National Championship 2009

NHRPA National Hot Rod 2009 National Championship
Boardley adds another
August 1st/2nd, Hednesford Hills Raceway

Words and pictures by Graham Brown.

Carl Boardley added another National Championship to his collection at Hednesford, leading every one of the 75 laps to make it two in a row and four wins overall, Ulsterman John Christie and English champion Chris Haird joining Boardley on the podium.

Most of the teams entered for the meeting took advantage of Friday’s afternoon practice session, with the track looking pretty crowded as a result. Nevertheless, several drivers recorded some extremely quick times, perhaps unsurprisingly given the near perfect conditions of cool damp air but a nice track on which to paste the extra couple of horsepower available. John Christie was fastest of the lot, and looked it too although, as John pointed out, what was a good set up on the Friday might not be so great come Saturday if the weather was to change.

And change it certainly did, but luckily the early morning rain had reluctantly given over to leaden skies but a dry-ish track by start time. The usual big entry (51 cars this year) featured drivers from all points of the National Hot Rod compass. Although most people were driving pretty much what you would expect, there were still a couple of points of interest in the field, most notably the appearance of Winnie Holtmanns in his new Tigra. It was also the first viewing for English fans of Davy McKay’s Tigra, and of recent ROI signing Pat O’Sullivan, this being his first foray this side of the water. And although not his first appearance in England, there was a rare outing too, for NI promoter Ian Thompson.

That large entry necessitated six hard-fought qualifying heats and, with the draw made for grid positions, battle commenced to determine the top 32 who would make the field for the 46th National championship.

Things did not start well for a number of people, not least Glenn Bell, who had to be pushed off the grid with a broken and seized diff. Mind you, that did save him from possibly getting involved in an early yellow when John Steele went spinning on the East bend and involved Willie Hardie, Ralph Sanders and Dick Hillard in the aftermath.

When the race got underway properly, it allowed Boardley to set out his stall for the weekend. It was not that he had it especially easy, but a draw that placed the multi-world champ on the fourth row meant that the race should be pretty much a foregone conclusion, and Carl wasted no time cutting through to the front.

However, Haird was also making huge strides in the right direction and latched onto Boardley’s tail as the leader was delayed momentarily by traffic. At first, Haird looked to have measure of Boardley, but gradually it became clear that while Chris was faster going into the bends, Carl was quicker coming out. It looked like a bit of a stalemate with the placement of backmarkers likely to be key in the final couple of laps. Haird tried it on down the outside as they exited turn one to start the last lap, but Boardley had no intention of finding himself boxed in behind the aforementioned backmarkers and moved wide himself at the same moment. 

It ended up still being a narrow win for Carl over Haird, who had always been seen as one of Boardley’s closest challengers. But if that last lap manoeuvre had been defensive, that is not only unheard of these days from Carl, but also held out hope that maybe he was going to have to really work to hold onto his title. Maybe…

Heat two was going to be dominated by Irishmen South and North in the shape of Shane Murphy and John Christie. Murphy went straight for an outside pass of pole man Mark Fuller at the green, but couldn’t immediately make it stick, as Darron Lewis and David Casey queued up behind. Further back, Christie took a very wide line to go around Thompson, while John vd Bosch, Colin Smith and Brendan O’Connell all ended up in the wall on the West bend.

Murphy finally made it past Fuller, David Brooks took a spin entering the East turn and got hit by Ricky Hunn, and then Fuller went around on the West bend and into the wall, taking David Casey with him – this one bringing out the yellows. It transpired that Fuller’s rotation had been brought on by oil going down, oil which was in two thin lines all around the track. With the discovery that it was coming from Stu Carter’s car, he was forced to retire and the entire track dusted ready for a restart.

Murphy was now heading Lewis and Christie, until Christie got by the black Merc, Lewis subsequently losing out to Andy Holtby and the fast moving Jeff Simpson too. Simpson underlined his pace by taking Holtby as well, but he was running out of time to get any further up the order, as was Christie, despite having edged a little nearer to Murphy by flag fall.

The weather finally made good on its threat to turn nasty and it was raining hard by heat three. With wet weather exponent Matt Simpson off of row two for this one, the likely winner here was never in much doubt. However, Des Cooney (from pole) had a good go at stopping him. It took Matt a lot of laps to inch up on him and, even when he had the pressure on, Des stood it well, eventually necessitating a three wide pass by Simpson involving the backmarking David Newall.

Matt no sooner had the lead than Thompson ended up in the back straight wall, causing a yellow. The stoppage and sprint to the finish (over the last seven laps) brought Malcolm Blackman into the fight for the lead too, and he managed to nip past Cooney down the inside at the last minute. It was too late to prevent Simpson taking his expected win however, while a fourth spot for Haird looked as though it might be significant in the final analysis.

Conditions had improved not at all for the fourth heat and, as Tom Casey set off in the lead, several others – including his son – had spins at various points on the track. Baby Casey found himself stranded briefly by the start/finish, although not quite long enough to cause a caution, while Glenn Bell moved in on Casey Senior’s lead and took it up exiting the West bend. 

When Tom’s car started to sound a bit sick (probably wet electrics) the guys behind were ready to take advantage, with Hunn moving up to second and Boardley to third. Hunn darted to Bell’s inside going through the West bend, with Boardley following through to set up what was likely to be an interesting battle for the lead – remember Ringwood?!  Bell dropped back to leave them to it, with Gavin Murray now fourth as he too capitalised on Casey’s problems.

As the Hunn-Boardley dice intensified, Murray went by Bell and then Brooks added to the fun for the leaders by rejoining the track just ahead of them along the back straight. The battle raged on unabated until the five lap board appeared, which prompted Carl to start trying for an outside pass, finally hauling himself alongside with three to go, and then in front as they rounded the East bend.

Ricky was clearly not done yet though and a lap later, Boardley got a touch from the backmarking David O’Regan going through the West bend. This forced Boardley wide allowing Hunn through again, but Boardley was clearly happy to come back down the outside once more. Contact between the pair at this point saw Boardley touch the wall and was ultimately to get Ricky, the winner on the road, dropped a couple of places for his pains.

That not only elevated the impressive Murray to second, but also made it two wins out of two races for the reigning champ.

Is Colin Gomm National Hot Rod racing’s “Mr. Enthusiasm”?
When Colin Gomm’s engine blew in heat five of National championship qualifying, causing a huge oil-induced crash which involved seven cars and Colin right in the middle of it, his chances of making Sunday’s grid looked slim to say the least.

Not so.

Following an all-nighter, the purple Peugeot was once again ready for the fray by the following morning.

“I was coming through from the back of the grid and had just passed Darron Lewis’ Merc coming across the start/finish and boom!” Gomm explained.

“Next thing I know, I’m going into the corner somewhat faster than I anticipated, then I’m in the wall, and all the lads just followed me in. I feel really bad about it and keep apologising to them for laying the oil. Anyway, we had to change front wishbones, bottom arms, compression struts, shocker, three wheels and tyres, back axle, three link bars on the back, oh, and change the engine of course!”

In order to change the engine, Gomm’s crew had first to remove the motor from his spare Colt to swap with the ventilated unit.

“Yeah, it was two engines out, one back in and swap all the ancillaries too because they’re different between the two cars. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it, and we certainly couldn’t have done it without all the great people who helped”.

Colin was eventually forced out of the National ten laps from home with brake fade.

By the time heat five came around, the rain had stopped, a watery sun was peeping through and the track was dry once more. Not for long though!

Jeff Simpson had the pole start for this one and was soon busy trying to dispense with the attentions of Tommy Maxwell, Andrew Murray and Dick Hillard. They’d only run a couple of laps though, when Colin Gomm’s engine let go in a big way going into the East bend. Colin’s crash on his own oil would have been bad enough, but Simpson – by now the clear leader – found the oil at full chat and went straight on into the barriers the same way, soon to be joined by Maxwell similarly hard, Hillard, O’Connell, Neville Stanley, Lewis and Ralph Sanders. Not surprisingly, this was good for an immediate stoppage and, with so many cars damaged plus the need for a lengthy clear up, the decision was taken to postpone the race until later in the programme. Just the same, it was pretty clear Gomm, Lewis, Sanders, Maxwell and Simpson would be taking no part, whoever else made it…

Naturally, the heat six runners had a very dusty and messy track to contend with. Willie Hardie was the first to show, pressed by Carter to begin with, until Gary Woolsey emerged from the pack to breeze past the others and take it up.

As Hardie fell back somewhat he was passed by Kym Weaver who was looking really sharp as he overhauled Carter too and set off after the leader. Weaver was soon closing in fast and, although on paper this didn’t look like it should have been much of a contest, Kym’s Spedeworth Hot Rod experience has seen him take to NHR’s like a duck to water. He proved it here too, by pressuring Woolsey hard and then getting in front as they negotiated a big traffic jam.

Carter was right back in there with them too, as Woolsey fought back to regain the lead coming off the East bend. This was shaping up into a great race, but it all came to a halt when the yellows flew for Brooks, who’d got involved in some kind of altercation on the East bend with Tom Casey.

Sadly, by the time the restart came Weaver had been forced out with a flat. And, as the restart order had placed a backmarker between Woolsey and Carter, Gary wasted no time clearing off to make good on a win which had looked anything but certain prior to the hiatus.

Unsurprisingly, the re-run of heat five had a somewhat depleted field, which looked as though it might just play into Boardley’s hands. Stuck with a rear-of-grid start for this, it was already clear that Carl only needed a half reasonable result here to claim pole.

Andrew Murray led his fellow front row man Hillard into the first lap and for many laps thereafter, the pair appearing very evenly matched; Murray couldn’t get away but Dick couldn’t get past either. 

With the two leaders fully engaged with each other, the places dicing was no less intense, with Andy Holtby holding down third against Mark Heatrick, Blackman and Matt Simpson. And anybody paying attention to the back half of the field would have seen Boardley go by Bell early on, then Gavin Murray, and continue relentlessly on forwards, demoting Keith Martin too along the way.

Murray didn’t manage to get himself even the smallest advantage over Hillard until the finish was almost in sight, by which time there was nothing much between any of the first seven. At the line, Murray had finally managed to get some daylight between himself and Hillard and, while Boardley’s last minute attempt to demote Simpson hadn’t come off, he was still home sixth, quite good enough to set the seal on pole for the ‘morrow.

National Championship grid:
41 940  303 31 95 997  994 921  192 960  (3) 519  9  261 761  777 78 943
115  911 962  61  970 639  72  85  208 967  278 (6)  961 (285)  209 333  66
Non-starters 3, 6, 285 replaced by reserve qualifiers 66, 78, 943

The Race – 75 Laps
Boardley’s pole position didn’t exactly bode well for anyone else’s chances, although no-one within the first three rows was ever exactly going to roll over and play dead. That’s not to say there weren’t some very determined drivers slightly further back in the field too. Gavin Murray and Shane Murphy for instance, sharing row five, had both proved that they meant business at the world final, even if the end result was not what either had been hoping for. And speaking of determination, the amount of work that had gone into getting Colin Gomm onto his eleventh row slot didn’t really bear thinking about either!

Boardley equals Nationals win record
Carl Boardley’s victory last Sunday equalled John Steward’s all time win record for the event, of four titles.
Did it all go according to plan?
“Totally to plan. The second (qualifying heat) race was a little bit tricky, with the weather, but we popped the wets on it and the car was as good as it always is. So we had a couple of wins, and the last one was just a case of making sure we finished top ten or something and we knew we’d be at the front or thereabouts.”
Restarts can be tricky but, like the world final, they didn’t seem to bother you today…
“No. The first start, me and Hairdy had a dice, Gary Woolsey was there as well. That second start Malcolm (Blackman) was there and he had a bit of a challenge for a couple or three laps, obviously tried to put me under pressure straight away. But once we got some warmth in the tyres we got a bit of a gap, and then it was just about trying to maintain that gap.”
How hard was it to keep John Christie at bay?
“John kept me honest till the end, and we were always trying. If we needed to, we might have been able to go just a smidge quicker. But I didn’t need to and just eased up a bit at the end.”
Would things have gone as well if you’d been in the Merc?
“No. But if it had been in one piece, we would have brought it just to try and get some mileage in. We’ll be back to the drawing board with the Mercedes over the next couple of weeks and see if we can get that as good. Well, it’s got to be better, otherwise it’s a wasted exercise.”
This win equals the win record for National championships, next year you get the chance to break that record, and equal the all time world final record. Are you still motivated to go for it all?
“Yeah, we are. We’re enjoying it, the team’s enjoying it. While we continue to have fun and have a laugh along the way, we’ll keep going. I don’t want to be one of these people you class as a veteran or anything like that. But by the same token, while you’re still on top, going good and able to turn up at weekends like this and do what we’ve done again, it’s good and we’ll persevere”. 

There was a school of thought that said Haird had better be in front coming out of turn one or he’d had it, as far as winning it went anyway. I don’t know if Chris had heard this opinion or simply formed it for himself, but he certainly went for it big time at the green! It didn’t get him in front although it wasn’t for lack of trying. The pair ran the first lap side by side, and touched lightly coming off the West bend for the first time, that small moment allowing Boardley to draw ahead.

Unfortunately, now came the time for Chris to pay the price for his bravery as his reward was to allow Blackman, Simpson and Christie through down the inside. Blackman found a way past Woolsey on the inside of the West bend with Simpson following through, but the writing was on the wall in big letters for the leader, as Boardley was already pulling a sizable gap on the rest with less than a handful of laps run.

Woolsey was now stuck on the outside and getting railroaded backwards as Christie, Haird and Hillard had all followed on behind the others, Gary finally spinning out of contention rounding the East bend.

Further back Carter had a front tyre go flat, sending him straight on and into Hunn, the impact carrying both men along the wall to the West bend exit, where Ricky got hit hard by Laurens vd Velde. As Laurens limped to the infield minus the left front corner, the yellows were already out for the first caution period.

During the wait for the restart, Simpson discovered his front brakes had seized on but, after a bit of fiddling about, he managed to take his place in the line up.

Boardley dominated the restart in his usual fashion, although Blackman stayed close to begin with. However, he was clearly in some kind of trouble soon afterwards, as he allowed first Simpson and then Christie and Haird through as well, finally falling out with a failed stub axle.

The leader certainly had plenty of traffic to deal with, but dealing with it he was, and once back on open road, really began stretching his legs to try and leave the Simpson/Christie/Haird dice far behind. Christie managed to take Simpson down the inside of the East bend with Haird going through in his wake. This was all shortly before Andy Holtby spun on the West bend exit, an incident which quickly involved Martin and O’Connell too, and left Holtby stuck on the rumbles at the exit from the corner. He was able to drive away eventually, but only at the expense of another yellow.

The restart order had left a backmarker (Davy McKay) in the line up between Boardley and Christie, enabling Carl to leap away at the green as per usual. McKay promptly stepped aside to let Christie and the rest through, but the damage was done and any chance of John mounting an immediate attack on the leader was gone.

Nevertheless, Christie was obviously not giving in that easily.

From half distance onwards, Christie was always chasing the leader, but Boardley appeared to control the race rigidly, in traffic or out. There were a couple of pretty serious jams for him to negotiate though, and it was one of these which allowed the 962 car to finally get within striking distance.

Boardley had obviously seen him coming however, and calmly placed a backmarker (David Casey) between them. Christie lapped him too. Boardley put another backmarker (Tom Casey) between them. Christie lapped him too. They played out the same game with several others, including Les Compelli, and still that tantalising and frustrating gap remained between them. 

At last, it became clear; Christie was only getting as close as Boardley was allowing him to get. It was down to a couple of car lengths on the final lap, but still enough to ensure another win for Carl Boardley and with it a “double double”, World and National, two years running.

Christie’s second spot was still an excellent result, and it surely has to be only a matter of time before John wins himself a National, given his results at Hednesford in his relatively short career so far. Haird eventually claimed third, not too far back at all by the finish, Chris finishing over half a lap up on fourth man, Simpson.

In past years, the final race at the National weekend has either had a relatively poor number of starters or a relatively poor number of finishers! Thankfully, neither was true this year, with a full 30-car grid, including Vd Velde’s hastily repaired Tigra, complete with new front wing among other things. Mind you, they did all very nearly come to grief when an incident involving early leader Ronnie McKenzie, O’Sullivan and Maxwell saw O’Sullivan spin on the West bend and basically the entire field run into him! Fortunately, extremely prompt yellow flags and Raceceiver warnings prevented most people from crashing too hard into the pile up.

The yellows having been followed by red flags, a complete restart was deemed to be in order, with O’Sullivan leading this time but soon to lose out to Van der Velde exiting the West bend. O’Sullivan continued to run in second with John vd Bosch and Compelli next up, this quartet breaking well clear. Vd Bosch’s challenge for second saw both he and O’Sullivan spin out, leaving Vd Velde and Compelli to dispute the lead to the finish. Laurens was still in at front at the chequers to record a rare and welcome win for himself as some reward for all the travelling, with other long distance travellers in the next three places too, in the shape of Compelli, David Casey and O’Connell. Graham Brown
Heat 1:  
41 115  940 519  967 95 6(X-2) 734  208 31 369  209 960  72  192 921  294 333  601 23 78 74
Heat 2:  970  962 3  61  285 997  278 911  303 994  961 491  467 943  801 761  67  261 27 7
Heat 3:  303  911 921  115 192  994 278  209 61 940  997 3  74  285 72 7  601 6  78  27  761 187
Heat 4:  41 95 639(X-2) 31 9  961 970  962 85 467  777 208  960 369  66  333 734  967 943  261 67 23
Heat 5:  997  31  61  911 303  41  960 95 761  208 9  994 333  967 27 23
Heat 6:  940  85  72  115 962  639(X-2)  261 66(X-2)  970(X-2)  777 78 519  192(X-2)  921 6  601 74 67 943
The 2009 NHRPA National Championship result:
41 Carl Boardley
 962  John Christie 115  Chris Haird 303  Matt Simpson  997 Andrew Murray  960 970  9 192  261 209  208 777  66  943
Grand National: 78 777  261 761  303 911  41  519 115  639 9  85  960 970  61  31  278 961  962 208  66 27 (72 disqualified, 369 disqualified)  Martin Kingston’s Photos