National Street Car Challenge (UK)

2014 Rounds 1 and 2 report

Easter, the time when we celebrate our Lord being nailed up by some Eyeties with a four-day weekend, perfect for a spot of drag racing. And this year saw something that has been rather lacking from too many rounds of NSCC for the past couple of years – people. Lots of them.

Rocking up just after dark on the Saturday night, we were greeted by an NSCC pit more packed full than the Pope's happy-sack. The people had already made camp, and suddenly the NSCC was looking like a force to be reckoned with once again. Late arrivals included James Murray (to nobody's surprise – I believe Biff won the sweep with his guess of 10.54pm, within two minutes of James's actual arrival time) and, a welcome return to to the fold after far too long, Ian Walley.

Some of the usual suspects were absent, many still with unfinished or damaged cars; fortunately, there were plenty of new faces that more than made up for the shortfall. By a long shot. A couple of new Foxes had swelled the ranks, including Mark Butterworth's, fresh from a serious engine rebuild, and Paul Hughes' supercharged hatch out for a shakedown. Andy Errington came out to a few NSCC events last year in his TVR, but this was his first time in competition at the drag strip proving that, at 70 years old, you're never too old to start. He had Simon Boot for a crew chief, but that seemed to mostly involve Andy drinking Simon's booze for him. Another (sort of) new face was Shaun Cockcroft in a MkII Escort Harrier with Harris brothers' stickers that promised to be entertaining. Nigel Swift finally brought his beautiful blue big-block Firebird out to play, and would spend the weekend remembering how to change gear. Nigel Henderson was another face back after a long lay-off, now with a sweet 105E Anglia looking lovely, low on steels, and powered by a Zetec.

There were a few people out taking advantage of the new rule stating that a newcomer can come out to play in whatever car they can muster for their first year of NSCC competition, one being Nad, Mrs Cattell, out popping her cherry in her daily-driver Celica. Second-generation NSCCers Dec Hughes and Kevin Winstanley were out in their Golf and Punto respectively, representing the next wave and, frankly, making a damn fine showing of themselves.

Sunday dawned bright, but with a considerable headwind that varied from 10mph to 50mph, depending on who you asked and how far they were off their expected times. Qualifying got underway with Jamie Hughes' turbo big-block Land Rover defying aerodynamics by blasting off a 10.29 at 135mph to set the benchmark. Next up was Ian Walley, heading towards the sort of times that car promises with an 11.0 at 126, with Russ Pursley hot on his heels with 11.2 at 120. Then was James Murray, the old Cortina still turning in the numbers with a 12.6, followed by Mark Butterworth shaking down with a 13.0 on the motor. Billy Cattell put the Austin in sixth with a 13.94, Biff Bailey a coat of paint behind on 13.96, then Paul Hughes enjoying the vagaries of the T5 transmission with a 14.2. Another racer having fun with a manual shift and street tyres was Nigel Swift on a 14.5 at 105mph, that terminal giving a clue of plenty more to come, followed by Shaun Wilson with a 14.8 from the Syclone. Andy Errington was next, after trying his damnedest to sabotage other racers until 3am that morning, his 15.4 being an opening salvo, followed by Shaun Cockroft's Escort, its Kent motor kicking out a 15.6. The two youngsters were next, Kevin's turbo Punto with a 15.97, and Dec 12 thousandths behind. Next was Dave Smith, way down with a 16.0, the car still in shock after its annual wash some weeks previously (plus the 60mph headwinds, of course), then Nigel Henderson in the sweet Anglia on 16.7. Nadia Cattell was next with a 17.8, and looking like she was enjoying every minute of it, followed by Mark and Scott Presland respectively, the little Crossflow rods still out pounding the strip every chance they get.

That's right, 19 cars qualified for NSCC, and with a couple more in the pits for decoration, that was the biggest competition class at York that day. Excellent effort.

Straight into round one, which started badly for Shaun Wilson with a red light against Andy Errington, the beginning of a sensational string of luck for Andy. Nigel Swift knocked out Shaun Cockcroft, then Ian Walley hit the tens, his 10.98 being a full nine seconds quicker than Scott's Pop. Another red appeared in Biff's lane letting Dec Hughes cruise through, before Mark Butterworth put Nigel Henderson out with a 12.77, bettering his time with the old motor on gas. Yet another red light shone in Dave Smith's lane against Billy Cattell, but Dave was clearly overcompensating for the 70mph headwinds. Russ Pursley wasn't arsed about headwinds with his 10.58 at 123mph against Mark Presland, while James Murray showed no gallantry with Nad Cattell, putting her out 13.7 to 17.4. Paul Hughes then beat Kev Winstanley to finish off the first round, the biggest news being that Jamie Hughes, number one qualifier, had no-showed after some suspicious bottom-end rattles caused by a loose oil pressure restrictor to the turbo.

That no-show meant that Andy got a bye in the second round, and a mysterious burning bush was seen on the return road. Mark put out Billy 12.7 to 13.5, before Ian beat Nigel 10.8 to 14.2. James ended Dec's good fortune 13.6 to 15.4, then Russ stamped his authority on proceedings with a 10.7 to Paul's 14.5.

Ian Walley got the lucky bye in the third round, while James got a lot closer to form with a 12.3, nowhere near enough to see off Russ's 10.9 though. In another case of divine, or possibly satanic, intervention, Andy won against Mark, Mark suffering from Palsy, a plague of frogs and being turned into a pillar of salt whilst recording a time of 25.48 seconds at 694mph... Famine, plague and pestilence will surely follow.

In the semi finals, Russ got the bye and still chose to run a 10.9, but then Andy's run of luck came to an end at the hands of Ian Walley, who also ran a 10.9 against Andy's 15.7. Balance was restored to the world, and good triumphed over evil. Or was it the other way around? Anyway, the septuagenarian assassin got to park the car and put his fluffy slippers on.

It also set up an all-yellow final, Russ's Dutton versus Ian's Cortina. With both cars showing high ten-second form all day (despite the 80mph headwinds) it should have been a really climactic end to the best round of NSCC in some years. In the end, it was all over at the start line, as Russ picked a cherry and Ian stormed away to a 10.66 at 126mph and maximum points from the opening round of 2014.

After racing had finished, the NSCC crews got together on the startline for a team photo. It was certainly a better photo than last year's picture at the same event, where all seven race cars lined up in the bitter cold for the photo; this year, two rows of cars posed in front of the tower before all heading off to the Barnes Wallis for a nosebag. On the way, Biff's Mustang lost fire and died at the side of the road. It spoke a volume that everyone else on the cruise stopped to help and stare at the open bonnet, possibly not realising that they were only 300 yards from the pub – they could have pushed it there, and stared with a refreshing pint in their hand. Anyway, it spoke another volume that, after calling reinforcements at the track to bring a trailer, Paul Hughes brought a trailer that was slightly too small, then went back for Ian's! After a damn fine face-filling, we headed back without incident, where Biff diagnosed a dead MSD coil as the source of his problem. He would sit the next day out, but then as soon as racing was over, fellow 5.0er Paul Hughes would donate his coil to the cause so Biff could drive home and post the coil back to Paul. That's what mates are for.

After a few rounds of beer and a few more rounds of bullshit, everyone sacked out for another full day's racing on bank holiday Monday.

Monday would be another day of racing into a headwind. I wouldn't say the wind was strong, but I watched a pigeon lay the same egg four times. With the threat of rain heading in mid-afternoon, the qualifiers were done with a degree of alacrity rarely seen in NSCC circles, with Ian Walley back on top with 10.6 at 127mph, and Russ snapping at his heels with a 10.8 at 121mph. The rest of the qualifying tree was much the same as Sunday's (cue Fluff Freeman's “At The Sign Of The Swinging Cymbals” theme tune) but up two places to number five was Paul Hughes, getting a handle on the blown Fox for a 13.3. Dec and Kevin had swapped places, Dec now ahead by four thousandths, and everybody else below that having shaved a few tenths off their Sunday times. In all, after Sunday's drop-outs, we had 16 qualifiers which made for a lovely, neat ladder.

With that rain getting ever closer, we couldn't afford to fart about, which is a shame, as it's what we do best. In fact, some of us have spent years honing our skills, and the only thing that's prevented us turning professional in the high-pressure public sector world of politics is the hope of being selected to fart about for England in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Mark Presland was the first victim, falling to Russ's 10.8, shortly followed by his twin brother Scott falling to Ian's 10.55. The battle of the Foxes saw Paul's white one trounce Dave's red/black/brown one, after which Shaun bested a struggling Andy in the TVR – clearly he has fallen from favour with the almighty. Nigel put paid to Dec's hopes, James ended Nad's progress, then things started to go a bit runny – Kev beat Billy and Mark beat Nigel Henderson, both on apparent red-lights in the left-hand lane caused by the competitors rolling out of stage. It was all rather questionable, the start line marshals claiming that the wind was blowing the cars out of the staging beams, but Billy and Nigel were far too British and sportsmanlike to ask for a rematch. Stiff upper lips, gents!

In round two, Shaun lost out to Ian, while another battle of the Foxes saw Mark take the win over Paul, Paul's 13.0 promising more to come. Kev's good luck in the first round evaporated in the second with a red light against James, whose 12.2 pointed the way back to previous form, while Russ took another win to set up the semis.

The semis went according to the form book, with the yellow perils setting up another ten second final, but with dark clouds all around there was no time to waste. In fact, as Ian and Russ made their way to the line the rain was beginning to make its presence felt, and with spots starting to appear on windscreens, the final may have been a case of who was the bravest/daftest and who would keep it in a straight line the longest. That would be Ian, who managed an 11.2 against Russ's 11.4, and hats off to the pair of them for having the conkers to give it that much on a dampening track.

Two days of maximum points and a big welcome back for Ian Walley, runner-up and a gauntlet down for Russ, and a mighty fine weekend of racing for everyone concerned. We're back at York just a scant fortnight later for rounds three and four, and things are already starting to heat up. See you there.  

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