The second tarmac meeting of a warm and dry weekend saw a lower than expected turnout of 28 cars at Northampton International Raceway to contest the annual Pat Driscoll Memorial Trophy. The entry included several drivers fresh from Ipswich the night before, where a few drivers had also suffered engine dramas and thus were unable to compete on Sunday. The entry also included a newcomer in the shape of 440 Craig Aston, previously a mechanic for shale driver 40 Steve Smith, making his debut in an ex-Dean Whitwell car.
It was that car’s former owner who would take first blood on a warm afternoon in the Northamptonshire countryside, as 195 Dean Whitwell was quickly past lone white top 431 Ian Bond’s vintage machine to take up the running and from there he did not look back. A four-car ruck going into turn three brought out the yellows with 105 Chris Bonner and 141 Carl Pickering in the wall after tangling with 280 Colin Nairn and the fast-starting 217 Lee Fairhurst, 317 Daniel Howell crashing into them as the caution flags flew to end his latest run in the Newson hire car early.
On the restart 161 Mark Allen held second initially but the battling 37 Chris Cowley and 464 Luke Davidson came through joined by current master of tarmac 84 Tom Harris. Harris took second on the line from Davidson by 0.006 of a second in a photo finish – thank goodness for transponder technology – with Cowley not much further back, but this trio were well behind Whitwell who was presented with his trophy by ex-racer Trevor Bonnett on behalf of the Veteran Stock Car Association who had many members present at the meeting.
A quieter second heat saw Whitwell take off into a lead he was not to lose, controlling the pace well as Harris once again swept rapidly through the field from the back. Pickering offered some resistance with the pair swapping places a couple of times and Cowley’s distinctive M&Ms-liveried car again joining in. Harris once again could only make it up to second as Whitwell completed his double, Cowley third this time around. Lee Fairman presented the trophy to Whitwell this time, accompanied by Phil Chance who had organised the Veterans’ meet-up.
The Pat Driscoll Memorial Final saw the field led onto the raceway by a superb replica of Pat’s former F1 racer, transported from Cornwall especially for the occasion by Lee Fairman and his team. Any thoughts that Whitwell was harbouring of a hat-trick were sadly quickly extinguished as early contact with Bond knocked his left front tyre off the rim and ended his race after just one lap allowing Allen to take the lead.
The yellow top was putting in one of his best showings since graduating from the V8 Hot Stox and soon built a lead, but by lap five Harris was already up to fifth and just a few laps later took over for his second Final win in as many days to extend his points lead, happily receiving the impressive memorial trophy from Dennis Driscoll. Cowley continued his good day with a second place, while third-placed Allen received the Reg Prior Memorial Shield for the highest-placed yellow top.
With the meeting running at a good pace the Wilsons Memorial Grand National was next up, contested in memory of former racers Jack, Roy and Lee Wilson. 45 Nigel Harrhy had spent the meeting refitting the differential pinion and gears to his car after a breakage in practice but he finally made it out for his first action of the day to some cheers from the back straight crowd. Harrhy led the first lap but a trio of pushing yellow tops sent him into the turn one plating second time around, Pickering taking up the lead as Whitwell was again an early retirement.
150 Mick Sworder had endured a tough day so far but he passed Pickering for the lead and pulled away as Matt Newson tangled with Ivan Pritchard on turn two to complete a somewhat lacklustre day for the two stars. Sworder looked set for victory but with a handful of laps remaining he ran wide out of turn two and hit the fence, the impact enough to damage his front end and retirement and a zero score was assured for the former F2 gold top.
This left Davidson with the lead having passed Cowley but the blue top was looking well fired up and lunged at the European champion going into the last lap, dislodging a rear tyre from Davidson’s car and going through to receive the memorial trophy presented by Audrey Wilson in a fine display of racing. 259 Paul Hines came through for second ahead of Pickering, while Harris’s pace was such that he made it up to fourth from the lap handicap. Aston meanwhile took the best finish of his maiden meeting in 13th.
While there were one or two good moments of stock car action, there were also times at this meeting where it seemed the touchpaper had failed to catch properly despite being lit. No-one however could bemoan what was surely the earliest finish to a Sunday NIR meeting in a long time, while Tom Harris certainly confirmed his status as a front-line candidate for major honours with some big meetings on the horizon.