Steward's dream comes true

MOTOR SPORT: KENT veteran John Steward who took a popular win in the National Hot Rod World Championship at Ipswich over the weekend, promised that he would be back to defend the title in 2002, even though he has recently joined the new ASCAR Series.

KENT veteran John Steward who took a popular win in the National Hot Rod World Championship at Ipswich over the weekend, promised that he would be back to defend the title in 2002, even though he has recently joined the new ASCAR Series. Steward, who has been trying to win this race for over ten years, but whose previous best was second in 1995, finally realised his dream with this weekend's victory; having gained second on the grid, he had slipped back to fourth by lap 20, but a storming drive over the second half of the race saw him go past Carl Boardley and Gary Woolsey, and then grabbed the lead from Irishman Tom Casey with five of the 65 laps remaining.

He then went on to take the win in front of a huge crowd the majority of whom have been cheering for him for years, including the race of 1997 when he competed with a broken leg.

"It was brilliant," he said afterward: "I always thought I could do it." "Confident but not big headed about it, even when I dropped back to fourth. The car was good, and even though I thought I might have trouble with Gary Woolsey that proved surprisingly easy. Tom was always going to be difficult to get past but I knew a chance would come. When it did, as we came up to lap the back marker, there was a moment when nobody seemed to know what to do, the back barker almost stopped, Casey almost ran into him, and I just drove through on the inside. That was it, I knew I had won from that moment on."

The beaten Casey was another who has been second before but never won, was the first to congratulate Steward after the race, acknowledging that: "Over the years, there is no doubt he deserved to finally win it at last", but with that engaging Irish smile of his he added: "I just wish it hadn't been this year."

Meanwhile Ipswich star Carl Boardley, who went into the race with high hopes of being the first genuine home town winner had to content himself with fifth which for somebody in only his second World final, is still very commendable even if, rather disappointingly it was one place further back than last year.

Carl wasn't too downhearted though, feeling that: "with a full year's racing in the new car by next year, we'll have it really sorted. We've only had this one since January, and it's the first of its type, the extra 12 months will make all the difference, and then with luck, I can be up there challenging again next year."

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As far as the winner was concerned, Steward was anxious to assure his thousands of fans that he will still be around at least for the time being. It was widely rumoured that he would cut back on his national hot rod commitments next year, possibly giving way to one of his sons, although he always intended to race at the major meetings, even if those alone would not be enough to qualify him for next year's world final.

"I'm committed to ASCAR", he said. "So I must see that through. I haven't got that many years left in racing and this is something I have always wanted to do. But I'll do as many hot rod meetings as I can, certainly more than I was going to, with a view to qualifying next year, because there is nothing I want more at the moment than to come back here at least one more time, and defend the title which has taken so many years of my life to win."

Of the race in general he said: "I always had a bit in reserve, but it was never easy. I'd like to thank the other drivers involved for a trouble free race, my crew, and the organisers who have provided us with a superb new track here at the Foxhall Stadium which is a credit to the sport."

Two litre hot rod world champion Dave Longhurst was equally as delighted with his success, and with the whole weekend. Longhurst, who had won this event before, then moved up to the National Hot Rods, making second in their world championship three years ago, before moving onto the long circuit with the Eurocar Pickup tour, but has since returned to his roots, running in the this year but with a new car for another crack at the National class next year as well as continuing with the 2.0L formula. I enjoyed the Pick Up and was reasonably successful, but I have always been an Oval racers, and it was inevitable that I would be back one day. Now we have landed this one again, we'll try for the double next – nobody has ever won both the 2.0L and the National title in the same year but I will be going for it even though it means a lot of travelling, a lot of racing and in two very competitive classes. But its been a brilliant weekend, rounding off what has been a very enjoyable year back on the ovals.

But the last words on this busy weekend belong to the weekend's youngest winner 16 year-old Mike Nicholls from Ipswich, who caused a major sensation when he won the Superstox English Championship from a field 45 of the country's top drivers. His car, fairly ancient and very second hand, is considerably less of a car then many of those that he beat; he took the lead early and somehow managed to avoid all the action going on around him, knowing that all the time, the very experienced Andy Bartlett was carving his way through the field, was up to second with two laps to go and closing in on the youngster ready for one of his famous last bend attacks.

Mike said: "It was hard to keep going past all the back markers and all the spinners, and I must admit I thought I was going to lose it on the last bend. I knew he was coming so at least I was ready for him. I slowed up just a bit so that he wouldn't quite know what to do about me and then my main concern was just to keep it going and hope I came out of the bend still in front. I glanced back to see if he was there, but there was so many cars I couldn't really see him. Next moment the chequered flag fell and I had won it.

It was a great feeling particularly as I had only finished one race over the weekend, in fact it has been going so badly that before we went out to this one my Dad said that as soon as this was over we were going home. We all got soaked on Saturday, and we had just about had enough. But then the sun came out, we got the win, and suddenly it all seemed worth it. It really does feel wonderful, but then I suddenly realised as English Champion I am going to have to start all my races next year from the back of the grid, which is asking a lot but we'll try our best."

These were the main winners over a weekend of 35 races and over 400 drivers; other performances of note came from Ipswich driver Mark Bloss who won the Stock Cars Sky Sports Trophy and Shane Winsor from Wymondham who took the Banger English championship, a rare local success in an event that has been dominated by the Eastbourne drivers who have won for the last eight years. Bacton's Darren Goudy, as well as competing in the Stock Cars also raced in the Lightning Rods and took a fine win in the Budweiser 500 when Steve Emmerson and Gavin Murray from Southwold were both penalised a place, a race in which the Woodbridge driver Stuart Place made fourth after winning a heat earlier in the day.

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