Stuart Smith Jnr continued his impressive start to the 2017 season with his second heat and final double, his first on shale, at Stoke on Easter Saturday.
Having lined up at the front of the star men, Smith Jnr made short walk of the 17-car first heat. Paul Harrison, having his first outing of the season, followed before pulling off with a puncture. Dan Johnson came through to finish second in front of Craig Finnikin, with Danny Wainman fourth.
“I could see Paul Harrison behind me,” said Smith Jnr. “He was staying with me and keeping me honest, but then he got a puncture.”
Heat two had 18 cars, but was soon down by two when the race was stopped due to a Darren Clark rollover. Clark bounced off the Armco out of turn two and into the path of Nigel Harrhy, collecting the B-grader before rolling over the top of him, causing extensive damage to both cars.
Both drivers were able to walk away from the incident, and on the restart Bob Griffin led from Mark Gilbank and was able to maintain enough of a gap to avoid a last-bend assault. Frankie Wainman Jnr, from a slow start, came through to finish third ahead of Nigel Green, who passed Tom Harris to take fourth place.
Will Hunter led the consolation in the second half of the 15-car consolation event, until going wide, which allowed Harrison through to take the victory. Mat Newson finished third, ahead of Mark Woodhall.
In the 25-car final, Smith Jnr got another quick getaway, making the early laps count – as he has done consistently in recent weeks – making short work of the star men lined up in front of him, with Gilbank chasing.
Leader Luke Dennis was soon on the receiving end of the Smith Jnr front bumper by halfway, while further back Harris and Wainman Jnr were making good progress.
“I got into the lead early on and was counting down the laps and not looking in my mirror too much,” Smith Jnr said.
The race was then stopped with three laps to go after Harrison was on the receiving end of a Gilbank attack, with Smith Jnr maintaining a healthy lead. Behind him, Harris and Wainman Jnr looked the main threat.
I suddenly found Tom Harris behind me. So I knew I had to pull my finger out. I set off and pushed as hard as I could
“When the yellows came out, I knew I had some breathing space because I had just passed some lower graders,” explained Smith Jnr. “Sometimes though, on a yellow flag, the lower graders don’t want to be sandwiched in between two Superstars and they somehow disappear into thin air!
“And that’s what happened here, and I suddenly found Tom Harris behind me. So I knew I had to pull my finger out. I set off and pushed as hard as I could.”
As the race went green once more, Wainman Jnr launched at Harris to push him wide into turn one to take second place.
Smith Jnr put in his fastest lap of the race on the last lap to maintain his lead from a closing Wainman Jnr to take his second final victory in a week. Finnikin finished third, ahead of Harris, Johnson and Danny Wainman.
“It was a brilliant feeling to win the final,” said Smith Jnr. “Especially as it wasn’t on Tarmac again, it was on shale in my other car.”
In a destructive 23-car Grand National, in which Smith Jnr took the one-lap handicap, the race was stopped after a first-bend melee involving Harris, Frankie Wainman Jnr Jnr, Michael Scriven, Finnikin and Johnson.
Mick Rogers led the restart but then yellow flags came out after Griffin and Billy Johnson tangled on the home straight.
Rogers led again at the green flag, from Gilbank, Green, Ben Riley and Wainman Jnr. Smith Jnr was already up to eighth place from the lap handicap.
Green soon took up the running ahead of Wainman Jn, with Smith Jnr making up the lap deficit to go third. All three were totally committed during the final laps, with little to choose between them but at the flag it was Green who scored the victory. Wainman Jnr was second, ahead of Smith Jnr, who ended a very successful night in third place.
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley