Mick Sworder had an eventful evening racing a National Hot Rod, 17 years after his last outing

While the majority of stock car fans grieve the loss of Wimbledon Stadium to the sport, now the iconic south London stadium has now closed its doors the the final time, BriSCA F1’s Entertainer of the Year Mick Sworder could be excused for being glad to see the back of the place.

Prior to this year, Sworder had only raced at the Plough Lane track once in more than 17 years, and that was when, as a BriSCA F2 star, he raced a National Hot Rod at the Best of British event at Wimbledon in November 1999. Suffice to say, as young, aggressive driver used to plenty of contact, was going to be an interesting mix in a non-contact sport – and so it proved.

Due to the events on that memorable night, Sworder would be banned for life.

But that was then. Life doesn’t always mean life in sport, and Sworder would be back in a National Hot Rod for the last meeting for the formula at the end of March. And once again, the evening didn’t really go according to plan…

Turning the clock back to 1999, Sworder drove the car of mate Mark Turiccki at Wimbledon. His first race in a National Hot Rod began at the back of the grid in heat two – and it went went well, Sworder finishing fifth. From the back of the grid again in the third heat he finished out of the places – and for the big race Sworder started from the inside of the fourth row.
I went into the first bend and the steering wheel came off in my hand…
The Best of British final that night will be remembered by all who watched it – not for who won, but for what happened further down the track. For Sworder, the race did not start well.
“I went into the first bend and the steering wheel came off in my hand…” Sworder says. “I managed to back off and the car turned to the inside. I put the steering wheel back on and got going again and caught them all back up.”
While Malcolm Chesher was at ahead of affairs at the front of the pack, Sworder found himself in a battle with the previous year’s winner, Steve Skitmore.

“I caught Steve Skitmore and got into a race with him, but I couldn’t get by. I tried going round the outside of him but he turned me up against the wires so I tried to get up the inside and he then sent me on to the centre green.”

In a sport where contact is strictly prohibited, unlike BriSCA F1 and F2, Sworder decided to metaphorically tear up the rule book.

“In the end, I gave Steve a bit of a hit and pushed him on and went passed him,” explains Sworder. “But he didn’t like it. And then after the race I tapped into him so as to say, “don’t do that again”, but he ended up backing into me and smashing all the front of the car up.

“I remember I had a bit of a tussle with him in the pits afterwards…”

As a result of events that evening, Skitmore was given a 10 meeting ban with eight suspended, while Sworder would be banned from driving a National Hot Rod for life.

“Despite what went on afterwards,” said Sworder. “It had been good fun!”

Wind the clock forward 17 years, and Sworder was back at Wimbledon – this time in his BriSCA F1 stock car for the last meeting at the track for the big league. And again he found himself as part of the story of the night.
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Sworder is lined up for a visit to the fence by Todd Jones
With only 11 cars turning up to race that night, it was expected the racing would turn out to be a demonstration run like at the NEC.  Sworder – the man with the championship pedigree – was expected to dominate the evening, but it turned out to be anything a predictable night as southern star Todd Jones and  Sworder clashed swords throughout the night.
Having earlier been spun by Sworder, Jones – who handled the wet conditions better than most – exchanged hits with the former European Champion before being put into the fence.

Jones caught Sworder, who was struggling in the wet conditions, after a yellow flag and planted the 150 car into the wires on his way to victory.

Then in the final, on a very wet track, Todd unceremoniously dumped Sworder into the turn one fence on the opening lap, taking both cars out of the race.

Despite an expensive night, Sworder would be back for more at Wimbledon and another outing in a National Hot Rod was booked for the last ever stock car meeting at Plough Lane on March 27.

“I had a bit of a chat with Dean and Billy Wood ages ago about swapping cars, and Billy said he would love to have a go in a Formula One,” says Sworder. “So I said OK – well, I’d like another go in a National Hot Rod – so we agreed to swap cars.

Billy said I could do what I wanted to the car – but I don’t really know what to do with my own car, let alone with a National Hot Rod!

“So we discussed when a meeting was available, and then he got banned, so he said I could have a go whenever I wanted,” explains Sworder. “I said I’d like to do the last Wimbledon, and so we put two and two together and that’s what we did.

“Being the last meeting I think they wanted someone different to have a go,” Sworder says. “Billy said I could do what I wanted to the car – but I don’t really know what to do with my own car, let alone with a National Hot Rod!

It was another journey into the unknown with set-up – it was a steep learning curve.

“I struggled in the first heat, with push into the corners and so we had a bit of a play and that made it worse in the second,” Sworder says. “A Hot Rod doesn’t work anywhere near the same as my F1 stock cars do.”

Back in the pits, as few drivers came over to help.

“I found Billy and he said try this and that, and I spoke to Shane Bland and he suggested what to try, as did Tick Stewart,” Sworder says. “They were all talking the same sort of thing, but slightly different, so we tried what they were generally saying.”

Whatever it was the National Hot Rod boys had suggested, began to work.

“I had to start dead last and it pushed for a few laps in the final,” he says. “But once I got used to it, I started to pass a few cars.

Another side to the formula Sworder struggled to get his head around was having to drive with a headset.

“Oh, the talk over the headset!” he exclaims. “They don’t stop squabbling in your ear ‘ole –  but you have to have earphones in during races.

I couldn’t be doing with someone talking in my ear, telling me what to do all the time. It’s ridiculous!

“In the heats they were telling me to “move over, slow down, do this, do that”. And I thought to myself “f**k off will you”! So I got half way through the final with that all going on and I got fed up with it, so I just unplugged it and threw it in the foot well.”

“I couldn’t be doing with someone talking in my ear, telling me what to do all the time. It’s ridiculous!

“The thing is if you do what they tell you to do all the time, the drivers who win most of the races will keep winning all the time.

“The whole idea of racing is you do want you want to do, you’re not told what to do. If you want to tell me what to do, go and drive a bus and get a tannoy system and talk to the passengers!”

Without a headset, Sworder felt happier, and was soon making his presence felt.

“I accidently punted one out of the way, as you do, and was coming through the crowd of cars, when the leader caught me up and the yellows came out.”

Sworder in a National Hot Rod is always an interesting concoction

“The yellows came out going into turn three, so I backed off and the leader came alongside me, so I went back in front of him and went to the back of the queue.”

A bloke came over to me in the final and said, “if you don’t pull over you’ll be looking at an ORC ban”

Unfortunately for Sworder, the stewards saw the yellow flag situation differently. It was announced over the tannoy that he had been disqualified for overtaking the leader on a yellow flag and was asked to pull off.

“So then a bloke came over to me in the final and said, “if you don’t pull over you’ll be looking at an ORC ban”,” explains Sworder. “And I said, “you are joking aren’t you?”

“But I thought, I not getting banned for having a little ride out in these – so I said, “do you know what, I’ll just pull off”. I had the hump a little bit.”

It was a disappointing end to his night, but still an enjoyable one.

“Apart from all of that, it was good,” says Sworder. “I really enjoyed it. I really appreciated the help I got from the other drivers, which I was quite surprised about. It was really good they did that.”

Back in BriSCA F1, Sworder has the UK Open Championship to aim for. With his shale car in the garage minus an engine, after it suffered a terminal failure in the Grand National event at the first King’s Lynn, Sworder is now focusing on Tarmac racing for the remainder of the season. And he would like to get back to Superstar grade – a difficult task without being able to compete on both surfaces.

“I’m always start at the back of star grade for reason,” he says. “I don’t know why, but they always start me last.

“I don’t know how to get to Superstar, because I seem to be scoring all these points all the time and yet I don’t seem to go up!

“Sometimes I’m sixth or seventh in the points, with superstars ahead of me and superstars below of me. Still to this day I don’t understand how the F1 points work!”

Neil Randon 2017

Photos courtesy of Matthew Bull

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