A super turnout at Stoke saw some fabulous racing, and not surprising really when you look at the rider list.
While the Over 40s who rode in round one were again present, nine of them, they were bolstered today by the presence of Craig Burt and Wayne Tipton who are both rider parents from Wednesfield and volunteered to make the leap into the Euro-Vets today, well done both and great to see some more new faces. But there was more! Ex-Euro-Vets Champion, Wednesfield’s Mark Griffith also joined in the fun to double-up although he’s gone past his 49th year to “qualify” for the Over 50s!
As if that weren’t enough, we also had Andy Johnson trekking up from the Deep South and Swindon’s ever-youthful Steve Harris also making his first E-V start of the year. With luck and a middle-England centred series this year we’ll see more of these lads and hopefully a few more.
While heat one went roughly as expected with Mark Whitehead holding off Clubmate Craig Marchant ahead of Jason Keith there was a shock awaiting in heat 2 when a fit looking Jim Collier took advantage of the Mick Knowles/Eddie Ridley tussle to steal the win, going very quick doing it to much cheering from the pits. That was followed up with a slightly lesser surprise when Mark Griffith’s fabulous gate took him to a win over Martyn Hollebon and Mark Winwood in another very hotly contested scrap. With luck you may find a few decent videos of the races I caught. The final heat of first rides saw another fantastic gate from Steve Harris to inflict defeat on round one victor Kev Burns and Andy Johnson, also looking quick on his return to the Euro-Vets.
So the stage was set for a great set of races, and so it proved. After three outings each Mark Whitehead and Steve were unbeaten on 12 with Kev on 10, Martyn and Andy on 9 and Craig, Jason and Eddie Ridley on 8 apiece. Couldn’t be much closer and right behind these on 7 each were Mark Winwood, the resurgent Jim Collier, Mick Knowles and a gradually relaxing Mark Griffith, sensibly saving himself for the Over 50s where another battle royal was raging.
Steve took no chances behind Jason in his last ride to ensure his inside grid slot with Kev next up ahead of Mark W and Craig, almost a Leicester clean sweep! The “B” Final would see Jason grab grid one next to Martyn, Mark W and Andy.
The “B” Final took two goes to get away, Martyn leaning pretty forcefully in on Jason to see a bit of grass cutting, and almost the same second time, which eventually saw Mark finish between the warring pair with Andy fourth.
The “A” Final start was pretty cagey, tactics being Numero Uno as the tapes went up with Steve making no mistake and clearing while Kev made sure he had space around the first bend to give chase. As usual, Craig made a gallant, tigerish effort to overhaul Winny but just failed to sneak underneath.
Next year sees Steve move up to the Over 50s class – hey, ho!
In the Over 50s event it was soon apparent that Mark Griffith’s gating was going to be very hard to overcome, so quick his reactions and so solid his power off the line, and that proved the magic formula for an unbeaten series of rides all the way to the Final. 2016 Runner-Up Dave Frith was only headed by Mark while defending Champion Norman Venson was next best after a great tussle with his Leicester buddy Dave when they met in the heats. The “stocking filler” for the “A” Final was Poole’s returning Pete Chant who is in semi-retirement and hardly match fit, but produced a sparkling 16 points to ease into the main final looking good.
Making a rare but extremely welcome appearance was yet another Wednesfield rider, Steve “Dash Trophies“ Mullinder taking the Midland club’s rider tally up to five today. We also had 2015 Champ Steve Hodgkinson and his Birmingham team mate Paul Timms making their first appearance of the year after unfortunately missing the Northumbria opener. Paul must be the strong favourite for this year’s Over 60 title after moving up from the 50s with first round winner Phil Hemming also graduating in 2017 and sure to be mixing it with Paul at the top. New Over 50 entrant Paddy Wenn rode in the first round and travelling with him was Hethersett’s impressive veteran Glyn Morgan. The pair also made the long trip to Stoke to provide a few more options for final places in this one, so as for the Over 40s we were all set for some more cracking racing.
As ever, mixing it with the youngsters today was series organiser Fred Rothwell together with a trio of Geordies, JP Colback getting his first taste of a big event on foreign soil after joining the Northumbria club last autumn, a very late starter in our Sport at 49 plus but keen as mustard. Alan “Ashie” Patterson, known widely amongst Speedway and Cycle Speedway fraternities is still battling the effects of chemotherapy and various nasty bugs caught early last year but was keen to join the fun along with E-V regular Terry Kirkup. Local rider and track fettler Simon Baltkauls also stepped into the fray for his first taste of Euro-Vets racing, always good to have at least one rider from the staging club taking part.
Paddy, Glyn, Phil and Steve all copped 14 points in the main event, those scores carrying them easily into the Over 50s “B” Final where Steve took advantage of the third bend “happenings” to squeeze through for second place behind the rapid Paddy, Phil just holding off Glyn. Meanwhile Mark shot off grid one to beat Dave, Norman continually threatening to pass inside while holding off Pete’s challenge.
With just five riders out, Ashie was the one who missed out on the “A” Final, his consolation being not having to race himself for 20 GP points! As anticipated, the “A” Final saw Phil from grid one and Paul off three head Terry out of the start with Fred as always sniffing for any early opening, his foot problem really hurting him away from the gate. Leaving the second bend Phil drifted off the line allowing the Northumbrian a sneaky dash up the inside on his alien gearing (now the same as everyone else’s!) to grab the lead and somehow hang on to the finish.
Only two final results followed grid positions this time as opposed to four at Northumbria.
Another great day for the Euro-Vets and hopefully also for the Stoke Club. Thanks are due to Chris Plant Cycles of Stoke for presenting the trophies and helping lead a big push to popularise the Sport in Stoke, and to Avon Allcock for his event sponsorship, his team for serving it all up, and special mention to solid Stoke clubman and track fettler Simon Baltkauls for his persistence and dedication.