Blackman’s first National
Hednesford Hills Raceway, Saturday/Sunday 4th/5th August
Graham Brown reports: Malcolm Blackman successfully fended off the challenge from Carl Boardley to take his first ever National championship victory, the two fighting for the lead throughout the 75-lap classic.
The big entry from all over the UK and Ireland certainly needed the six heats scheduled for Saturday – in fact – exactly as we said last year, even the eight heats once seen at the Nats might not have gone amiss.
Although the car count was very slightly restricted this year, by the fact that Incarace were forced to close the entry some days prior to the event due to lack of pit space, the number of cars available was still testimony to the relatively healthy current state of National Hot Rod racing generally.
And this was despite a degree of unrest presently within the driving strength, mostly with regard to rumours surrounding the numbers of cars which might be on track at any given time in the coming (English) qualifying rounds. Mark you, this was nothing compared to the reaction in the pits when problems arose with regard to the tyre marking procedure in scrutineering.
This all started because one member of the scrutineering team had not been briefed about what exactly constitutes an “old” tyre. This does not simply mean “looks like it’s been used”, but actually, “must have a scrutineering mark on it from a previous meeting”. It was as simple as that. Well, almost. Of course, the teams know perfectly well what “old” means here, so how come some of them showed up at scrutineering with tyres which had been used or scrubbed in practice but never marked, hmmm? But like dropping a pebble in a pond, it is not necessarily the initial mistake or splash that is impressive, but the way the ripples spread out from it.
I’m certainly not in the business of apportioning blame here, nor am I really interested in making anybody’s excuses for them. There was a time (long, long ago) when I would be sat on the terraces, and always expected the bad guys to get what was coming, the good guys to win, that nobody cheated, and the steward always saw everything that went on. In other words, everything was either black or white and shades of grey were for other people.
I’d probably been ingesting too much of a certain substance (naughty, I’m talking about Castrol ‘R’, what did you think I meant!?) and was still walking around with an unhealthy dose of 1960’s naivety.
Sadly, out here in the real world I’ve discovered things do go wrong, life isn’t always fair, people sometimes make mistakes and there’s no Father Christmas.
Any promotion faced with a huge weekend meeting, involving hundreds of drivers and pit crews, and multiple different formulas, is under immense pressure. And unless you’ve ever tried it from the inside, you don’t have an opinion, sorry. There are rarely enough staff with the right skills anyway, and when tired and pressured people are trying to multi-task at a meeting like that, sometimes somebody mis-cues. Sh*t happens. Get over it.
What we should all be remembering, is that Incarace gave us two sun-filled days of great racing, including eight National races, one of which was the best National championship I’ve seen in a wee while.
Just as last year, the pits had a very cosmopolitan feel, as there were no less than 24(!) Irish cars on hand, an even twelve each from the North and the Republic. This was a tremendous effort from all concerned and proves just how popular this event has become. In fact, the visitors actually outnumbered the ‘home team’, even with two Scots included, but this still all added up to a mighty impressive 45 cars in total, one more than last year even with the early closure on entries. There could still have been more too, with one driver missing the booking deadline, Simon Bentley forced to cancel and Eddie Foott failing to arrive. Andy Holtby had his car sat in the pits ‘just in case’, but in the end was simply too busy having a baby to actually race. Well alright, not actually him, but you know what I mean!
What with all the if’s, but’s and maybe’s who in the end didn’t race, there will one day be over 50 cars show up for this, if the entry remains un-capped. Do you think if we got a large enough Portapower on those pits…..
Heat one saw Chris Haird out in the lead by the third lap, with Matt Simpson chasing him once he too had overhauled Gavin Murray. Shane Murphy and Keith Martin were the next to come upon Murray, but Martin went very deep into the West bend and Murphy got black crossed for shoving him out there, before he too went by Murray. Martin pulled off with a flat, while Boardley got up with Murphy, spurring him on to catch Simpson in the closing stages.
With two to go Haird looked like he had it sewn up, and there was still all to play for regarding second, but at the flag it was still Simpson from Murphy and Boardley. Although Shane was originally docked a couple places, mostly for the ‘incident’ with Martin, he got the penalty overturned on a protest, not least because it transpired Keith’s ‘moment’ and subsequent retirement had been caused by a separating split rim and rapidly deflating tyre.
After an early dice between Ivan McMillan and John Christie ended in tears, it was Phil Spinks who darted through to take the lead in heat two. McMillan and Christie both lost huge amounts of ground after their collision, and it was Stewart Doak and Steve Thompson who gave chase to the leader. Orey Stanley was giving a good account of himself in fourth spot, but without doubt the fastest thing on the track was the 911 car, Blackman making huge strides in the right direction from his back-of-the-grid start.
Stanley’s car had been smoking for a while, but when it suddenly worsened, he was black flagged off. That left Ian Thompson in fourth with Blackman fifth and still looking for better. Approaching the finish, Steve Thompson made a big effort to get up with Doak and finally managed to snitch second at the line from a virtual dead heat. Spinks was a quarter of a lap ahead of them by then, while Ian Thompson successfully parried Blackman’s attentions for fourth.
Heat three saw Gary Woolsey make the break at the green, but soon had his mirrors full of Mike Riordan as the pair left Ronnie McMillan, Keith Martin and Doak trailing. Nothing much changed about this mob for most of the race, other than that Woolsey and Riordan continued to get further ahead of McMillan. By the time the five lap board came out, Martin and Doak had both made it past, with Haird also having relegated Ronnie a further position. Riordan had obviously been gathering himself for one big final effort and came back at Woolsey hard on the run in to the flag, all to no avail however. Over a quarter of a lap back Martin claimed third, he in turn another quarter of a lap in front of Doak.
The fourth heat was going to be Blackman’s almost all the way. He swiftly relieved Alan Wilson of his early lead and then got going in earnest. Malcolm might just have been a little surprised to find that the one member of the pack he couldn’t easily shake off, was Joey Butler, the Southern Irishman staying totally in touch for quite a time.
But it was to be another ROI driver who eventually caught and passed Butler, Murphy having worked his way through from tenth place on the grid in some style. Shane went on to record a telling second spot, only a very short way behind Blackman by the finish. Butler still did alright out of this with third, even if he was nearly half a lap adrift of Murphy by then. Also going well was fourth man Mark McKinstry who got home still ahead of Boardley.
Heat five developed into a tooth-and-nail scrap between Andy Steward and Boardley, but only after Carl had survived a pointed attack from Ian Thompson, who had tried to go by down the outside in an opportunistic move during the opening laps. The world champion soon put a stop to that, but still had to fight his way past the once again impressive Tommy Maxwell before he could square up to Steward.
Boardley had time to try several outside passes – all frustrated – before Colin Smith battled his way into third and began closing on the leaders. Then Richard Spavins took a spin coming off the West bend and got hit hard by Les Compelli, bringing out the yellows. Thompson had also had a spin earlier, and found himself positioned between Boardley and Smith as a back marker for the restart. This situation didn’t do Smith any favours, and even once he’d got shot of Thompson, Colin found himself under the cosh from a different direction, as Phil Spinks put pressure on from behind.
Steward managed to successfully defend his lead to the death, a death which came slightly early as the chequered and red flags came out together, James O’Shea’s car having caught fire while parked on the infield. And although it may not have been an especially spectacular drive, the fact that Murphy was running fifth at the time turned out to be crucial in the final analysis.
With the front row all to himself, Tom Casey looked odds on for the win in the final heat, and it was he who duly led the way at the off. But he had determined looking company in the shape of Malcolm Clein and Neil Stimson. Clein got through into the lead as well, with two laps gone, Stimson going past Tom as well. Casey didn’t look like he was beaten though, and soon re-passed Stimson on the inside of the West bend, and them did the same to Clein along the back stretch.
Once back in front Casey got busy pulling clear, leaving a heck of a battle going on in his wake, as Clein now led a right old who’s who of Stimson, Barry English, Riordan, Blackman, Steve Thompson and Gary Woolsey. English was the one gradually being forced backwards in this dispute, but not much else changed about the positions of the various combatants by the end. Casey had a large gap between himself and Clein, who also had a reasonable buffer zone, but there was still an eight car train going hard at for third all the way to the finish!
Coincidentally, it was Casey who won the final heat last year too.
As we said earlier, Murphy’s fifth place in his last heat was fairly important, as it clinched pole position for him – a darn good result in this fairly exalted company, with Blackman alongside him, Boardley inside row two, followed by Doak, Spinks, Haird, Riordan, Casey….well, almost every top driver in NHR today ranged out behind.
With Murphy on pole, a first major championship looked like a distinct possibility for the young Irishman. But as they came down for the green it was outside front row man Blackman who got the jump with Boardley storming through in his wake. Currently the ‘big two’ of National Hot Rod racing, they were soon putting a gap between themselves and the rest, setting the pattern for the rest of the race.
Murphy in fact, looked a little at sea in the early laps, losing out to Doak and Haird as well before coming under pressure from Spinks, Casey, Riordan and Simpson. The number of the pole sitter’s tormentors was reduced by one when Spinks went spinning on the West bend exit. Although everybody avoided the stricken black Tigra, a yellow wasn’t much longer in coming for an incident at the same spot, when English and Dick Hillard had a coming together and then got hit by Jay Austin.
Although this allowed the field to close right up, when they went back to racing, the Blackman-Boardley express was soon roaring away again. The Doak/Haird/Murphy dice over third was just about managing to keep the lead pair in sight, but as the first five drew steadily further clear of the rest, it became obvious that barring some catastrophe befalling all the front runners, everyone else was going to be arguing over the minor places at best.
Casey did look as though he was making progress at one point as he followed Murphy past Haird, but Tom was out of it soon afterwards. The list of retirements was growing rapidly now, as Martin, Ronnie McMillan, Steward and Stimson all retired within a few laps of one another.
But, with rarely more than a car length between them, the battle for the lead continued unabated and, once they’d gradually left the rest behind to the tune of over a quarter of a lap, Boardley got really serious about trying to wrest the lead from Blackman’s grasp. His pressure was telling too, as Blackman had a huge moment exiting the East bend. Boardley instantly went for the outside pass, Blackman somehow gathered it up enough to get that covered, Boardley switched back to the inside and was all but through before Malcolm managed to block that line of attack too.
Blackman thus managed to cling onto what seemed to be becoming an increasingly precarious lead, and Boardley, sensing the fact, piled the pressure on even more.
Anybody who could spare the time to glance at ‘the rest’ would have found they were still well worth watching, with an eight car dice for third going on at one point! By mid-distance, they were almost half a lap adrift, with Doak still fighting off the combined thrust from Haird, Riordan, Murphy, Simpson, Steve Thompson and Clein. Doak was now continuing to hang on despite trailing smoke from the right front of his car. No doubt the rest were plotting moves for when his brakes finally gave out, but in fact this was nothing more serious than hot grease leaking from an over packed wheel bearing.
Up front Boardley was still repeatedly trying for the outside pass, although one sensed a kind of stalemate had developed between the two when they were open road.
Again, those who could tear their eyes off the two leaders would have been rewarded with some action, as the third place war broke up just a little when Riordan went spinning on the West bend. Clein smacked into the barriers as he tried to avoid the resulting melee, and Haird attracted a dubious black flag for causing it all, the penalty later overturned on a protest.
Back with the leaders, every approaching knot of traffic saw Boardley close right in on Blackman ready to pounce. With 25 laps to run, Carl got on the outside trip and stayed out there for a couple of laps, still without quite being able to make it stick.
Finally, with the two of them over three quarters of lap ahead of the placemen, it became clear they were going to come up behind the fight for third. This too was still raging going into the closing stages and it certainly didn’t look as though any of them were going to step aside for the leaders, blue flag or no blue flag.
Boardley upped the ante by once again trying it up the outside as they were rapidly reaching the point where they would forced to try and put all those dicing placemen a lap down. Woolsey stepped politely aside to let the leaders go haring past, but was anyone else going to? Still not very likely.
In the end, Blackman knew that as well as anybody, and managed to both slow the pace enough that he didn’t actually have to lap the other cars, while at same time ensuring Boardley didn’t get past. This was a delicate balancing act and it was a very close run thing for Malcolm, as Carl got completely alongside with three to go, and again a lap later, when the two rubbed panels furiously on the back straight.
At the line however, it was still Blackman from Boardley, with Doak’s smoky car still third just a little less than a lap down. Steve Thompson, Simpson, Murphy (his car smoking from the right rear towards the end, probably a wheel bearing) and Carter – the last car on the lead lap – followed them home.
It was clear Blackman and Boardley had greatly enjoyed their tense race, as the pair were all smiles when they climbed from the cars. Carl probably summed it up best when he cheerfully remarked to Malcolm, “I got the one I wanted – now you’ve got the one you wanted!”
A discrete veil is probably best drawn over the Grand National, the meeting final, which was frankly, one of “those races”. Leaving aside all the bashing and crashing that went on – which somehow only resulted in one major race-stopping shunt – Stimson steered a path through it all to claim another final win, this time from nowhere near the front of the grid. But some of the others were left with rather a lot of work to do before the next time any of their cars grace an oval track, on either side of the Irish Sea. Graham Brown
Heat one: 115,303,970,41,985,85,95,961,31,271,940,142,491,151,369
Heat two: 14,170,996,901,911,921,198,967,944,844,963,777,629,420,179
Heat three: 940,142,994,996,115,303,944,271,961,14,198,985,777,74,54
Heat four: 911,970,151,21,41,967,984,31,923,427,921,491,962,286,963
Heat five: 198,41,491,14,970,996,944,286,151,629,31,427,95,901
Heat six: 961,985,271,142,911,170,940,967,984,303,115,962,994,85,921
National Championship: 911,41,996,170,303,970,85,940,151,962,491,921,21,967,629,95,844
Grand National: 271,984,142,286,31,923,777,179,967,420