Owlerton Stadium hosts the BSCDA British Drivers Championship this Sunday for the first time since 2005.
More than 50 cars are expected to compete for one of F1 stock car racing’s most prestigious championships, that was first run in 1956.
To win the BSCDA British Drivers Championship a driver has to work harder than in most big races due of its format. Drivers take part in three qualifying heats each in graded order, with the highest points scorer starting at the front for the championship race itself with the remaining points scorers qualifying in descending order to the back of the grid.
First run in 1956 at West Ham, it was won by Wilf Davies. The first multiple winner was Willie Harrison, who won the race at Belle Vue in 1967 and then at Long Eaton in 1975. Stuart Smith was the first to win it three times – 1969, 1981 and 1984, and then John Lund upped the anti by winning the race six times – 1987, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1997 and 1998.
But the driver who has won the race more than any other in the history of the sport is Frankie Wainman Jnr, the reigning champion, who has eight British titles to his name, his first being in 1992 at Coventry.
He won it twice more at Coventry in 1999 and 2001, before winning four times in a row (no other driver has ever won the BSCDA British Drivers Championship more than twice in succession) between 2003 and 2006, including twice at this weekend’s venue Sheffield. He has also been placed in the race seven times.
But the race Wainman Jnr herishes the most is his victory last year at Skegness. It was significant because his daughter Phoebe also won the V8 Hotstox British Championship on the same night.
FRANKIE WAINMAN JNR 1992, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2016
At Skegness last year there were seven heats with drivers going in three races each, and it was the lower graders who dominated, with victories for Ricky Wilson in the dual-surface only opener, Aaron Leach, Stuart Shevell Jnr (two wins) and Paul Carter (two wins). Only Rob Speak managed to grab a win in heat four for the star and superstar graders, which gave him a front row grid position.
For the race itself, it looked as though either Speak, on the outside of the front row alongside pole-sitter Shevell Jnr, or Ryan Harrison, on the inside of row two, would fight out the championship, a race neither Speak or Harrison had won before.
But while the meeting had been dry leading up to the big race, all that changed before the 30 cars lined up. The heavens opened, and as a result the form for the race fell out of the window.
The Ministox and V8 Hotstox created a drier racing line prior to the big one, but the track was still very greasy.
Despite all that Wainman Jnr was already on cloud nine. Phoebe Wainman had just won the British Hotstox Championship, to become the first woman to win a major adult championship. It was an emotional victory for the Wainman family, and for Wainman Jnr in particular.
So much so, he almost didn’t make it out for the final. “I really wasn’t bothered if I took part in the race,” Wainman Jnr says. “I was so made up with Phoebe winning. I even told the lads I might not bother. I’d completely lost interest.”
His enthusiasm didn’t increase much after the first couple of laps. Ryan Harrison paid a first-bend visit to the Armco but led from Speak and a flying Fairhurst, but Wainman Jnr found himself at the back of the pack having got involved in a home straight melee. Then the yellow flags came out.
“While I was sat there under the yellows I was the back car,” says Wainman Jnr. “I looked and there were loads to top lads up front and I was about 23rd. And I thought to myself, “Why am I bothering?” And then it just came into my head – Ryan, Lee and Rob were all up there at the front and I thought, “If that kicks off up there something might happen here”. A lot of cars in front of me were lower graders and I knew I could pick them off fairly quickly, so I thought I’d keep going and see if I could get a place.
After the restart Harrison, Fairhurst and Speak fought it out for the lead while Wainman Jnr made up lumps of ground. Harrison pulled clear of Fairhurst, while Speak lost ground after a clash with the fence, allowing Newson up to third and Wainman Jnr now remarkably up to fourth place.
“After the restart I was in the top ten virtually straight away and I could see them all battling in front and I thought I could get to them,” says Wainman Jnr.
After another yellow flag stoppage during which Speak retired to the infield, Fairhurst sent Harrison fencewards into turn three but went in the fence with him. The Bolton driver escaped first and slipped up the inside to lead at the next corner but immediately Wainman Jnr saw his chance and launch both into the Armco.
“It just fell right into place,” explains Wainman Jnr. “Lee tried to put Ryan in, and Ryan then tried to put Lee in – and I ended up putting the pair of them in.”
The end result was Fairhurst and Harrison were out of the race. Meanwhile, Mat Newson had slipped through to take the lead ahead of Danny Wainman.
The yellows came out to allow Harrison to get out of his car and after the green flag dropped once more, the race became a shootout between Newson, Danny Wainman and Wainman Jnr.
With five laps to go Danny Wainman shunted Newson wide into turn three to momentarily lead, but it was short-lived. Into turn one Wainman Jnr seized his chance and pushed his brother wide to take the lead. From then on it was a case of stroking the car home to win his eighth British title.
A Wainman 1-2-3 was nearly on the cards, as Danny Wainman finished second and Newson only just survived a last-bend lunge from Frankie Wainman Jnr Jr to take third spot.
Despite his victory, Wainman Jnr believes Danny Wainman, and his brother’s close friend Newson, should have been more ruthless.
“Mat should have won it,” says Wainman Jnr. “He was in the only car that wasn’t damaged. Mine was damaged, Danny’s was damaged, everyone’s car was.
“How he didn’t win it, I do not know. And I don’t know what it is with my brother – he was behind Mat and it was the British Championship and he should have fired Mat straight in. I don’t care if they are mates, I’m not into all that crap. It’s the British Championship and Danny not putting Matty in meant I got to him and that’s what cost him the race.
“In this job, to win the race like that you’ve got to ruffle some feathers and put people in, and I’m sorry, but that’s how it is.
“So I put Ryan in – I’d do it again, straight away. It’s the British Championship – it’s how you win them. And I was watching Danny and Mat and I was struggling to get to them because I had damage.
“I was even shouting in the car at Danny to stick him in and get on with the job and win it. But he didn’t and I got to Danny and I thought “Well, you can f**k off!” It cost them both the race and when I got into the lead I was wondering what the hell had just gone on?”
It was one of those nights you only experience once in your life. For Phoebe and I to both win British championships on the same night made my season
Once the chequered flag dropped, the enormity of the victory began to sink in.
“It was probably one of my proudest races,” Wainman Jnr admits. “As I went over the line it just dawned on me what me and Phoebe had actually done. It sank in straight away.
“It was meant to be wasn’t it? You can tell sometimes if stuff is meant to be or not and that was one of those nights when it was. It was one of those nights you only experience once in your life. For Phoebe and I to both win British championships on the same night made my season.”
Can he win an unprecedented ninth title? Few would bet against it. The British has only been run twice at Owlerton Stadium and Wainman Jnr won both times.
His second win in 2005 came after a massive first bend pile-up that wiped out the front row line up of Andrew Smith and John Lund, in a race that created a huge amount of damage.
“I like Sheffield,” Wainman Jnr says. “It’s a lower grader track for the heats and so you’re definitely going to have a few rows of yellows and blues I would have thought. It would be very unusual to have a superstar on the front row of the grid.
“I’ll be aiming for a third or fourth row start. I won it both times it has been run at Sheffield, so we could be on for a third then!”
Of the drivers Wainman Jnr will face this weekend as his defends his British title, five have also won the chequered flag roof during the past decade.
PAUL HARRISON 1991, 1993, 2011, 2014
Paul Harrison has won the BSCDA British Drivers Championship four times. The first was as a 22-year-old at Buxton in 1991, followed by Long Eaton two years later. There was then an 18-year gap before he took his third title at King’s Lynn, with his fourth coming at Birmingham in 2014.
All championship titles are memorable, and Harrison remembers them all with great detail, including in 1993 when he put his close friend Peter Falding into the fence on his way to victory at Long Eaton.
“I won in 1993 on shale in the same car I had won on Tarmac at Buxton two years earlier,” says Harrison. “In the race I had to stuff Peter, who was leading.
“I started third row outside and was second after the first bend. I then overhauled Peter and dropped him on a fence post, so that was pretty special!
“The story was that Peter pulled over, but as he was pulling over I had already had the intention of sticking him in. So when he pulled over he played into my hands a little bit because he was offline already.”
Winning the race was one thing, but he still had to confront his friend afterwards in the bar.
“I went into the bar afterwards thinking to myself “What’s he going to say?” Harrison says. “He was stood at the top of the stairs in the Long Eaton bar and he stuck his hand out and said “Well done Rubber. If you hadn’t dropped me on to that fence post and come past me I would have done the same to you at the other end!””
But of all those British victories it is the 2011 race at King’s Lynn that stands out the most.
“The British means a lot to me – I think it does all the drivers,” says Harrison. “It’s intense over the one meeting, to get through your heats and then the final and it’s such a prestigious award. The first couple of times I won it you didn’t get a chequered roof.
“In 2011 I was having a good year and to actually get the chequered roof, which I’d seen others win, and wear it with pride for 12 months meant ever such a lot.
“Winning the British was the start really for me that year, as I went on to win the World semi-final and the World Final itself. I even got second in the European, but got disqualified for a weight infringement.”
Drivers went out three times in six heats at King’s Lynn, and with Harrison winning twice and finishing third in his final outing before the final, the Rotherham star started the race on pole position. Tom Harris was alongside on the outside of the front row, with Mark Woodhall and Stuart Smith Jnr behind them on row two. Frankie Wainman Jnr was on the third row alongside John Lund.
Harrison’s race, however, couldn’t have started much worse. Into the first corner, on a wet track, Harrison was spun into the fence.
“The car was quick through the qualifying heats and I started on pole but I got turned around on the first bend and dropped down to 14th,” Harrison says. “It just all went pear-shaped for me.”
But it wasn’t all bad. From what looked a disastrous situation, a small slice of luck helped Harrison on his way.
“I got stuffed out backwards into the fence facing completely the wrong way,” explains Harrison. “But the momentum of the pack picked me up and pointed me in the right direction and bumped started me to get me going again.”
Harris led for the first lap until Smith Jnr took over on lap two, a lead he would not relinquish until the very end of the race.
“After a couple of laps the yellows came out and I thought I’m still in it and I knew the car was so quick when the track dried out.”
Smith Jnr extended his lead after Harris and Wainman Jnr got hooked up dropping Wainman Jnr to the back of the field and Harris out of the race.
As the race developed Harrison made up ground as the track dried, and became embroiled in a battle for second place with Dan Johnson, Woodhall and Lund.
I thought finishing second after what I’d just been through in the race wasn’t a bad result. I would’ve taken that
Harrison went by Johnson to go second as the yellows came out for the final time. The race appeared up for grabs as the green flag dropped but Smith Jnr was able to extend his lead, after Johnson shunted Harrison wide to go second.
“That cost me a few places and I got involved with Lundy and Mark Woodhull, and nearly crashed out,” reflects Harrison. “By the time I shook Dan, Mark and Lundy off, Stuart was the full length of a straight in front.
“I thought finishing second after what I’d just been through in the race wasn’t a bad result. I would’ve taken that. I wouldn’t have been happy before the race but considering where I was after the first bend I’d have taken it.
“And then I could feel myself catching Stuart and then when I got to about six laps go, even though I was still a long way off, I thought I was going to get a shot at him.”
As the laps counted down, Harrison closed up dramatically on the leader, who was struggling with a car not set up for a dry track.
“I just kept coming strong and fast and managed to get to him,” Harrison says. “I got him with one lap to go on the first corner.”
One decisive hit later and he was in the lead heading down the back straight for the final time. What he probably wasn’t expecting seconds later was Smith Jnr attempting a kamikaze last-ditched attempt at connecting with the Harrison rear bumper on the last bend.
“Being far enough ahead to miss that amazing last-bend lunge – the suicidal dive that he did – that was pretty special,” remembers Harrison. “And I even felt the ‘whoosh’ as he hit the fence.”
Smith Jnr remembers that race well.
“A few things went wrong that night,” says Smith Jnr. “At that meeting I had to run my small block engine, and that car had run a big block all its life.
“I went there with the small block out of my Tarmac car and I’d never run a small block on shale ever before. So I just took a big step in set-up and it was brilliant early on in the wet and the tacky stuff – it was miles faster than anybody else.
“You have got to drive a small block differently. With my big block I got into a rhythm in that car and I knew exactly how to drive it, but put a small block in it and it’s all to do with set up.
I was gutted going down the back straight for the last time which is why I left it all on and tried to get him. I never backed off and I thought I was going to hit him
“We put a set up in it and went to King’s Lynn to see what it would be like and it was lightning. So I left it as it was, when I should have really come away from what we’d done but that’s all hindsight.
“In the final I was really good at the start and pulled away but the set up was wrong for the dry and it just caught me out. I wasn’t used to driving a small block on shale – it was the first time I had ever done so – and unfortunately, or fortunately for the crowd, ‘Rubber’ caught me.
“I was gutted going down the back straight for the last time which is why I left it all on and tried to get him. I never backed off and I thought I was going to hit him.”
But he didn’t – instead Smith Jnr smashed into the plate fence and hobbled around it to limp over the line in seventh.
STUART SMITH JNR 2008
Stuart Smith Jnr did win the race, however, in 2008 at Coventry, where he beat Wainman Jnr to the flag.
On a wet October night, Iain Noden won the first heat, while Smith Jnr followed Andy Ford home in the next. Reigning World and British champion Andy Smith won heat three, and former world champion Murray Harrison took heat four, with Smith Jnr again in second place.
Mark Gilbank won the final heat, and having finished second to Andy Smith earlier in the meeting, started on pole, with Smith alongside.
Smith Jnr started on the inside of the second row, with Noden next to him. David Nickolls lined up next after a fine second and a fifth in the heats alongside a young Tom Harris. Wainman Jnr started on inside row four, Peter Falding outside of row six, with Paul Harrison and John Lund near the back of the grid.
“We got everything right for the final,” says Smith Jnr. “The car was good. It was a really good race.”
Gilbank got away best at the green flag, with Smith Jnr chasing, followed by Smith. There was a gap back to Falding, Wainman Jnr and Harris, but Falding got collected in a pile-up on the home straight. With cars spinning all over the track, the field was depleted after just a couple of laps when the race was stopped.
Gilbank led the restart from Smith Jnr, with Wainman Jnr moving Andy Smith aside, who struggled for grip on the wetter outside line and dropped to seventh.
There was little in it between the top three, when Smith Jnr pushed Gilbank wide on the pit bend to take the lead ahead of Wainman Jnr.
After another stoppage Smith Jnr led the restart from Wainman Jnr and Gilbank, until Wainman Jnr shoved Smith Jnr into the mud on turn three, which also allowed Gilbank through to second and Lund, who came from a long way back now in third place. Andy Smith had recovered to fourth ahead of Harris, with Smith Jnr fighting back in sixth place.
The front two began to pull away from the pack as Lund went wide, allowing both Smith and Smith Jnr through.
My car was brilliant that night. That car was always good on shale, as is my car now
As the track began to dry the race settled down in the second half of the race with Wainman Jnr still in control at the front, ahead of Gilbank, with Smith and Smith Jnr next.
The Smith brothers then began to close the gap on Gilbank and Smith dived down the Rotherham driver’s inside into the pit bend. Smith Jnr saw his opportunity and launched into Gilbank who catapulted into Smith who spun, collecting Gilbank with him.
“I hit Mark Gilbank into my brother, which took those two out and then it was just me and Frank,” recalls Smith Jnr. “I closed him down over the final six or seven laps. My car was brilliant that night. That car was always good on shale, as is my car now.”
Wainman Jnr still had a decent lead as the lap boards came out a number of pile-ups and backmarkers slowed him down enough to allow Smith Jnr to catch him and with three laps to go the Milnrow star was able to connect with the Wainman Jnr back bumper and into the lead.
From then on it was a case of ticking off the laps and a first British Championship win. Wainman Jnr recovered to finish second, ahead of Lund, Paul Harrison, Paul Hines and Gilbank.
“I’ve only won one British and I’ve come close to winning it many, many times and I should have won it a couple of times,” Smith Jnr says.
“But ifs and buts don’t mean a thing, do they. I’m hoping to put that right this weekend.”
PAUL HINES 2010
If it hadn’t been for a V8 Hotstox driver, Carl Radforth, who happened to drive passed the B-Warm transporter on the way to Skegness, Paul Hines would not have won the 2010 BSCDA British Drivers Championship. In fact he would have been lucky to have even taken part that night.
All geared up and raring to go on the big day, the Hines transporter ran out of diesel on the way to the track.
And the nearest garage was more than a mile away.
“My dad was driving,” says Hines. “And he just thought we’d make the garage over the hill. And like in all these old buses the fuel gauge needle wasn’t exactly right, so it was a case of “well, we’ve still got some fumes in there so we’ll keep going a bit further”.
“But we didn’t. We’d been to Skeggy a millions times but for some reason on that day it all went wrong.”
It was then a few minutes later that Radforth pulled up to help. “He had a can with him, picked up some diesel and put it in the bus,” says Hines. “He helped get it all running, because with diesel buses you can’t just put it in and go, you have to bleed it through.”
From that point on it was full steam ahead to get to Skegness before the meeting started. It was touch and go whether they would make it in time.
“We literally pulled in the gate just as the cars for heat one were going out. I was in heat one, the car came off, no practice, I got straight in and scrutineered – they waited for me thankfully – and from that point on I never looked back.
“Everything went absolutely right for me. Crazy really.”
The meeting combined a National Points Shootout round together with the British Championship and was regarded as the best Tarmac meeting of that year. In the 25-car first heat Hines finished seventh behind Lee Fairhurst.
With big hits happening all around the track as the Shootout contenders clashed bumpers, it left the lower graders with the opportunity to gained points towards the final line-up. The 22-car heat two was won by James Lund, in a race which left plenty of damage for those behind him.
Not only had we just got to the track, but I got a decent place because a load of people crashed and the half shaft broke just as I crossed the line
The 24-car third heat was notable for the damage caused to a number of cars, notably Fairhurst, who crashed out only to be used as a fence post as Wainman Jnr fired Dan Johnson into his stricken car. Johnson returned the compliment on Wainman Jnr while a lap down. Lee Robinson won the race, while Hines, who was lying in eighth place found himself promoted to fourth after the last bend.
“It’s strange because on the last bend I was probably about eighth, and I remember Frankie and a couple of others crashed in front of me. I went through it all and into fourth.
“And then as I crossed the line the half shaft broke! So, the luck on that day – not only had we just got to the track, but I got a decent place because a load of people crashed and the half shaft broke just as I crossed the line.
“If it had happened the lap before I don’t think I would have even finished the race, let alone got fourth.”
Heat four field 20 cars and was won by Robinson, who was then demoted to third for jumping the start, handing the win to Mike Kingston Jnr.
By this stage Hines knew he needed a win in his final heat to gain of a decent grid position for the big race. His cause was helped when Stuart Smith Jnr had to be tractored off the track before the start after his front offside wheel fell off due to a broken stub axle.
Using the front bumper to good effect, Hines caught and passed leader Kingston on the last lap to take the flag.
“I went into the last heat knowing I needed to get a win to get up the grid and I did,” says Hines. “That put me second row inside and from there onwards it was just a fantastic day. It was amazing.”
It was Kingston who started the championship race from pole, with Robinson on the outside of the front row. Hines was in the prime position behind them, with another lower grader, Dean Whitwell, alongside.
Hines’ principal dangers were Paul Harrison immediately behind him on the fourth row and Smith Jnr on the outside of row four. Wainman Jnr was further back on row eight with Andy Smith on row nine.
“Lee Robinson was my main competition at that point and there was Paul Harrison and Stuart Smith Jnr as well, so I knew I had to get rid of Robinson pretty quickly,” explains Hines.
On the opening lap as Robinson dived into turn three, Hines made his move.
“I hit him pretty hard and I climbed up his wheel a little bit,” Hines says. “Nine times out of ten, if you do that you end up on top of them, but as luck would have it, somehow, some way, the car came back off him, he went out wide and I went off and that was that.”
Hines took the lead and from that point on had the race under control to the chequered flag.
The British final itself was one of the easiest races I have ever won. I had to put Lee Robinson away on the first bend, which I did, but after that I don’t think I touched another car
“It was unbelievable really, that fate on the day was mine,” Hines admits. “And I’ll never forget it – it was a really brutal meeting. The heats were classics. There was lots of damage, lots of big races, lots of big hits.
“I remember on the day Andrew Smith, who was the fastest man on Tarmac at the time, wasn’t very well. He had the flu, so he was struggling a bit.
“It sounds daft, but the British final itself was one of the easiest races I have ever won. I had to put Lee Robinson away on the first bend, which I did, but after that I don’t think I touched another car. It was weird.
“Yet I’ve been in races where I’ve knocked the crap out of 10 to 15 other drivers and finished tenth. It’s strange how it goes.”
As Hines peeled off the laps he was able to punch the air as he negotiated the final turn to take the flag as British champion. Smith climbed up through the pack to take second place, ahead of Robinson, with Harrison, Fairhurst and Smith Jnr rounding out the top six.
“I think when you win a race like that, there more a sense of relief because you are in the lead for so long you have time to build things up in your mind,” Hines says. “It was unbelievable how everything on that day went my way and I ended up with a very nice black and white flag on top of my car.”
Like many drivers Hines is of the view the BSCDA British Drivers Championship is one of the hardest races to win during the year.
“The beauty of the British is you have to work hard through the heats to get there,” Hines explains. “Don’t get me wrong the World Final is much tougher to get to it through the year, however, on the day the World Final is a race on its own – and anything can happen in a race on its own.
“Whereas at the British, you have got to do well throughout the meeting in three heats and then the final – you need a bit of luck in all of them, you need skill in all of them. So I was dead chuffed to win it. It was fantastic.”
LEE FAIRHURST 2013, 2015
Lee Fairhurst has won the British title twice, in 2013 and 2015. The first win at Buxton came after surviving an opening lap onslaught by Rob Speak.
It was a race that he and his team prepared for meticulously for. Apart from set up changes there was the small matter of reinforcing the car against the potential onslaught it was likely to be subjected to – a prediction that came true on the day.
The Buxton final was notable for two things, the ease of Fairhurst’s victory after surviving the attentions of Rob Speak during the opening laps, and the huge accident that brought out a stoppage after Dan Johnson’s car was collected at great velocity by a number of oncoming F1 stock cars on lap two.
Dan Johnson started on pole with Micky Randell upsides. Speak was inside second row with Fairhurst next to him. Wainman Jnr was on row four, reigning champion Craig Finnikin on row six. Tom Harris was a non-starter after suffering an unsolvable engine misfire.
The opened laps were fierce, as Randell never even crossed the start/finish line after being squeeze into the Armco and into retirement. Johnson led momentarily until Speak fired him into the first turn fence, bending a steering arm. Crucially he came to rest next to the fence three-quarters of the way along the back straight.
Fairhurst took the lead but Speak was in no mood to take prisoners and immediately launched Fairhurst into the armco. However, Fairhurst survived and was able to maintain his lead into the next corner.
Speak tried another attack but was unable to connect, which gave Fairhurst some breathing space as Will Yarrow moved ahead of Speak, with Lee Robinson and Wainman Jnr next.
It was then that the race was stopped as the packed charged down the back straight. Paul Hines dived to the inside to avoid the stricken Johnson car but Mat Newson hit it head on and was flung into the path of Finnikin, who lost the front end of his car in the resulting collision and without any brakes piled into the fence.
We strengthened the car before we went to Buxton as we expected to be in the fence at
Josh Smith collected Newson’s car and together they followed Finnikin in. It was one of the nastiest crashes seen in recent years, but the fact all the drivers emerged unscathed was testament to the structure of modern F1 stock cars.
After the restart Fairhurst went on to win unchallenged, with Speak regaining second spot and Robinson taking third from Wainman Jnr.
“I qualified on the second row outside having done nothing spectacular in the heats,” says Fairhurst. “We strengthened the car before we went to Buxton as we expected to be in the fence at some point seeing as it was such a big race.
“When Rob put Dan in the fence hard on the first turn I managed to go up the inside and thought I could get enough of a gap. I saw Rob in my mirrors and thought he was fair way back to give me a big hit and if he did go for it he would be going in with me.
“I hit the fence but was able to ride it and bounce back out and keep going. Once I got in front the car was really good and I was able to put it wherever I wanted it to be.”
Despite all the carnage and the huge hits the end result was quite straightforward for Fairhurst, which is why his second victory in 2015 is his favourite.
“I think my Northampton win was the better performance because I had to go and win the race more than once with the yellow flags that came out,” Fairhurst says.
“I had Frank (Wainman Jnr) and Tom (Harris) breathing down my neck throughout the race and Tom was probably the man to beat on Tarmac at the time, so I would say that was the better drive.”
“The meeting at Northampton before the British I won the final as well so I knew we had a pretty good chance of doing well.”
Fairhurst started the British on the inside of the second row and with front row starters Joff Gibson and Dan Johnson hooking up at the drop of the flag, Fairhurst took advantage and the lead, which he was never to relinquish.
The pace was fierce with the main threat coming from Harris, who started from the outside of row three. But despite a couple of stoppages Fairhurst was able to pull away and maintain the gap to the chequered flag.
“Once I got in front and I saw Tom trying to chase me down I just tried to keep that gap between us,” Fairhurst explains. “I think the most important thing was I knew the yellows would come out eventually, and I had to try and get past the backmarkers as quickly as possible.
“I had to get through and try to put backmarkers between me and Tom because if the yellows come out and you have a few cars between you, you have some breathing space. As it was, it didn’t work out like that but I just focused on not losing much time passing backmarkers.”
Harris was unable to get in a blow in second place, with Johnson recovering to finish third ahead of Wainman Jnr, Craig Finnikin and Rob Speak.
That was two years ago and now this year the British is being run at Sheffield on shale for the first time since 2005. Fairhurst won the final on shale at Belle Vue last weekend in his first proper outing in his revamped shale car and goes to Owlerton for this year’s championship full of confidence.
“I won the final at the last Coventry and then won at Belle Vue last weekend so now I feel I have the car beneath me to show what I can do on shale,” he says.
“In year’s gone by I have preferred racing on Tarmac but I like racing on shale more and more now. I enjoy Sheffield and I’m more confident than ever now as I feel I have the car beneath me to compete.”
CRAIG FINNIKIN 2012
Craig Finnikin was able keep his wheels on in 2012, when he won the race at Coventry after a dramatic last lap.
Having already won the National Points Shootout the year before, it was the BSCDA British Drivers Championship that was Finnikin main aim to take back to Leek in Staffordshire.
However, Finnikin had to somehow achieve something unique to him. Up to that point, having raced F1 stock cars for more than ten years, he had never won a final at Coventry. Finnikin calls it “the Coventry Curse”.
Prior to Coventry that year he had been going well with the silver roof. With two final victories at King’s Lynn plus another at Belle Vue and six top three finishes in other finals he went into the British as one of the favourites.
His meeting started well. After Tom Harris took the opening heat after Frankie Wainman Jnr – who was out in the car of Neil Holcroft – tangled with John Lund, Finnikin began his meeting with a win in heat two having moved Mick Sworder from the lead on the last bend.
C-grader Garry Fox won heat three ahead of Murray Harrison and Paul Hines with Finnikin less prominent down in seventh place, while Mark Gilbank made short work of heat four, hotly pursued by Harris.
A consolation event rewarded the top two with a slot on the back of the final line-up with Ed Neachell winning from Chris Clare.
For the big race 30 cars lined up, with Harris on pole position, with Gilbank on the outside of the front row. Finnikin lined up on the inside of row two with Sworder. Hines was next with Wainman Jnr alongside, while Murray Harrison was on his own on row four as Fox as pulled off before the start.
At the green flag it was Finnikin who got the best start, diving down the inside of both Harris and Gilbank to take the lead. Harris chased the leader for a couple of laps until a broken half shaft ended his race. Gilbank was swiftly moved aside by an aggressive Murray Harrison, with Wainman Jnr in hot pursuit.
After just four laps Finnikin led by nearly the length of the straight, with Harrison and Wainman Jnr pulling away from the rest of the field headed by Gilbank.
It wasn’t long before Finnikin was forced to weave his way through the backmarkers, which allowed Harrison to rapidly close the gap. By lap six Harrison was close enough to launch an assault on the leader, catapulting Finnikin into Les Spencer into turn three, which left Spencer clattering the Armco and Harrison in the lead.
Frank took Murray out and I took Mick out. So I came from fourth on the last bend to win it
Wainman Jnr was now second, Ian Higgins was third, while Finnikin had to try and claw his way back in fifth place behind Sworder.
The yellow flags came out before halfway, and from the restart Harrison maintained his lead over Wainman Jnr with Sworder now third with Finnikin close up in fourth. The yellow came out again a couple of laps later after Ryan Harrison put Mal Brown into the turn three Amrco.
From the restart it looked like the British title was going to be decided between Harrison, having his best drive for some years, and Wainman Jnr, who closed up on the former world champion as the laps ran down. Sworder and Finnikin were beginning to catch the leading pair as they fought over third place, but as the lap boards came out Harrison appeared to have every move made by Wainman Jnr covered.
“I was having a good battle with Mick for third,” says Finnikin. “We were slowly catching the front two so instead of knocking each other about I decided to sit behind Mick and see if we could catch them and then sort it out on the last few laps.
“And then all hell let loose on the last lap.”
Into the final lap Wainman Jnr had to make a last-bend attack to have any chance of victory. Piling into Harrison, the pair slid wide and into the parked car of Brown. Harrison’s hopes of victory ended on the spot while Wainman Jnr was slow to get away.
In an instant Finnikin, who was fourth entering the last corner, was past Sworder and into the lead in a sprint to the chequered flag.
“Frank took Murray out and I took Mick out,” says Finnikin. “And so I came from fourth on the last bend to win it.”
Sworder came home second, ahead of Wainman Jnr. Harrison limped across the line a disappointed seventh.
“Going into the last lap I didn’t think I had a hope of winning, to be honest,” Finnikin admits. “It was one of those races. It was the Coventry Curse. I had never actually won a final around Coventry until that night and then I went on to win three on the trot after that…”
Neil Randon 2017
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley