After a dramatic evening’s racing at the King’s Lynn last Saturday, the 10-round battle for the National Points Championship Shootout moves to the Midlands this weekend with round 7 on Tarmac at Birmingham Wheels on Saturday night, followed by round 8 at the Northampton Shaleway the following afternoon.
While the series can’t be won over the two days, it is an opportunity for reigning World and National Points champion Stuart Smith Jnr and his nearest rival, Frankie Wainman Jnr, to push for points and gain an extra advantage heading into the final two weeks of the season.
If previous rounds are anything to go by, round 7, sponsored by Sapphire Glass Merchants, at Birmingham on Saturday and round 8 at Northampton, sponsored by Teng Tools, on Sunday afternoon, are both guaranteed to be rough and tough.
Smith Jnr, for his part, has rediscovered his Tarmac form when it has mattered most, with victory in the World Final at Skegness before he followed up with a sizeable haul of points at the Lincolnshire track during round 5 of the Shootout series.
But having been a hot favourite to consolidate his lead at King’s Lynn last Saturday, Smith Jnr became embroiled in a war with European champion Tom Harris, who was aiming to win a £1,000 bonus by winning three King’s Lynn finals in succession.
After chasing home Neil Scothern in his heat, Smith Jnr fought wheel-to-wheel with Harris and Wainman Jnr in the final. After pushing Harris aside into turn four, the Rochdale star found himself clattering the fence at the next bend after Harris launched an attack with extra venom. The resulting hit caused sufficient damage to create a right-rear tyre rub on Smith Jnr’s car, as he set about making up the lost ground.
Wainman Jnr was able to take advantage, moving Harris aside in turn four and go on to take the victory. Further back, Mark Gilbank found himself the meat in the sandwich as he went to attack the Harris rear bumper just as Smith Jnr launched at his.
The aftermath left Gilbank connecting with Harris, who spun, while Smith Jnr pulled off to the infield moments later after the rubbing tyre eventually gave out.
The incident created plenty of talk afterwards.
“I was pretty much nailed on to win the final after I past everybody clean,” said a disappointed Smith Jnr. “I put Tom wide in in the mud, which I didn’t think was a dirty move.
“When he hit me I steered the car so it hit the fence sideways. It did the front corner, front axle, and the nerf rail was pushed back into my right rear tyre. It did quite a lot of damage.”
Me and Rob Speak went at it at King’s Lynn a few years back. He put me in to finish me but he gave me a chance. He came past and gave me the chance to catch him to have a go back. And I did exactly that.
“Looking back, as much as there is a Smith/Wainman rivalry, it showed in Gears and Tears Andrew and Frank respected each other enough not to revert to banger racing. You either go out and destroy someone and arguably both of you are not going to carry on, or you put somebody in but enough for there to be a fair old chance they can get you back.
“When me and Rob Speak went at it at King’s Lynn a few years back, he put me in the fence to finish me but he gave me a chance. He came past and gave me the chance to catch him to have a go back. And I did exactly that. That is when you can get out of the car and say “Well, that was brilliant stock car racing”.
“It’s different in a World Final, when anything goes. I remember Peter Falding putting me in the fence at Coventry in the World Final when I was winning and he was second. But it was for the win, really. I was a young upstart and he knew he couldn’t trust me so he buried me. And he said afterwards,” I’m sorry about that”, but I said “No, you can’t be sorry. It won you the race!” That is the attitude you should have.”
Wainman Jnr for his part, had an different view of the incident in the final. “Tom got away because he is really quick at the start and mine was set up to be quick later on,” he said. “I was catching both him and Stuart when they started messing about and I just finished them off and managed to get away from them.
“To my mind, Stuart didn’t hit Tom hard enough, not when he was going for three on the trot,” Wainman Jnr said. “You can’t blame Tom for it. He went in next bend and put Stuart in the wall, but I didn’t think it was anything stupid.
“Stuart was really more p****d off because of the points, which I can understand.”
In the Grand National, Smith Jnr and Harris clashed again. This time Harris found himself hooked up on to the side of the Smith Jnr car going down the home straight, but was dramatically unhooked after Smith Jnr sent both cars careering into the inside marker tyres in turn one.
Once again, Wainman Jnr benefited from the clash, moving past Smith Jnr to score valuable double points.
“We cobbled it together for the National,” said Smith Jnr. “Tom caught me up and tried to drive me into the wall but I was ready for it and we hooked up then, and so I needed to get rid of somebody who was costing me a load of time. I wanted to try and win that race and get back some points. That was all I was thinking about.”
And so, having been 42 points ahead of Wainman Jnr prior to the meeting, Smith Jnr is now just three points in front. With a potentially huge points total possible over the two days, either driver could come away with a lead that will be hard to peg back.
Smith Jnr for his part feels confident he can readdress the balance and win at both meetings. “I’ve now got the mindset to win both finals this weekend and put the Shootout to bed,” he said.
Wainman Jnr has the same plan: “I’ve got the confidence in both cars at the moment. At Buxton and Skeggy I was right on the pace, but Stuart is there as well.
“I’m spending more on tyres than I would like but without decent tyres there’s no point in trying to win the Shootout.”
While the focus will be on Smith Jnr and Wainman Jnr, there are plenty of other Shootout contenders more than capable of dominating at either round. With 60 cars currently booked in to race at Birmingham, it is guaranteed to be a fast and lively affair, with plenty of hard hitting and, no doubt, a pinch of controversy to add spice to the mix.
Neil Randon 2018
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley