to the floor with no warning. That he only smote the wall a glancing a blow was a miracle, but he still couldn’t stop the stricken Tigra rolling back off and down onto the racing line right on the exit. Those following had no chance. By the time the reds were out, Oliver, English, Hillard, Stanley and O’Shea had all joined a pile up that added considerably to the list of retirements.
The restart was bound to be interesting, with Blackman, Casey, and now Ian and Steve Thompson all closed up. Casey left a gap just as the green flew and Thompson was in it in a flash. Tom’s attempt to shut him out sent him spinning and into retirement once the yellows came out again, as Clein had rotated too.
The final restart probably produced the surprise of the race and not incidentally, sealed the fate of the win too. Blackman’s previous stranglehold on the lead ended when he somehow gave Thompson the room to sneak under him, taking namesake Steve through with him. Malcolm clearly wasn’t beaten yet and stayed right with them, but now the leader was steadily pulling clear.
Further back, young Christie put a successful pass on Haird and obviously hadn’t given up the idea yet of being on the podium himself. When Blackman tried to retake Steve Thompson round the outside it was all the invitation Christie needed to duck underneath and claim third. He was game to try and relive Thompson of second too, and was still trying when the flag fell to signal Ian Thompson’s rookie victory.
Thompson later revealed how close he’d come to not winning, stating that he’d settled for a lowly finish (if he finished at all) due to his brakes hardly working before the late stoppages gave them time to cool. His car was also leaking petrol from a holed fuel line while the presentations were going on.
John Christie was perhaps the revelation of the weekend, and proved conclusively that talent still matters above all else if you have enough of it. After a week spent scrounging parts from all over to repair the engine (he broke the crank at Nutts Corner the previous weekend) he showed up at Hednesford towing behind an aging Fiat and proceed to keep the car running with a boot full of decidedly second hand looking tools. No compressor, no coach, no awning, obviously not much money, oh and, no Ormond to tell him what to do either. Just bags of enthusiasm and a driver who can drive.
George Polley, watching one of the wet heats, was seriously impressed with the junior Christie and commented: “Look how smooth he is! His dad must have taught him well.” Personally, I think Ormond has actually taught John very little, with the possible exception of self-reliance….
The final footnote to the weekend was the now traditional Grand National event, a chance for those who’ve done less than brilliantly to grab some glory for themselves. No one was more determined to do that than Canavan, who started on pole and was revving the motor fit to bust long before the green flag came out. From the moment he left twin tyre marks virtually all the way to turn one, there was only going to be one winner here. Graham Brown
Heat 1: 921 115 639 50 996 303 967 467
Heat 2: 911 961 994 41 940 170 61 198
Heat 3: 198 901 41 61 996 111 85 985
Heat 4: 50 911 491 970 115 940 994 170
Heat 5: 96 31 41(X-2) 962 59 984 115 57
Heat 6: 901 271 961 996 286 142 911 994
National Championship Final: 1: 901 Ian Thompson
2: 170 Steve Thompson
3: 962 John Christie 4: 911 Malcolm Blackman 5: 59 Simon Bentley 6: 996 Stewart Doak 7: 115 Chris Haird 8: 286 Steve Burgess
Grand National: 939 141 985 911 142 491 50 921