Belle Vue’s second Monday night session in a month produced probably the most spectacular end to a race for some time, when long time leader Tom Harris ended up through the fence on the home straight, after running out of track in the sprint to the finish line with eventual winner Mark Woodhull.
The new style of race starts meant that the field was bunched up when the green dropped for the first heat, and Mike Williamson (111) was squeezed out into the fence on the first turn. Mike Heywood (424) led early on, but with less than the length of the straight seperating him from the back of the pack on the opening lap, it seemed that the lower graded cars were going to need a lot of luck to be in with a chance of honours. Andy Ford (13) sent the 424 car into a spin after a couple of laps and took the lead, with Joff Gibson (249), driving the ex Ray Witts car, slotting into second place. By the halfway, Gibson wasn’t closing on Ford, but was some way ahead of Craig Finnikin (55) and Andy Smith (391). As the laps ticked by, Finnikin wasn’t getting any closer to Gibson, who likewise couldn’t make up any ground on Ford. It looked as though that would be the order they finished in, but in the closing stages Richard Bryan (238), Mark Woodhull (335), and Danny Wainman (212) all went for the same piece of track coming out of turn two, and all three crashed heavily into the fence, with Gibson getting caught up and losing time. On the last lap, Scott Davids (462) crashed into the stricken 238 car, and Gibson clipped Davids and then span into the fence, eventually finishing well down the order.
Graeme Robson (267) led them off in the second heat, as Tom Hamer (47), driving the car last used by Daz Kitson and Cain Plumb, span around, delaying Ed Neachell (321), Timmy Aldridge (257), and Mat Newson (16). Mal Brown (34) moved up the order with a big hit that shifted Dave Willis (337) and Rob Bradsell (265), before Joe Booth (446) took over at the front. The waved yellows came out when new driver Colin Chambers (454) went very heavily into the pit gate fence and loosened the wires. Brown was on the bumper again on the restart, dumping Ricky Wilson (502) into Robson to take second place. But it wasn’t long before the quick moving Frankie Wainman (515) was ahead of Brown, with Tom Harris (84) then nerfing the 34 car out of the way, and then Dan Johnson (4) barging past both of them on the next bend. Wainman took the lead at the halfway, while further back Brown was now trading blows with Willis on every bend until Willis retired with power steering problems. Booth lost out of second place in the closing laps when he got hooked up with Chambers, allowing Johnson to fire both wide.
With a fair few cars sidelined with damage, just 11 cars made it back out on track for the Consolation. Heywood was away first, but got a big hit from Hamer on the first bend. Hamer’s lead lasted only as far as the next bend, when Heywood repaid the hit and retook the lead. Heywood then pulled away from the rest of the pack, with Davids, Brown, and Neachell some way behind. Davids ran wide just after the halfway, letting Brown and Neachell through, and as the lap boards came out, Neachell heaved Brown wide in turn one to take second. With the 322 car getting closer by the lap, Heywood ran wide with three laps to run, allowing Neachell to close in. Into turn three, Heywood knew what was coming and was ready for it, throwing the car sideways before the bend. Great defensive driving by Heywood, but it wasn’t enough to contain Neachell, who hit the 424 car hard on the nerf rail, and with the momentum advantage, powered away down the straight. Heywood was then caught up on the last bend by the out of control Davids, letting Brown past, and the 424 driver was left with a third place at the flag, while Neachell took the win.
Neachell has a lot of form around the tricky Belle Vue track, and must have started the 28 car Final as one of the favourites. But he got caught up with Mat Newson (16) and Chris Bonner (105) at the start, and all three crashed into the turn two fence. Your trusty scribe watched this one from the new terracing on turn three, and while the panoramic view of the track is excellent, I found it tricky to follow the race as I could mainly see just a general mass of cars coming towards and going away from me, so my apologies for not giving this race the detail it deserves; there was plenty going on throughout, Heywood led from the start, with waved yellows coming early on for attention to Bradsell, who had been caught up in a pile up on turn one. Heywood led until he was caught by Harris (84), who dumped the 424 car into the turn 3 fence at the earliest opportunity. Hines, Gilbank, and Wainman were trading places further back down the order, as Mark Woodhull (335) slowly reeled in leader Harris. As the laps went by, Woodhull got closer and closer without making a move, and as they entered the last lap the terraces were full of anticipation of the race building up to a climax. But few, if any, were ready for just how dramatic the finish was. Rather than put the bumper in, Woodhull dived up the inside of Harris as they entered the last bend, and the cars came around the turn side by side with Harris on the outside. In the drag to the line, Harris hit a fence post and the 84 car span around in mid air, coming to a stop yards from the finish line.
Twenty cars lined up for the GN, with Bryan leading them away with Williamson right behind him. These two lasted just a few laps before Bryan clipped the fence coming out of turn two and span around, with Williamson hitting him head on and the pair of them coming to a dead stop against the back straight fence. This inevitable brought out the yellow flags, and after a delay while the 238 and 111 cars were seperated from the fence and each other, the race was back on, with James Clement (158) leading. Smith (391) went in hard on Brown and span the 34 car, only for Smith himself to also spin. Wainman (515) was on a charge almost from the off, and smacked Hines and Johnson out of the way with one hit. Clement’s lead lasted just a few laps before Hayley Parkinson (54) moved ahead. Behind her, Gibson and Gilbank were now up to second and third, while Wainman was rapidly catching them. Gibson lost a few places as Parkinson led past the halfway, and with Gilbank getting closer by the lap, the 54 car appeared to find a little extra speed. But it wasn’t quite enough, and Gilbank squeezed past with a couple of laps remaining.