National Championship 2008

2008 National Championship
Boardley adds another
Hednesford Hills, Sat/Sun August 2/3

Graham Brown reports:  Carl Boardley added the National Championship to his collection at Hednesford, taking the lead from Steve Thompson during an early incident which brought out the yellow flags, and never being headed again. Thompson claimed Boardley passed him when the yellows were already out, but the steward was adamant that this was not the case.

Despite there having been much discussion prior to the meeting about the entry being limited to ‘only’ 50 cars, what with various cancellations etc, in the end pretty much everybody who wanted to race did get in, with 51 cars eventually racing. Perhaps the most notable cancellation was Northern Irish champion, Stewart Doak.

Those who did race included yet another visitation from John vd Bosch, the Dutch racer becoming quite a permanent (and very welcome) fixture lately. Brendan O’Connell was back for another English outing, this time driving his recently acquired ex-Malcolm Clein 206cc, rather than the 206 he had at the world. Ulster racer John Steele was making what I believe to be his debut this side of the water. Surprisingly or otherwise, in a field of this size, everyone else was driving their usual cars.

Six heats were scheduled to sort out the qualifying process, with each driver getting to do three of them, proceedings kicking off with a scrappy first couple of races, both interrupted by cautions.

With the odd rain drop falling, David Newell led heat one at the outset challenged by Joey Butler. Further back, Chris Haird was heading in the right direction as he went under Ricky Hunn on the West bend but, despite losing a further place to Des Cooney soon afterwards, Ricky was looking pretty useful himself.

Haird went on to overhaul James O’Shea for third not long before Butler’s final assault on Newell’s lead unfortunately ended with Newall spinning into the barriers, gaining Butler a black cross. The resulting shake up put Haird into the lead with O’Shea bursting out of the chasing pack to go second, leaving Butler to argue the toss with Phil Spinks, Stu Carter, Hunn, Andy Holtby, Des Cooney and Matt Simpson. Butler picked up another black cross and soon afterwards, the yellows were waving for Billy Bonnar and Cooney.

Billy had stopped out by the West bend wall and Des somehow managed to run wide and slap into the 844 car, knocking Billy B out and severely damaging both cars. The incident was ‘game over’ for both teams.

The restart over the final four laps looked fairly easy meat for Haird, who duly ‘hared’ away at the green to take the win.

While Tommy Maxwell was busy leading, a hefty collision between brother Terry and John Christie on the East bend exit eliminated both men only four laps into heat two, giving rise to another yellow. After that, a terrific lead dice ensued between Tommy Maxwell, Shane Brereton and Steve Thompson. With Brereton trying the outside pass, Thompson was kept boxed in behind until Shane ran wide two laps running at the West bend, allowing Thompson out of his cage. 

Steve then got up the outside of Maxwell and, after several laps of side by side running, dragged himself in front. Just as Steve completed his great pass, Maxwell and Brereton collided leaving the West bend, Shane spinning in the aftermath. All of that left Thompson well clear of Maxwell by the finish, with O’Connell home third.

The conclusion of this race saw another expected front runner, Gary Woolsey, confined to a spectating role for the rest of the weekend with a blown engine.

Heat three kicked off with Gavin Murray leading until passed by Ronnie McMillan and Malcolm Blackman. Meanwhile, at the back of the grid Thompson had made a really demon start, Steve no doubt realising just how important each respective driver’s ‘rear of grid’ result was going to be in the final standings.

McMillan eventually went spinning on the West bend exit – gaining Murray a black cross – the rest of the race featuring a fierce scrap between Murray, Blackman and a revitalised Dick Hillard, who has definitely got the Tigra sorted now. After a last lap side by side with Blackman, Murray still got home first but wound up with a hefty four place penalty, elevating Blackman to the win.

John Holtby quickly took charge of the fourth race from John Sibbald, but found himself swiftly relegated once Boardley had worked his way through from the third row. Holtby stayed second, even surviving a yellow flag period brought about when Jeff Simpson and Brereton both spun at the same moment. John still looked likely to hang onto his runner-up slot until he got swamped in a blanket finish that pushed him back to sixth. Barry English – who’d been third until near the end – also lost out in this when he got severely railroaded to the outside, Carter blasting through for second ahead of Keith Martin, Hunn, English, John Holtby and Christie.

Christie’s crew had worked a minor miracle putting the badly smashed up Tigra back to rights in the nick of time, the car having been still up in the air with no axle in it and a host of other bits missing, not that long before the race was called. It all seemed a far cry from John’s National championship debut when he towed the Fiesta in behind a travel stained Fiat and worked on it with one helper and what looked like a load of tools bought at Woolworth’s and slung in a rusty cantilever tool-box. OK, maybe it wasn’t quite that bad (he did finish third remember) but he still seems to have come a long way in a very short time – hats off to ya, JAC.

Heat five was one of the races of the weekend. It opened with Joey Butler collecting another black cross, for belting O’Shea this time, as Tom Casey assumed the lead, attacked straight away by Thompson and soon afterwards, Jeff Simpson. Although Casey led from flag to flag, he was under the cosh all the way. Simpson – despite driving in some pain – managed to sucker Thompson into letting him past as they negotiated the back marking Neville Stanley. Steve went by again with four to go, just before Simon Bentley went straight into the wall on the West bend exit, an incident for which Hughie Weaver got loaded up.

Thompson put in a huge effort to dislodge the leader on the final lap, Casey only just getting to the line ahead of Steve, with Slim still glued to the pair of them.If the previous race had been one of the races of the weekend, the final qualifier was right up there with it. It started out with Andy Holtby leading and going well clear in the early going. Shane Murphy quickly established himself in second and when the leader got boxed in with traffic, closed in fast. Holtby was naturally desperate to break free of the jam, but could find no way through and Murphy caught right up, even putting his nose in front for a moment or two as he stabbed up the outside line. But there wasn’t really anywhere for him to go either, and Holtby kept both his head and the lead, breaking away again once he finally found the relief of relatively open track ahead once more.

With two to go, Boardley was back in eighth spot which, in all honesty, looked to be about as far as he was going to get here, especially with McMillan, Matt Simpson and Blackman directly ahead of him. But, there’s a reason why the driver of that 41 car has just won three world championships on the bounce, and here he drove an absolutely inspired last lap that took him across the line fifth – a highly significant result as it turned out.

Sunday morning’s scrutineering session led to a number of cars being barred from taking part, after checks on the thickness of the metal in parts of their roll cages revealed some that were too thin. This was a measure Deane Wood had been planning for some time, but it would be fair to say, even he wasn’t expecting to uncover a problem as extensive as this one! A driver’s meeting was called to try to establish whether the competitors wanted the illegal cars in or out of the main event, but when the meeting failed to reach a clear cut consensus, it was left to the NHRPA to make the final decision. Obviously, it was not an easy one – nobody wants to bar travellers like John vd Bosch from competing in the race they’ve actually come for. But, with it being a safety issue and given what had happened to Boardley at Northampton the previous weekend, in the end strict enforcement of the rules seemed the only option.

With several non-qualifiers called in to take their places, the grid formed up with Thompson on pole and Boardley alongside, suggesting a similar lead battle to last year’s Blackman-Boardley dice might be on the cards. It certainly always looked to be between the two front row men whatever else happened.

They were brought back after the first attempt at a “go”, when Thompson was deemed to have gone too soon. The restart still saw Steve the first to break, with Boardley, Martin, Andy Holtby, Murphy and the rest streaming out behind. Then, with only a handful of laps gone, O’Shea and O’Connell crashed into the wall on the East bend exit. 

Thompson slowed momentarily, thinking he’d seen a yellow flag that was not yet out and to avoid fluids running away from the damaged cars. Boardley took an even tighter line to avoid the mess and, in so doing, went by Thompson a hair’s breadth before the expected caution was thrown.

Once the race was back underway, Boardley simply eased further and further ahead throughout to take an emphatic victory reminiscent of his similarly dominant performance in this year’s world final. And when drivers of the calibre of Thompson and Blackman can only just about keep the leader in sight, and there are only four cars on the lead lap at the finish, you can see what we mean here by the word ‘dominant’, right?

That’s not to say there wasn’t something worth watching throughout the race, and for the most part, that something was Christie. Yes, his was the last car unlapped by the leader and, even if Carl was coming up behind him at the end, young John had still driven a noteworthy race. Probably the highlight was his three wide moment with Holtby and Spinks going down the home straight when John moved up from sixth to fourth. But there was no doubt that when the battered and taped together black Tigra parked on the winner’s ramp after the race, it definitely deserved to be there, trophy or no trophy. 

Finally, a couple of ‘incidentals’. Thompson later lodged a protest about Boardley’s original pass, which failed to reverse the result, particularly after video evidence was viewed. Also, an off-the-ball, after the flag, heat three incident involving Neil Stimson and David Brooks saw Neil get loaded up. As this took him way over his penalty points limit too, it could be a while before the # 271 graces the grids again…  Graham Brown
Photos by Martin Kingston in the GALLERY
Heat one: 115,74,14,639,61,303,994,911,151,95,944,6,31,66,777,(271),27,3.
Heat two:  170,369,761,67,970,41,961,734,278,519,960,72,(210),53,427,984,967,179,629,348.
Heat three: 911,31,278,944,95,115,170,960,61,303,14,761,961,369,66,67,967.
Heat four: 41,85,994,639,984,6,962,734,970,629,72,151,519,74,59,179,777,943,27,963,198.
Heat five: 961,170,3,994,67,960,278,639,85,761,27,74,369,151,943,967.
Heat six: 61,970,14,72,41,944,303,911,962,31,95,984,115,179,348,66,734,519,601,198.
National Championship Final: 41,170,911,962,61,639,944,303,67,348,3,960,519.
Grand National: 14,911,278,72,639,74,67. NOF.

Statement by David Haird, Haird Motorsport
“First of all, I would like to offer my sincere apologies to all of our customers whose cars failed this check. It is an embarrassment to me personally, I hadn’t realised some of our cars didn’t meet this rule, and I hold my hands up.

“We have let an awful lot of people down, and I am truly sorry. It has never been the intention of Haird Motorsport to cheat the rules, and it never will be.

“Deane Wood was 100% right in carrying out these checks, and is 100% right in all that he is trying to do for National Hot Rod racing and checks on rule compliance. I wholeheartedly back him in this.

“Once again, I’m truly sorry, to all of our customers, and to anyone who feels that their weekend was spoilt due to the smaller grid for the racing on Sunday.” David Haird

Statement from Deane Wood, promoter of the National Championship
“A couple of things I’d like to say to everyone. Firstly, I apologise to the paying spectators that a number of cars were barred from racing in the National Championship as they failed scrutineering. 

“I’m also told that the spectators weren’t told (on the PA) what had happened when the grid lined up short of a few cars. My fault, and I apologise again, and that’s why I’m taking this opportunity to tell you what happened. There’s nothing else that could have been done about it, the rule book is the rule book.

“I’m sorry and very annoyed about the poor entry for the Grand National race, and I’m making some changes to improve that for next year. In 2009 I’m talking to Paul (Gerrard) about bringing the GN race out earlier in the afternoon, and there will be a rule that all drivers have to race in this or they’ll get no money.

“Next, I’ve seen some rubbish in the Forum about some driver stitching up another driver with the checks we made on Sunday. Not true, it was organised a week ago, and it was not at the say-so of any driver. And on that, I couldn’t get the guy there on the Friday, and even if I had, not all the drivers were necessarily going to be there then anyway. It also had to be at this meeting when so many cars from so many places are all in one place.

“There’s lots to be sorted out in National Hot Rod racing, and this weekend was just the start. It’s one of those things where there’s going to be some pain, short term. But long term it’s my ambition to make and keep National Hot Rods as a top class, and I’m going to keep on with this work.”  Deane Wood