Our senior consultant Andy Weltch reflects on a childhood ambition fulfilled – a visit to the world hot rod championship.
For many British kids of my generation, growing up in the ’70s meant the great TV sporting occasions were the FA Cup Final, maybe Wimbledon, an Ashes Test Match, or the British F1 Grand Prix.
For me, there was another TV sporting highlight – the world hot rod championship, held at Foxhall Stadium, Ipswich, every summer.
As a geeky young hot rod racing fan in south west England, with lots of enthusiasm but no money, Ipswich was as unreachable as those other motorsport venues, Monaco or Indianapolis – and equally exotic.
So, I would look forward to ITV’s World of Sport broadcast of the big race each July – staking my claim to the family’s black and white TV set for this Saturday afternoon treat.
The big race was an invitational event then, hosted by promoters Spedeworth. The entry would include its own top drivers, those from other British promotions (which – thrill of thrills for me – sometimes included a couple from the Autospeed tracks in Devon and Cornwall), mainland Europe and as far away as South Africa.
The cameras and commentary would inevitably focus on the leaders – generally that was Spedeworth’s drivers from the south east or East Anglia and visitors from the Midlands; but one year, I recall the wonderfully named South African Happy Steenkamp getting in the mix.
I’d be lucky to catch a glimpse of the south west drivers, but it was exciting to know they were involved in this prestigious event, and I could be part of it via a fuzzy monochrome broadcast.
I could never hope to experience it in real life as a kid. And, as an adult, work commitments, other interests, and yo-yoing enthusiasm combined to keep me away until this year.
Now, as a middle-aged (ok then, old) man, I finally got there for the COVID-postponed 2021 world final last weekend (September 19). And, to my delight, it didn’t disappoint.
From the polite and helpful staff to the excellent seating and views, from the surprisingly good-value programme to the slickly run races, this was the most impressive British oval racing meeting I’ve ever been to. And I’ve been to a few over the last half century.
The only slight disappointments for me were the lack of those magical ingredients from the ’70s: drivers from abroad and from the south west.
The world final is no longer an invitational event, but has a formal qualifying process through national series in the various countries. This year, though, only those from the series in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland took part.
A combination of COVID-19 (affecting travel from South Africa) and Brexit (creating a bureaucratic nightmare for drivers hoping to bring cars from the EU) made this a more domestic affair. (Dutch drivers had competed in both the BriSCA Formula 1 and Formula 2 world finals in England over the previous two weeks, so there must be a way through the red tape.)
And the sole qualifier from the south west, Exeter-based Stuart McLaird sadly didn’t make the start, as his throttle jammed open during the warm-up laps, sending his Coinbase Racing Ginetta into the fence.
The big race was won by defending 2019 champion (2020’s event was cancelled due to the pandemic) Scotland’s Rob McDonald in a Vauxhall Tigra, a popular winner who held off England’s Billy Wood to retain the title.
With a busy line-up of high quality support races too, my first experience of the world final Spedeweekend was almost everything that geeky ’70s kid could have hoped – albeit 40-odd years late.
Photos by Martin Kingston
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