Eliot Smith won his first-ever final at King’s Lynn on Saturday night 22 years after first competing in F1.
Having raced in V8 Hotstox, Smith had a one-off drive in the F1 stock car of Keith Chambers during the two-day European Championship weekend at Northampton in 1995. The son of Gordon Smith, the flamboyant Halifax star of the 1970s, then wasn’t seen out again until 2013 at Coventry, driving his own car.
Now 49 years old, Smith races solely on shale. “In 2102 I started my own business,” explained Smith. “I have a quarry and dig out the natural stone and it’s just been booming for me.
“So I thought now’s the time to do it, otherwise in a few years time I would definitely be too old. To be honest I’ve struggled for three years or so. I’ve done alright – I’ve had a three or four wins, including in the Grand National, but it has been a proper learning curve for me, and we just had the car dialed in at King’s Lynn.
“I can’t say we’ve altered the car drastically, but all it takes is minor adjustments. At the beginning of the season we went the wrong way with the weights on the car and we couldn’t work out what the problem was.”
As it turns out, it was only because of a change of plan by one of his mechanics that Smith decided to race at King’s Lynn in the first place.
“I wasn’t even going to go to King’s Lynn,” explained Smith. “I’m away next month on holiday, and my main mechanic had possible commitments on Saturday but his girlfriend told him to go racing and she would go on her own.
“If he had said he wasn’t coming, I would have used that as an excuse not to go! But, believe me I’m glad I went!”
Smith started the meeting well at the Adrian Flux Arena with victory in the 17-car Whites and Yellows race on a very greasy track.
I wasn’t even going to go to King’s Lynn. My main mechanic had commitments on Saturday but his girlfriend told him to go racing
Smith took the lead from William Fenwick early on until Russell Cooper took over into turn four on the penultimate lap. Entering the back straight Cooper clipped an errant marker tyre that had been pushed onto the racing line and half spun, allowing Smith to dive down the inside into turn three and take the chequered flag. Geoff Nickolls slipped through to take second place with Cooper, bogged down off the racing line, finishing third.
Heat one featured 20 cars and was led early on by Richard Woods until the yellows came out after Scott Davids was parked by the turn one fence. Woods got away well on the restart and was pursued by a flying Lee Fairhurst, who took over before halfway, while Frankie Wainman Jnr got moved aside into turn one by Mark Gilbank. More than half a lap covered the top three as Fairhurst was able to stroke the car home to an easy victory, with Gilbank on his own in second and Wainman Jnr third. Colin Goodwin finished fourth, ahead of Woods and Dutch driver Mark Tesselar.
Stuart Smith Jnr made short work of the stars and superstars in front of him during the opening laps of the 24-car heat two, as Dan Johnson and Tom Harris tangled into turn one. Soon after Smith took up the running from Neil Scriven.
Smith Jnr had now taken up the chase in third, ahead of Ryan Harrison in fourth. Smith Jnr moved into second as Scriven went wide into turn one, and with two laps to go nudged Smith aside to take the lead into turn one to go on to take an impressive win. Smith held on for second, ahead of Scriven, Harrison, Paul Hines and Danny Wainman.
Colin Nairn soon took up the running in the 23-car Consolation event before hooking up with Nigel Harry entering the back straight as Chris Farnell took the lead. The race was stopped just before halfway after Dutchman Joelle Tesselar and Sam Jacklin were locked together by the fence in turn two.
On the restart Farnell led from Paul Hopkins and Johnson until getting sideways entering the home straight, and Johnson was able to move past the two leaders into turn one and from then on was untroubled to the flag. Hopkins held on to finish second, ahead of Ben Riley and Mark Woodhull, with Mark Sargent and Bradley Harrison rounding out the top six.
Nairn led the 32-car final from the green flag, while further back a gaggle of stars and superstars tangled coming out of turn four. Crucially, it meant the big guns had to play catch-up, having been left nearly a lap behind the leaders. Harrison was the first to extract himself but soon after tangled with Sargent in turn two.
Up at the front it was Hopkins who took up the running ahead of Smith as the star names did their best to make up the lost ground. Fastest man on the track at this stage was Harris, who was fairly eating up the deficit, having past Johnson and was up to fourth by halfway. By this stage Smith had moved into the lead and was pulling away from Hopkins, who had Riley closing fast. Harris was soon up to third place but as the track began to become slicker, Johnson began to find some pace and began close up once more.
With no yellow flags to close the field back up, Smith and Hopkins were comfortably at the head of affairs but Harris had Johnson looming large in his mirrors as the lap boards came out, and soon had the Worksop star on his back bumper. Harris went wide into turn one which allowed Johnson to take the inside line and though into third with three laps to go.
Smith kept his composure and maintained his pace to go on and score a well-earned final victory ahead of Hopkins, who took a commendable second place. Johnson was a fast-finishing third ahead of Harris, with Smith Jnr fifth, ahead of Mat Newson, Bradley Harrison and John Dowson, who was racing for the first time this season.
Smith started the 29-car Grand National from the back of the grid, during which after a frantic couple of laps the yellow flags came out.
Woods led the restart, while further back Hopkins went wide into turn three and was collected by Harris, causing Johnson, Riley Harris, Johnson, Newson and Woodhall to pile in.
Farnell took up the running but Dowson took over the lead soon after as Smith Jnr and Wainman Jnr gave chase further back. Wainman Jnr nudged Smith Jnr wide into turn three to go third.
It didn’t take long for the world champion to pass Farnell to move into second place before halfway. Wainman Jnr then reeled in Dowson with three laps to go to take the lead and the victory. Smith Jnr finished third, ahead of Danny Wainman, Fairhurst and Bradley Harrison. Final winner Smith, from the back of the grid, came home a very credible seventh.