We snap the Snapper!
Ace photographer and Short Track fan Brian Barnett, once again doing a fantastic job with his camera down at sunny Hellingly on Saturday 18th July for the sixth round. Here he captures the top four from the Over 40s "A" Final -
Pete Chant (2nd) of Poole, Steve Harris (4th) of Swindon, home star Martyn Hollebon (3rd) and Leicester's victorious Craig Marchant.
On a beautiful summery afternoon the meeting began with the first three races from the 12-man Over50s/Over 60s combined field and for Northumbria's Terry Kirkup it was a bit of an eye opener after raving about the track from the moment he arrived there at 11:00 am with fellow Geordies Jim Graham and Jason Keith. Why so? Well to start with, the surface is unusual. Nothing unusual there then? Well, there shouldn't have been as he was bred on pure, green grass and polished, brown earth before shifting onto deep, black ash and then shiny, yellow Dolomite followed finally by fine, red shale. Now you'd think that would have given him a decent share of multi-surface experience, and you'd be right. However, there is another slight querk to the exquisitely situated Sussex track, that being the 200 mm fall from home straight to back straight. I reckon the back straight is in Lower Dicker and the front in Higher Dicker. Essentially that means you drop off a hill going into turn one and shoot down the slope before the decently long straight then presents you with a climb out of turn three, and you can really feel a high gear pulling at your legs if they're as spindly as the author's! It also means, unavoidably, that without any banking the second bend is well off-camber and hence the track's reputation as a bit of a "thinking man's" circuit.
To cut that very long story dead, TK hit the fence in the very first heat after gating nicely and there followed a whole rash of fence or outside kerb clipping as many or most of the riders tried to get to grips with the slippery nature of the surface and that downhill flurry. All except local experts Eddie Ridley and Martyn Hollebon who of course used their home track advantage to the full, as indeed most regular visitor Pete Chant did to even greater effect. The hot sun and light breeze conspired to make the hosepipe virtually ineffectual, and when it was used in anger for the final few races it became even more slippery for the first race afterwards! And as time went on the exit of the pits bend also became a virtual graveyard for race leaders as time after time they succumbed to the edge of the loose berm kicked up gradually race by race, and even costing home expert Martyn a scare or two. Same for everyone though - as always, everywhere.
Unexpected arrival, World Champion Steve Harris turned out again to spice up the Over 40s, and he sure did that with three impressive wins, his only defeat in the heats coming at the hands of eventual winner Craig Marchant when they met in the penultimate heat of the disappointingly low 8-man field, with Craig himself losing out to Martyn in his second ride. Steve’s defeat of Martyn could potentially have been the game changer but because the home flyer had the best record on countback with all three on 15 points, he still got the grid one choice but fortune wasn’t with him as expected when he got the worst of an intimate first bend with Craig! The ensuing hullabaloo also saw Steve slip (literally!) to the back after almost entering the starting hut and Pete slip (ditto!) into a brilliantly taken second place after a rare mistake by Martyn. A great race to top off the day.
Although these four stole the limelight there was only two points separating the other four – Jason Keith, Norman Venson, Eddie Ridley and a very unlucky Paddy Wenn. Paddy’s tyres seemed to be having a love-hate relationship with that fourth bend rut and he lost several higher placings because of those slippages. Second crash of the afternoon came after Norman had clipped Jason Keith’s back wheel in his first race but much to everyone’s relief got back to his feet and shrugged it off. God save the hip replacers.
Pyke’s Peak (50s & 60s)
The steady improvement in Ray Pyke’s 2015 Euro-Vets form hit the peak of the graph in this round, the Kesgrave racer producing a brilliant display to join table-toppers Steve Hodgkinson and Bob Prince on 18 points. Countback gave Ray the inside and the general feeling as they lined up for the “A” Final was that he’d take some beating from there, the East Anglian having a lot less trouble with the track than most.
However, as the order was given, there was a distinct lurch into the tapes followed by the shrill tweet of a whistle, and Ray found himself excluded by the Referee who was on one knee right in line with the gates for the start. The huge gasp of disbelief (disgust?) that erupted from the pits was matched only by the look on Ray’s face for shock value, the real culprit having been a Birmingham rider on grid three (Hope my mate Bob Prince isn’t reading this!).
So that left three to contest the 50s “A” Final – Steve, Bob and defending Champion Paul Timms. The resurgent 2015 version of Stevie took full advantage of his promotion to the inside gate position to stay ahead of the other two with a cautious inside ride while justice was seen to be done when Bob took a tumble and finished last of the trio, Ray still totally deflated back in the pits, and justifiably so.
If you’ve been so bored that you’ve read some of my previous drivel on these pages you’ll have probably noticed my use of the phrase “Gentleman’s Racing” or similar, as I use it widely to refer to the Euro-Vets virtual philosophy. We all respect each other and enjoy the company on race days. It was therefore very surprising not to see Bob be a Good Sport and own up to his error, or if he did (my apologies Sir!) and it didn’t affect the Ref’s decision then I’ll accept that as I’m sure Ray will, albeit very grudgingly. I would have claimed responsibility and turned for the pits immediately as would many others I’m sure after such a blatant mistake.
Amongst the other runners in the older category, co-favourite for both titles Mick Aris had a day he’d rather forget, the track costing him big time on several occasions and he looked a little disinterested at times, most uncharacteristic. With only three riders per race after heat three there was a real clumping of final totals. Steve had another great day taking no liberties with the tricky surface and benefiting hugely while Birmingham teammate Paul Timms tagged Terry’s back wheel in his last ride when a win was surely on the cards, Fred Rothwell taking advantage of his tumble. Once again the Quiet Man, Northumbria’s Jim Graham was like a few others, happy to be visiting a new track and just enjoying his racing, steadily finding better lines race-by-race and enjoying his overtake of Terry in the first race.
Phil Hemming was back again today after missing Newport and rode steadily to join another rapidly improving Oldie, Martin Glover in the “B” Final together with Terry and a very battered Joe McLaughlin. Joe was in the wars several times, mainly self-inflicted with Elite-League style suicide dives, the kind we don’t like to see in this competition, but he doesn’t seem to mind the distress he lands himself in (not sure if his Minder agrees!). He did manage to win this one with Phil chasing hard and Martin overhauling Terry starting lap three.
Brilliant pic from Brian Barnett: Joe tests the elasticity of the Hellingly fence assisted by Mick Aris while Steve Hodgkinson is blissfully unaware of the fun he's missing. Mick appears to be lifting Joe's shirt but I can't think why.
The 60s “A” Final saw Bob continue his winning ways while a still unhappy Mick wasn’t able to squeeze past Terry in another very slow OAP’s final with Fred waiting to capitalise on any mistakes. This was the race which was more like ice racing after the heaviest watering of the day which almost cost TK another visit to the 2nd bend fence.
There’s something on my foot
As a footnote I think it’s fantastic that we have the seen-it-all done-it-all won-it-all World Champion taking part in a few of the Euro-Vets events this year, it adds some spice and kudos to the whole campaign. And Steve, even after finishing fourth in the final probably had the biggest smile of the day as he received his trophy from George Hollebon, way to go. What we need to go with this extra boost is a much bigger entry in all classes, so come on kiddies, get your wheels out again and join us!
Thank You Hellingly
This was my first visit to any track south of Bristol and it was great. The weather was a bonus but the whole setup was really exceptional. I enjoyed a nice long natter with George Hollebon who has kept the place going since designing, building and maintaining the place almost single-handedly since 1952!
Thank You to George and his family, and to the boys and girls who helped out with track prep and refreshments, the after-meeting on-site buffet being very welcome and very tasty. And although I'm not too clever at points gathering I did win another raffle prize!