Monday, September 10, 2007
My first ever taste of UK stockcar racing almost never happened! After a 2 hour train ride up from London I booked into a hotel and then began the search for anyone who even knew stockcars raced in Birmingham! To say the sport is low profile is an understatement but luckily a woman at the main train station 'Birmingham New Street' knew of it's existence and was able to give me directions how to get there.
It's actually only about 10mins from the main shopping centre (the Bullring) and upon arrival and parting with £12 ($36) I headed into the pits to have a nosey. Racing tonight were three classes, Formula 2 Stockcars, Formula 1 Stockcars and Stockcar Saloons. First thing you notice in the pit area which was more like a rambling lane with cars either side of it, is the amazing array of transporters. There are some seriously cool rigs used to get the racers to the meetings.
After about 30mins of looking I saw the 515 of Junior Wainman (as he is known here) and knew that Peter Rees would be somewhere close by too. That's when I got my first surprise seeing 3nz coming back into the pits from some warm-up laps driven by Shane Penn who I was unaware would be here too. I went up and introduced myself to Pete Rees and talked for a few minutes. He was very approachable and not expecting too much from the meeting as it was on tarmac and not shale which is closer to our home racing surfaces. I headed off to have a look at the actual track.
The track was noticeably smaller than our tracks and you can stand pretty close to the fence. There were a number of stands selling souvenirs, food and even helmets, racing overalls and jewellery! Two camera crews filming the event and a good sound system but as I mentioned it was all very small.
The racing was good, the F2 stockcars were out first and I assume a lesser version of the F1's with each car having a wing that is either White, Blue, Yellow or the superstars at the back of the field with Red Wings and one car having the coveted Gold wing which indicates the national champ. One or two cars even had lights on the wing for some reason, not too sure about what for but makes it easy to identify who are the novices and who are the ones to watch move through the pack. Now I have pretty much no idea who was who but one car really stood out in this class and it was number 7 Gordon Moodie from Scotland, really aggresive driver and great to watch.
Next up were the F1 stockcars (the kiwis are driving these) and immediately the sound of them is a step up from the F2, very loud and very impressive. Got my blood pumping immediately and suddenly felt like a meeting back home with a full grunty field of superstocks! Shane Penn was racing off the back and Peter Rees was in with the middle of the field Blue Wings. The cars are handicapped with big gaps between each group and have a rolling start. Both Rees and Penn seem to have problems with the handling on the corners and seemed to constantly be pushed out wide. If drivers of this calibre are struggling then you realise just how awesome some of these British drivers are. I understand that the kiwis best results have been on the shale surfaces so far and the World Final is on a shale track so that's good. The actual Wheels Stadium circuit was so narrow with a short back and front straight that it was hard to see how fast these cars could go but they sounded awesome.
The last class racing were the 2 litre Stockcar Saloons which are closest to our Streetstocks. They are fairly low riding but very fast specially on the slippery tarmac surface and put on a pretty good show. It was their first appearance here for 9 years apparently. As with all the classes racing you just wanted to see them hit kiwi style which seems to be a no-no over here, specially this class which looked best prepared for action but most of it was incidental (still some good crashes) but not intentional like we do.
The best part of the night though was the F1 Feature which you have to qualify for through a series of races during the night. This race I can best describe as like a heat 1 or 2 of a NZ Superstock championship race, really fast full field going for points, easily the best race of the night. There is a consolation all in race to finish off the night called the Grand National to finish off the meeting.
So that was my first ever meeting over here and although it is stockcar racing it is very different to our Kiwi style. This is not a bad thing its just different. One thing is that I have even more respect for those drivers like FWJ who come out to NZ and perform the way they do - he has to be one of the greatest drivers around although on this night it was 391 Andy Smith who absolutely outdrove everyone taking the feature.
I almost forgot to mention the Starter flag waving guy. I've never seen anything as good as this fella. He had a style like no-one else. Apart from some very energetic flag waving he would hold out boards with how many laps to go and with his other hand let each driver know by his fingers what position they were in from 1st to 5th all done with amazing flair and showmanship, he even takes the drivers round for their victory lap and they would be presented a winners trophy and photographs taken after each race. Very professional.
I hope the Kiwis do well in the World Final in about 2 weeks, after years of wondering why the best of NZ seem to falter when they come over here I've seen how hard it is to adapt to this unique style of racing. Unfortunately I will be in Singapore on the way home when this meeting is on but Im just stoked I got to see this meeting.