Stuart Smith Jnr fired a warning shot across the bows of his rivals prior to this weekend’s Mintex National Points Championship Shootout Finale, sponsored by Towndoor, at Belle Vue on Sunday.
Smith Jnr goes into the double-points Finale round with a comfortable 119 lead, and with 154 points up for grabs, Nigel Green, Lee Fairhurst and Frankie Wainman Jnr still have a mathematical chance of snatching the title away from the Milnrow superstar.
It would need Smith Jnr to have a disastrous night and scoring very few points, with one of his three rivals winning both their heats, the final and the Grand National to guarantee a shock result.
But it isn’t over into the fat lady swings the chequered flag on the night, and at Stoke last Saturday it was Green who threw down the gauntlet during a dramatic final.
Smith Jnr had pushed Green wide and into the turn one fence in their battle to win the race during the closing stages, only for the world champion to immediately wipe out Smith Jnr half a lap later into turn three.
To Smith Jnr the incident left the impression the stakes had just been raised to a different level.
“It more or less totalled the rear end,” says Smith Jnr. “We had lots of damage – it’s a full week’s job for us because we’re going have to make a brand new back axle from scratch.
“We don’t just buy these things from America that cost two grand. We strip a standard Transit axle and get the tubes out and have them machined smaller. We then put them back into the diff casing and then we weld all our brackets on.
“We’ve got to make bird cages, hubs, disc carriers, caliper brackets, shocker brackets. It’s a big job really, a lot of machining.
“I’m working every night this week. I worked on Sunday, Sunday night, Monday, Monday night, and will all night this week and if someone thinks they are going to take the title away from me they are completely wrong.”
Despite the damage and hours of work in preparation for Sunday, Smith Jnr enjoyed the racing at Stoke.
“Maybe I’m too old-school,” admits Smith Jnr. “It was a proper stock car race. I was racing a stock car how it is supposed to be raced.
I wanted to give myself the best chance of winning the final, which I did. I put Nigel out into the fence and went past
“Stoke was good. I enjoyed it, I thought it was a bloody brilliant meeting. I just wish I could’ve got out for the National. It’s a shame really, I wished we’d carried a spare axle, but we don’t normally need to.
“I wanted to give myself the best chance of winning the final, which I did. I put Nigel out into the fence and went past. I didn’t right-lock him into the wall as such, although I could have done.”
While this season has been notable for the way the two rivals have fought each other during the year – whoever has been faster has been given right of way – Smith Jnr believes the rules of engagement have now changed.
“I think he hit me for neither of us to win,” says Smith Jnr. “I would have done that if I didn’t want either of us to win.
“It would have been a brilliant race if he had caught me up and got me on the last corner, but it’s just one of those things. He hasn’t raced with me like that ever before but it’s time to start, I suppose.”
I was happy for Mark, it was good to see him win and for someone other that a superstar win after a race like that. I think it will go down as one of the great races
While Smith Jnr was left licking his wounds as the race continued, Green then overcooked the last bend, hit parked cars and failed to finish, handing the race to Mark Woodhull, who was close behind.
“I was sat there watching the racing in my mirror and watching that bend,” explains Smith Jnr. “When everyone went in I thought “Nigel’s walked this”, and then he went barrelling in and I thought – oh dear. Karma’s a bitch, isn’t it!
“I was happy for Mark, it was good to see him win and for someone other than a superstar win after a race like that. I think it will go down as one of the great races. We’ve had some cracking races this season, it’s just seems that I’ve been involved on them all!”
I’m just going to go out to win my heats. But if someone wants to bring it on, they can
Of Smith Jnr’s three challengers on Sunday, Fairhurst has the best record at Belle Vue with two final victories, including at the last Shootout round at the Manchester track last month, but the Bolton star expects to be fighting over second place.
“There’s still plenty of money to be earned for second and third,” says Fairhurst. “So I’d like to be in the top three – hopefully I can make some ground up on Nigel. I’ll be racing to win each race.”
Smith Jnr only needs to finish consistently in the points at Belle Vue to take his first major title since winning the Shootout in 2009, but the 34-year-old intends to race the same way he has always done, going for victory.
“I’m just going to go out to win my heats,” says Smiths Jnr. “But if someone wants to bring it on, they can.
“As I have said throughout the Shootout, if someone wants to start a war, they can. But they will lose…
“There would be no way I will back down. If someone wants to take it to me to that extreme then I’ll make sure they don’t win.”
Neil Randon 2017
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley