Stuart Smith Jnr celebrated his first major championship victory for eight years at Belle Vue on Sunday night by winning the Mintex National Points Championship Shootout.
Smith Jnr went into the Shootout Finale, sponsored by Towndoor, with a sizeable 119-point lead over main rival world champion Nigel Green, with Lee Fairhurst and British champion Frankie Wainman Jnr the only other drivers with an outside mathematical chance of stealing the silver roof from the Milnrow superstar.
But Smith Jnr gave his pursuers little chance to respond and wrapped up the title by winning the two heats, the second in championship-winning style with a last-bender on long-time race leader Russell Cooper, accompanied by an appreciative roar from the sizeable Belle Vue crowd.
The meeting was also memorable for a Grand Final win from Belle Vue specialist John Dowson, who then went on to complete a famous double with victory in the Grand National from the one-lap handicap.
The meeting began with an 18-car Whites and Yellows race. It was an entertaining affair, with the lead changing hands many times and ended with Nigel Harrhy taking the lead with a lap to go to take a popular win. Ricky Wilson finished second, with Jack France third.
Heat two featured a huge 30-car line-up, with the yellow flags coming out after four laps, with Sam Jacklin leading, ahead of France and Martin Spiers. But it was Smith Jnr who led the Shootout pack in the chase to the front, ahead of Wainman Jnr and Green, taking the lead from Jacklin in the closing stages to take an impressive win. Wainman Jnr and Green followed Smith Jnr home in the placings, with Jacklin an excellent fourth. Fairhurst and Frankie Wainman Jnr Jr rounded out the top six.
Heat three lined up with 20 cars, and by halfway it was James Morris who led, when the yellow flags came out. Already at this stage both Green and Fairhurst were out of the race, with Ben Riley lying in second place, ahead of Smith Jnr, Mike Heywood, Wainman Jnr and Joff Gibson.
It was clear by this stage that all Smith Jnr had to do was stroke his car home and the silver roof would certainly be his, but the champion-elect wasn’t in the mood to settle for a place, and after passing Riley chased after leader Morris.
Morris was driving well and Smith Jnr had to pull out all the stops to get close, which he did on the final lap. Down the back straight Smith Jnr still had work to do but launched his car at Morris, collecting the A-grader before he could exit turn four and charged clear to take a famous win and the silver roof.
It was a fitting way to win the National Points title, and as Smith Jnr took the chequered flag he punched the air, celebrated with a few donuts, before clambering on to the back of his car to take the accolades from the grandstand. Morris took a deserved second place, ahead of Riley, John Dowson, Mat Newson and Wainman Jnr.
Smith Jnr was naturally ecstatic after the race. “It’s brilliant,” he said. “I approached the meeting to go out and win the heats and hoped that would do the job. And that’s exactly how it worked out. I just prepared the best I could and drove the best I could for the heats. I didn’t want it to go down to the final or have any problems in the heats.
“After I had won the first heat I knew if I could do the same in the second it would be job done. I could’ve settled for second but it’s just not in my nature to do that. James was driving well in the rough conditions, so it was a good way to win it.”
Next up was the meeting final for the Stuart Bamforth Memorial Trophy with 23 cars on the grid. Smith Jnr came out on track resplendent with a new silver roof attached, but his race didn’t even get as a far as the start/finish line.
As the field set off after the green flag dropped on a track that was degrading as the meeting went on Danny Wainman’s car dug into the track and Fairhurst and Smith Jnr collected him, badly damaging the Smith Jnr front axle, causing him to spin.
“There was a rut there that I had hit on the parade lap in the second heat when the car dug in, and that’s what happened to Danny Wainman,” said Smith Jnr. “He went wide out of turn four and his sump guard dug into the track and stopped him dead. Lee Fairhurst hit him and I hit Lee with my outside front wheel – it was just a real freak accident – but it completely destroyed my steering, shocker, suspension and front axle.
“And to get out for the National I went out with no brakes, the steering all over the place, the axle was virtually hanging off… It did really big damage. So that’s why it was good to get it over and done with before then.”
The race was immediately under the yellows, with Richard Howarth leading, ahead of Jacklin and Sam Makim. As the race went green again, Cooper charged to the front while further back Wainman Jnr piled Joe Booth into a turn one fence post, bringing out the yellow flags once more on lap five.
Cooper led the restart ahead of Dutchman Bouwe Arjen Hiddinga, Newson, Green, Danny Wainman, Riley and Fairhurst. Green soon was past Newson and got into the lead by halfway, but suddenly stopped in turn three, as did Fairhurst.
Wainman took over in the lead as the yellow flags came out on lap 12, with Billy Johnson second and Dowson now up to third, with only 12 cars still running.
Wainman looked to have the race in the locker but Dowson had other ideas and gradually closed the gap. Wainman was struggling to negotiate the third bend, which had cut up badly by this stage, whereas Dowson had found a quicker line, and with five laps to go took over the lead of the race.
However, while it was apparent Dowson was now in front, the starter was showing Wainman as the leader. Unchallenged, Dowson gradually pulled away from Wainman to take the flag and his first final win of the season. Wainman finished second, ahead of Wainman Jnr Jr, with Riley fourth, ahead of Paul Hines and Cooper.
“My car suits this track better than the top boys with their fancy gearing,” said Dowson. “I think I was getting the car to turn in better and tighter. Danny wasn’t very happy because the starter wasn’t giving me the lead, so he didn’t have a go back. He thought he’d won.”
Wainman was an angry and disappointed man after the race. “I saw John closing on me but, when he went past, the starter was still showing me as the leader,” Wainman said. “I was sure he must have been a lap down, so I backed off. If I’d had known I wouldn’t have done.”
The Grand National fielded 20 cars with Dowson taking the one-lap handicap. The race was under yellows on lap five with Howarth leading from France, Green, Wainman Jnr, Newson, Wainman Jnr Jr, Smith Jnr and Dowson, who was revelling in the difficult conditions.
France soon took the lead, as Green dropped back into the clutches of Smith Jnr who piled into the world champion into turn three and took both to the fence. With Green now out of the equation Smith Jnr collected his second title of the night, the Grand National Championship.
Up at the front France had the lead but, remarkably, Dowson had cut through the depleted field to run second and, as the lap boards came out, he caught France and pushed him wide to take the lead and the flag.
Wainman came though to take second place ahead of Wainman Jnr Jr to repeat the top three result of the final. Wainman Jnr finished fourth, ahead of Newson and Hines.
The result put a smile back on Wainman's face following his meeting final disappointment. Having finished the night as top points scorer of the Shootout contenders, Wainman leapt up the Shootout table to finish the series as runner-up.
After ten rounds, behind the dominant winner Smith Jnr, only four points covered second to fifth positions, with Wainman just one point ahead of Green, who had a disappointing night, with Wainman Jnr a further point behind in fourth. Fairhurst finished the Shootout another two points further back in fifth.