National Championship 2010

he 2010 NHRPA National Hot Rod National Championship
Murphy’s Law
Hednesford, Saturday July 31st/Sunday August 1st
Graham Brown reports: Shane Murphy improved his finishing position in the world final by one place to take an historic victory in the National championship, with the English drivers locked out of the podium places by Irishmen from both sides of the border. Murphy’s victory was historic in that it marked the first time that an ROI based driver has won a major championship held outside Ireland.

Despite some late-ish cancellations and a number of drivers giving the event a miss for one reason or another, there was still a highly respectable 50 cars on hand to contest the 47th National Championship.

A few items of interest to comment upon within that large entry, one of which was the return to the fold – however temporarily – of Mike Oliver. The Welshman was tracking his ex-Cooney 206cc but decked out in a very unusual dark green livery. Set off with black wheels, it gave the car at the same time both a rather NASCAR-style appearance, but also a quite menacing one. 

Also back in a National was Wayne Woolsey, the original plan for him to be driving a Haird car for the weekend having been shelved somewhere along the way, Wayne giving brother Gary’s Tigra an outing instead.

And for all those who might have been asking the perennial question, “Where’s Ricky?”, the answer was, right here. Back in action and looking very quick in Friday’s practice, both before and after a badly fitted wheel spacer had caused some rear wheel studs to shear, Rick admitting that he had been very lucky to have got away without crashing and very little other damage.

He wasn’t the only one having a bit of a drama on Friday afternoon either, Wayne Woolsey having burst an oil line that caused some problems, not least for Dave Longhurst, who happened to be out in the absent Colin Gomm’s Merc at the time. A fairly severe spanking of the rear end resulted, Dave spending the rest of the afternoon fixing and straightening. Apparently, Dave rang Colin to tell him, ‘I’ve just smashed your car up’, to which Colin’s laid back response was something like, ‘Oh well, shall I bring the other one then?’. OK, it’s nice to be in a position to say that, but still, I suppose after all the years Colin has been in racing there isn’t too much that fazes you.

Six heats were required to sort the final qualifiers from those 50 cars, the first of them heading off into spitting rain with Des Cooney and Winnie Holtmanns at the head of the pack. The yellow flags got an early airing after Terry Hunn, Neil Stimson and Oliver had a bit of a clash coming off the line. Terry was immediately in trouble and limped to a stop on the entry to the West bend where John vd Bosch promptly ran into him. 

Cooney was very slow away at the restart, allowing Holtmanns to nip past. The continuing danger of having even a small amount of anti-freeze laden water on the track was soon evident, with several drivers lucky not to crash after running over it on the West Bend, their cars behaving as if there was oil down. Holtmanns, who has often looked good when it’s wet or slippery, looked to have it safely under wraps until, with two laps to run, he showed the recovered Cooney rather too much inside line and he slipped through for the win.

Initially, Stewart Doak got disqualified from this, but a steward’s inquiry found that he was not actually to blame for one of the incidents he was involved with and the penalty was downgraded to a two place docking instead.

After David Brooks non-started and a bit of a delay in trying to get Dick Hillard’s car to play ball, Paul Crawford and Les Compelli were the first to show in heat two. However, Keith Martin swiftly dealt with both of them and cleared off at the front, eventually to the tune of almost half a lap. The battle for second raged all the way between Tom Casey, Jason Kew, Murphy, Gary Woolsey and Matt Simpson, with the rain now spotting down again. A late caution, brought about by Willie Hardie spinning at the East Bend and then getting clobbered by Tom Casey, put them all a lot closer to Martin, but the leader had four backmarkers between himself and the placemen so was never really in any danger.

Martin duly went on to take the win with Kew second over the line but dropped a couple of places for the contact that led to Casey’s incident, handing the runner-up slot to Murphy.

The sun was beating down by the third heat which was a totally cut and dried result for John Christie, who had the front row all to himself. Fellow Ulsterman Glenn Bell never gave up chasing him but, aside from when the leader had to deal with knots of traffic, never really looked like getting on terms. Hardie looked fully recovered from his earlier problems and got home third here, Willie apparently benefiting from some sterling pit work by Davy McCall among others. One can only wonder what changes he may have been making to the #72 car in light of recent developments…

Heat four looked like it ought to be as easy for Chris Haird as heat three had been for Christie, the world champion also having drawn a solitary front row start. He was already fairly well clear by the time the yellows were thrown for some spun cars (Carl Waller-Barrett, Terry Maxwell and Wayne Woolsey) on the East bend, but the caution naturally closed the field right up. That enabled Andy Holtby to occupy Bell’s position of the previous heat, Andy chasing the leader all the way to the end without ever managing to get in touch. Perhaps the most significant result in this one was the fourth spot recorded by Martin to go with his earlier win.

The fifth heat was a fairly critical point for both Christie and Haird, who both needed a good result and were lined up next to one another.

It was Mark Heatrick who led them away though and immediately under pressure from Murphy. Over and again Shane tried it on down the outside without being able to make the pass stick, his repeated attempts leading up the pivotal point of the entire weekend. Murphy made another huge effort going through the West Bend and lost it. The car had spun, no question, and it looked like the best Shane could hope for was to maybe get going again in a lowly place – until Doak came around the corner and ran into him, straightening up the 970 machine. Murphy seized this reprieve with both hands and kept his foot on the gas, cannoning off the wall on the exit and launching straight back into the race, obviously having to hope that nothing vital had been damaged. He promptly got into a fight with Gavin Murray over fourth, but wasn’t yet back on a sufficiently even keel to overcome the East Anglian. 

Up front, Doak was second and reeling Heatrick in as the finish neared. Back in the pack, it was interesting to note that Christie was ahead of Haird and leaving him behind, while Murphy’s car was not only apparently unharmed, but enabling him to now mount a serious attack on Murray’s fourth spot. Doak never quite got up to challenge the leader (he was maybe two car lengths down at the flag) and ended up collecting a penalty that dropped him to fourth in any case. The Murray/Murphy dice had finally seen them touch in the West Bend, Murray not losing much in the encounter but the incident put Murphy up another position. Doak’s penalty gained him yet another, and so Shane wound up third when he could easily have been stone last or something like it, worse still if Doak or someone else had hit him a great deal harder or at a slightly different angle. So you can see what I mean by “pivotal”.

The last heat was probably the race of the day with the results for three Northern Irish racers – Woolsey, Bell and Martin – all going to be crucial.

It turned out to be Colin Gomm who led from flag to flag, but the in-fighting behind him was something else. Phil Spinks got passed by Gary Woolsey for second early on but then almost managed an outside sweep that would have taken him from third to first. In the end he couldn’t make it stick and Gomm went back to dicing with Woolsey and a whole host of others, including Dick Hillard, Matt Simpson, Spinks himself, Bell and Andy Holtby. Bell had already managed to get through quite well, while Martin was working hard on the same thing when a caution brought them all much closer together. The yellows had come out for Mark Fuller, who’d had a bang on the East Bend.

After that, Gomm, Hillard and Woolsey carried on scrapping over the lead with Simpson, Spinks, Holtby and Bell, with Martin driving a magnificent last five laps that lifted him from seventh to fourth and, ultimately, pole for the final. Woolsey’s second spot was going to put him on the outside front row.

National Championship final grid:
994 970 9 115 996 95 174 278 482 467 761 31 100 14 78 271
940 962 303 (960) 61 72 639 921 261 130 500 369 6 444 199 162 (960 dns)

Heatrick had, unfortunately, failed a weight check before the final and was therefore disqualified from the meeting, although that didn’t prevent him from trying to join the line up anyway! With Heatrick back in the pits, the rest made their first attempt at getting the race under way. And a pretty shabby attempt it was too, the stewards soon bringing them back to try again and blaming Martin for leaving too soon and Woolsey for not leaving soon enough.

A far superior second effort saw Martin assume the lead, pressed from the word go by Murphy. However, there was a small incident on the West bend early on – maybe two laps in – that was to have severe consequences for Martin, as Gomm and Holtmanns got together, leaving the German stuck down on the rumble strips. A couple of laps later Holtmanns tried to reverse away from his position. From where he was stuck, Winnie would have had little or no view of what or who was approaching the corner; unfortunately, he made his move just as the leader arrived. Martin was forced wide and ended up sixth in a trice.

Keith’s position was helped slightly by a caution soon afterwards, thrown when Waller-Barrett got into some sort of scrape and lost a wheel which Jason Cooper neatly fielded with his car! But Martin was still left with the next five fastest cars at the meeting running ahead of him.

Murphy was off like a shot when the green came out once more and was soon building a big lead that stretched to over a quarter of a lap at one point, depending on the traffic problems he was having at any given moment. But the places battle was keeping the rest busy in any case, with Christie taking quite a while to find a way past Woolsey and into second. The fight for fifth between Haird and Martin had ended with Haird closing the door on a challenge into the East bend in what looked like only a half hearted manner. When Martin drove into the gap the pair touched and Chris went spinning which then allowed Martin to spend a lot of laps finding a way past Woolsey.

Hardie was going well and running quite strongly in sixth but his car started trailing smoke which was steadily worsening. This eventually attracted a red and white flag and a disqualification when he failed to stop for it.

Interesting as all of this was, these various dices conspired to make sure that no-one was left with a free hand to try and go after Murphy. By the time Christie was firmly established in second, the leader was too far away, Shane picking his way swiftly and sensibly through the traffic to make sure he stayed that way. By the time he was putting some cars two laps down, it was essentially all over and his name firmly in the record books.

It was, in the end, a total Irish whitewash, with Christie, Martin, Gary Woolsey and Bell occupying the next four places, with Jason Kew interrupting as the lone Englishman in sixth, ahead of Cooney.

The Grand National…probably the least said about that the better. I had thought, after this year’s world final supports, that this tradition of finishing the meeting with a demolition derby was all behind us. How wrong can you be?

It all kicked off with a “too many cars in too small a space” kind of crash along the home straight, that saw Cooney in the wall and Holtmanns slam into the pit gate so hard that it not only completely wrecked the front of his car but also apparently ‘wrote off’ the pit gate!

Start number two ended when Tom Casey, Chris Harvey and David Casey all got together in another large crash on the West Bend exit which badly damaged all three cars.

A few more racing laps after another restart ended when Terry Hunn ended up in the wall on the West Bend exit, David O’Regan and Les Compelli both earning a black cross for possible involvement in the Corsa’s demise.

The drivers were warned over their radios that one more stoppage would be the last one, which came when John Holtby went head on hard into the infield embankment along the back straight.

According to the lap sheets, fourteen green flag laps were actually completed, but it certainly didn’t feel like it, and the whole thing was a bit of a low note on which to end what had otherwise been a great weekend of racing. Graham Brown
Heat one: 921,467,50,95,996(-2),9,115,6,482,100,271,68,130,278,261,199,369,734,78,27,57.
Heat two: 994,970,940,174(-2),303,962,960,639,31,444,61,162,761,500,74,7.
Heat three: 962,9,72,482,639,761,174,369,970,777,444,960,961,467,74,278,100,68
Heat four: 115,61,261,994,500,6,303,940,95,996,14,78,130,921,31,208,7.
Heat five: 960,72,970,996(-2),130,95,962,199,115,639,261,174,761,78,208,921,777,444,734,74,39.
Heat six: 278,940,303,994,14,9,61,31,100,369,162,271,57,500,482(-2),467,7,963,27,160.
National Championship Final:
Grand National: 208,777,27,74,115,369,31,482,303,9,996,100,962,130,970,500.
Martin Kingston, Trevor Hill and Steve Westons photos