Stuart Smith Jnr had an unusual and eventful bank holiday weekend. It began with a successful opening round of the Mintext National Points Championship Shootout at Birmingham, where he came away with second in the final and a comfortable win in the Grand National.
And then on Sunday morning wife Katie, who was nine months pregnant, went into labour. By lunchtime the Smith family were celebrating the arrival of a baby girl, Josephine Evelyn, into the world.
I think had about four hours kip over the weekend. I went to Belle Vue and I felt as though I was dreaming. I really did. I felt like I was floating!
Then the following afternoon Smith Jnr was back in action for Shootout round two at Belle Vue.
And to cap it all – and the perfect way to celebrate the past 48 hours – Smith Jnr went on to win the final and take the lead in the battle for the silver roof.
“I think had about four hours kip over the weekend,” said Smith. “I went to Belle Vue and I felt as though I was dreaming. I really did. I felt like I was floating!
“It was good that my brother Andrew decided he was coming up to see Josephine but rather than go to the hospital he thought, “sod that, I’ll go and get your stock car ready!”
“He did that and saw Josephine on the way the Belle Vue as Katie was coming out of the hospital.”
The meeting began with a whites and yellow race with 16 cars on track. Aaron Cozens led until entering the last lap when his car ground to a halt, allowing Nigel Whalley to take the lead and the victory. Chris Alderson finished second, with Geoff Nickolls third.
Whalley continued his good work in the opening heat, soon taking the lead in front of the 18-car field and led at halfway from Dan Johnson and John Dowson.
Johnson soon took over at the front and went on to victory, with Whalley hanging on to second, ahead of Dowson, Lee Fairhurst, Craig Finnikin and Paul Hines.
Heat two fielded 18 cars and the yellows soon came out on lap two when Sam Jacklin hit the fence on the back straight, bringing down the fence. By this stage Shootout points leader Ryan Harrison was already out of the race.
Jack France led the restart from Eliot Smith, Richard Bryan and Frankie Wainman Jnr, and it was Wainman Jnr who cruised into the lead by halfway and went to on to a comfortable win from Smith Jnr and Mat Newson. Danny Wainman was fourth, ahead of France and Scott Davids. Front-running Shootout contender Nigel Green also failed to finish.
The consolation fielded 13 cars, including Shootout contenders Harrison, Green, Luke Davidson and Ben Riley.
By halfway Eliot Smith led from Joff Gibson, Riley, Harrison and Green, as Davidson pulled off. Gibson soon took over the lead and the win, ahead of Green and Harrison. Mal Brown was fourth, with Mark Poole and Riley rounding out the top six.
The final featured 27 cars with Whalley soon leading the pack. The yellows came out after Sam Makim clipped the fence down the back straight, collecting Robert Plant along the way.
After repairs to the fence, Whalley led the restart ahead of France, Bryan, Gibson, Dowson and Johnson, who led the Shootout pack. It was Johnson who made up the most ground to take the lead into the second half of the race from Gibson and Whalley. Further back Wainman Jnr got spun by Davids, while Harrison and Poole hooked up into turn three and found the fence.
Smith Jnr began to pick off the leaders one by one, passing the spinning Wainman Jnr, before forcing his way passed Finnikin and Fairhurst.
I knew my car would be good enough to beat them all but I needed the rub of the green. And I got it
Up front Johnson had the lead with five laps to go from Gibson and the flying Smith Jnr. Smith Jnr then passed Gibson a lap later and was soon on the tail of Johnson with two laps to go. Going into turn three, Smith Jnr made his move on Johnson, forcing the leader wide to take the lead.
From then on the 34-year-old pulled clear to take the chequered flag. Johnson finished second, ahead of the forceful Gibson, Fairhurst, Wainman Jnr, who made up a lot of ground after his spin, and Green.
“It was a case of picking my way through,” said Smith Jnr. “I had a bit of a collision at the beginning that me and Frank managed to get through. Dan was away at the front of the Shootout pack. He was the one to catch.
“Then there was a yellow flag and I knew my car would be good enough to beat them all but I needed the rub of the green. And I got it.
“Straight away I got under Frankie, who got spun out. So he was the first box that was ticked off, then I picked Craig Finnikin off, then Lee Fairhurst and then it was a case of chasing Dan Johnson down.
I couldn’t see the lapboards, it was that dusty. And the sun was just hitting the dust. I could tell it was Dan in front of me, but anybody else I was struggling to tell who they were. I couldn’t see anything in my mirror
“Joff Gibson was in there and he was going really well. I passed Dan, and I didn’t destroy him to pass him. He knew I was going to be at the front in the points and he could have had a dive, but I didn’t really give him an opportunity. I think I had the pace in my car to pull away from him.”
Smith Jnr’s main concern was visibility. On a hot day, the track dried out quickly and created a dust bowl.
“I couldn’t see the lapboards, it was that dusty,” explained Smith Jnr. “And the sun was just hitting the dust. I could tell it was Dan in front of me, but anybody else I was struggling to tell who they were. I couldn’t see anything in my mirror.
“And I couldn’t see the lapboards and what numbers they were. And when I caught Dan I thought I’d seen three lapboards, but I could have missed one.
“I thought I could have him when I caught him up going into turn three. But I thought to myself “is this the last corner or not?”
“If it wasn’t Dan was probably going to get back on me and put me wide and he’d get the win, but I decided to knock him wide, and then they put another lapboard out!
“But luckily enough my car was fast enough and I edged away from him.”
There were 22 cars in the Grand National with Smith Jnr taking the one-lap handicap. Davidson pulled off before the start.
I was really lucky to get seventh. Getting 16 points was like winning the race
The race was stopped after Karl Roberts whacked the fence causing more fence repairs, and on the restart Johnson led from Gibson, Finnikin and Wainman Jnr.
Johnson stayed in front despite the attentions of the Gibson front bumper as the race went green, and from then on pulled away to an easy victory. Finnikin finished second ahead of Wainman Jnr, Gibson, Fairhurst and Green.
Smith Jnr came through to finish seventh, despite a nearside rear slow puncture which eventually went completely flat on the last lap. “I was really lucky to get seventh,” said Smith Jnr. “Getting 16 points was like winning the race.”
And so as the Shootout takes a three-week break, with the World Final in between, Smith Jnr leads the National Points race with 135 points, 25 ahead of Wainman Jnr on 110. Green is third on 109, with Wainman next on 100. Fairhurst has 99 points, while Harrison, who had a meeting to forget after such a successful opening round, is currently on 94.