Mark Woodhull took full advantage of a rare mistake by Nigel Green to win the final at Stoke’s last meeting of the season, in what has been since heralded by many as the race of the season.
The Stoke final was notable for the battle between Green and Smith Jnr, which reached fever pitch in the closing stages and left Smith Jnr marooned in the pit bend fence with a broken rear axle.
Then with the race at his mercy Green clipped parked cars on the last bend and failed to finish, leaving Woodhull free to take a welcomed chequered flag for his first final win of the season.
On a cold November evening the meeting began with a Whites and Yellows Championship race with 16 cars lined up in points order on a very damp track.
Geoff Nicholls led from pole at the green flag, with Eliot Smith giving chase. Smith took the lead after Nichols tangled with Sam Makim and cruised to an easy victory. Aaron Cozens finished second, with Jack France third. Nigel Harrhy, Sam Jacklin and Chris Brocksopp rounded out the top six.
Heat two was also the Coventrystox Track Championship, with world champion Green the polesitter, with Danny Wainman alongside.
Green set off in front at the start, with Wainman being pursued by Smith Jnr and Frankie Wainman Jnr. Smith Jnr launched at Wainman but Wainman Jnr took care of both and moved into second place.
Green began to extend his lead until slowed by backmarkers which helped Wainman Jnr to close the gap before halfway. Wainman Jnr forced Green wide into turn one to take the lead and from then on it was the British champion’s race, as he extended his lead to nearly half a lap at the flag ahead of Green, with Smith Jnr further back in third. Mat Newson finished fourth, ahead of John Dowson and Frankie Wainman Jnr Jr.
Heat three fielded 25 cars but only seven cars finished. Soon after the green flag an eight-car pile-up in the pit bend brought out the yellows. A second yellow flag came out soon after the restart when Newson hit the home straight fence and it was France who led the field on the second restart ahead of Joe Booth, Green, Smith Jnr and Wainman Jnr.
Green soon took the lead as Wainman Jnr was unceremoniously sent fencewards by Booth and after a third caution to remove the stricken Booth car, Green charged ahead to take the flag from Smith Jnr, with Wainman Jnr fighting back to finish third. Billy Johnson was fourth, ahead of John Wright, Russell Cooper, France and Steve Whittle.
If heat three was a war of attrition, the final was simply a war. From the green flag France led the field before Jacklin took the lead, only to lose it to Dowson. Any hope Dowson had to get away from the battles raging behind were soon quashed when the lap boards came out. The red flags began waving after Johnson tipped over on the pit bend.
With the field diminished to only 11 cars running, Dowson’s lead was cut short immediately by Green, who drilled the leader into turn one, only for Smith Jnr to mirror the move – resulting in the Green car clattering the fence.
The world champion got away quickly, however, and was soon chasing after new leader Smith Jnr down the back straight. In a bold and aggressive move into turn three Green clattered into Smith Jnr, who went fencewards into the pit bend. The Smith Jnr car dug into the Armco and was out of the race on the spot.
Into the last lap Woodhull was close up behind Green, but down the back straight for the last time the leader looked to have the race won. Inexplicably, Green dived into the final bend too deep, and with a number of parked cars off the racing line, Green clipped the stricken Makim car, which forced him into the parking lot and out of the race.
Out of the carnage Woodhull survived to take a famous victory, ahead of Wainman and Wainman Jnr Jr. Wainman Jnr finished fourth, with Scott Davids fifth and Nicholls the last finisher home in sixth.
“I think Nigel hit me for neither of us to win,” Smith Jnr said afterwards. “I would have done that if I didn’t want either of us to win.”
Green saw the incident differently. “I didn’t take myself out. I kept going,” he said. “I just retaliated to what he started.
“Stuart put me in the fence so he went into the fence as well. I hit the fence and stopped very quickly but managed to keep going. He hit the fence and it grabbed him and stopped him but that’s the nature of the Stoke fence.”
“On the last lap I just made a mistake, “ admitted Green. “I’m not sure if the car was damaged from the other visits I had to the fence, but it struggled to turn after going in with Stuart. So the car wasn’t handling as well as it was.
“But it just goes to show everybody’s human and can make mistakes.”
After a battle royal all evening only 13 cars managed to make it out for the Grand National, including Green, who managed to replace his back axle during two support races. Dowson took the lead from France after halfway and went on to take the flag ahead of Eliot Smith and Frankie Wainman Jnr. After a consistent evening’s racing Wainman Jnr Jr finished fourth, ahead of Newson and Paul Hines.
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley
Neil Randon 2017