Birmingham Gala Night, 18th November 2017 – Meeting Report and Photos

Another year has flown by and here we are at another BriSCA Gala Night but this one has special significance as we say farewell trackside to one of stock car racing’s longest serving drivers – Rob Cowley, hanging up his helmet after 40 years of going around in circles. A special race for Rob was part of the evening’s fare but first there was the little matter of the Dave Leonard Under 25 Championship to attend to.

Under the stewardship of Lee Lawrence, the prize fund for 2017 U 25 event had grown to over £5,500 and is a fantastic achievement by all those involved. Thirty cars took to the track with regular racers making up the first half of the grid and non-regulars at the back. Austin Moore (127) and Sam Render (385) led the field into the first lap but Tristan Jackson (101), a double winner at the last Birmingham meeting, moved into second ahead of Sam Wass (283). Phoebe Wainman (211) warmed up her front bumper on those ahead but the caution flags flew for another lady racer – Jacklyn Ellis (219) had taken a knock on the pit bend and needed assistance.

The top five were 127, 101, 283, 211 and 346 (in the FWJ tar car) and at the green Phoebe hammered into Jackson and Wass on turn one, trying again on the pit bend before attacking the fence. Wass took over at the front with Ashley England (346) second and Lee Fairhurst (217) making great progress from the back to go third. Several cars piled up on the pit bend as Fairhurst took second just before the half-way stage, still several car lengths behind the flying 283 car as England dropped back.

Lee made his move with around five to run, Wass trying to make a race of it down the home straight but although he stayed in touch with the 217 car over the remaining laps there was no stopping Fairhurst, who took the win ahead of Wass and England. Defending champion Ant Whorton-Eales (408) proved he knew exactly what the front bumper was for over the final couple of laps, disposing of first Jackson and then former champion Danny Wainman (212) on the last bend to take an impressive fourth place, edging Danny out on the line.

Lee Fairhurst wins the Under 25s Championship

The next race was the Rob Cowley Farewell, a bit of a motorised “Ladies excuse me” and the following drivers had filled in their dance cards – Paul Hines (259), Will Yarrow (22), Michael Steward (512), Mat Newson (16), Frankie JJ (555), FWJ (515), Danny (212), Derek Fairhurst (218) and of course Rob himself. The gate was held for a surprise late entrant – Chris Cowley (37) emerged on track in the 211 car – and the grid was set for a ten lap dash. Rob set the pace on lap one before graciously driving into the fence on turn three to give the others a chance. Cowley the younger took over chased by 259 and 512. Rob charged back to second, went wide and dropped back before regaining the lead at the halfway stage.

Newson was second from FWJ and gave Rob a friendly whack into turn one, then again on the pit bend to edge in front pursued by Hines. Strangely, the leading cars went wide on the last bend and Rob came through for the win! If you have ever seen the F1 demonstration races at the NEC you get the idea. All the competitors lined up on the infield after the event in a salute to one of the sport’s real personalities.

Wishing Rob Cowley a very long and happy retirement

Over thirty cars on track for Heat One including several new faces. Kelvin Hassell (13) led as one of the Hunter cars spun on the back straight and Bryn Tootell (232), in the 390 car, stuck on turn one mid-track, collected England (346). Cars 544, 325 and 448 were in a heap, also on turn one and this was just the first lap – not surprisingly a caution was called for. The restart was chaotic – Hassell led but behind him all hell let loose on the home straight with cars flying everywhere, leaving Jackson and Dan McLaren (256) locked together bringing out the yellow flags again. Luke Davidson (464), up to fourth at the stoppage, wasted no time in taking the lead once the green flag dropped again but had a job shaking off the 346 car in second. The interest lay further back with an absorbing battle between 124, 164, 183 and 287 while Andrew Lomas (255), in the other Hunter car, put in some noticeably quick laps. Davidson won but what about these results – Kyle Gray (124) in fourth, Marc Lammas (243) in fifth, John Thompson (312, ex-F2 701) in ninth and John Englestone (520, ex-saloon driver) in tenth followed home by Jay Hewitt (546) and Joe Nicholls (242)!

Marc Lammas (243) took fifth in his heat

If you thought Mr. Cowley had run his last race earlier, think again because there he was among the 25 cars gridded for Heat Two, along with George McMillan Junior (10, F2 100, in the Hines car) and a certain Courtney Witts (180) in the 318 tar car on pole. Courtney led, the caution came out – she led again from Paul Spooner (104) at the restart, pulling out several car lengths on eventual second place man Fairhurst (Lee this time, not Derek) but there was no stopping the amazing Miss Witts who negotiated backmarkers with confidence to take the flag, from 217 and 408. Spooner held on for fourth ahead of FWJJ. Steve Shaw (361) came home sixth with McMillan seventh. Mr Cowley made the final at his first attempt, taking ninth.

A heat win for Courtney Witts

Steve Malkin Junior (308) was the undoubted star of the consolation, leading for much of the race ahead of Randell (172) and Todd Jones (186). Jones spun Randell to go second, Malkin went wide with just two to go, Jones clashed with a backmarker and Danny Wainman swept through for the lead on the last lap, only to find yellow flags a-waving – newcomer Mark Osbourne (529) was stuck at the end of the home straight and wanted out!

Given the Incarace track staff’s desire to rush the meeting through I was surprised the race result wasn’t declared there and then but a one lap dash to the flag was ordered. Danny won, Malkin held onto second until the last bend – Todd Jones, front bumper, armco for 308, jumpers for fence-posts, isn’t it, wasn’t it, marvellous! (Apologies – lapsed into Ron Manager there for a moment).

Danny Wainman took the Consolation win

Thirty-two for the Gala Night Dave Leonard Memorial Trophy final and a history making result was on the cards. Add the ages of the front row drivers together, double it and you had the age of the man lining up in the yellow tops making his very last appearance – the remarkable Mr Cowley. Is this a record for the biggest age difference between drivers in one race? Answers on a 2018 World Final ticket please.

Courtney Witts and Kyle Gray disputed the lead for the opening laps of a hectic race until a caution for Willis (287), Wainman (211) and Dickerson (443) brought some semblance of order. Seven or eight cars had escaped to the centre as Gray led the restart, from Witts, Wass and Randell. Danny W cracked both 217 and 464 wide as Wass got stuck into Fortune and Whittle, Fortune retaliating on the 283 car. Gray took the scenic route around a backmarker on the pit bend but kept ahead, Randell now second and Witts third at the halfway stage. Gray hit traffic, literally, on the turn three and went wide, Randell and Witts saw their chance and took the inside line, only for the 180 and 124 cars to tangle spectacularly on the start line, Gray climbing up and over the Witts machine, both cars ending in a heap and bringing out another caution.

With Randell leading, Scriven (11) second and Wainman (212) third I had my money on Danny to finally take a final win but the track was greasy as the remaining 17 cars took the green flag and grip was at a premium. Randell got a flying start as Scriven slid wide, letting Danny into second but try as he may (and he did try) the track condition was against him. Randell bookended his season with a win (he won two heats at the Wimbledon “opener” in March remember) with Danny taking his fourth final runner up spot in as many meetings. Coming home in tenth place – Rob Cowley. Enjoy your retirement Rob – I wonder if Chris makes him show his bus pass when he boards the transporter?

The last final of the season went to Micky Randell

Words: Mick Jenkins
Photos: Colin Casserley

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