ASCAR :: American style stock car racing in the UK
2001 saw Rockingham Motor Speedway open a mile and a half oval for ASCAR. This was the original name for an American style stock car series debuting in the UK. A family outing in 2002 saw us witness that first meeting. The sight of 20 odd saloon stock cars rolling behind the pace car was a hair on the back of the neck standing moment usually only reserved for BriSCA F1 world finals. Then During one race Steve Hodgson and Michael Vergers going a lap and a half side by side, door handle to door handle hooked me.
I was never a fan of Hot Rods sharing meetings with the F1 guys. In general, it was non-contact roundy-round racing but at break neck speeds. Certainly, you could also say this about the American style of stock car racing. However, I guess the ground shaking from the 4.8 litre engines is part of what made the difference.
In order to get the series off to a creditable start the promotion brought in a number of professional racers:
- Nicolas Minassian, winner of the 2002 series and a participant in the Le Mans 400 & Indianapolis 500.
- Max Papis, A Lotus test driver who also drove for the Footwork F1 GP team as well as Champ Car. IndyCar and NASCAR.
- Darren Manning, test driver with the Bar Honda F1 GP team
- Darren Turner, a McLaren F1 GP test driver.
Drivers with British Touring Car experience:
- Matt Neal
- Jason Plato
- John Cleland
- Tiff Needell
- Chris Harris
- Amanda Stretton
For the most part these combatants only hung around for one season. The series couldn’t maintain that level of experience over the long term. That experience comes at a cost. A new series fighting to get known needed a strong support base to provide the necessary income. For the initial meetings big names performing music concerts at the end of the day’s racing bolstered the crowds. Again these came at a cost.
Short Circuit Connections
With the more known names leaving after their payday the UK short circuit scene proved a group of stalwarts that cemented the series together. Multi BriSCA formulae world champion Rob Speak drove for Team West-Tec for 4 seasons. Following his 2002 BriSCA World Championship Peter Falding picked up an outing and stayed for a regular drive. Former BriSCA F1 driver, son of Mirfield’s BriSCA superstar Dave Hodgson 272 Steve Hodgson took the 2004 ASCAR title. The inaugural champion was John Mickel a previous world champion in the Superstox Formula. As a result of this success in 2001 opened the door for drives in the USA Craftsman Truck Series. From the UK Hot Rod racing world came Colin White and John Steward who ran their own teams. Without a doubt, there will be others that I’ve missed. Such as, I think Andy Smith ex 391 did have drives at one meeting.
A couple of renowned names to finish this section. Firstly, winner of 7 races in 3 seasons between 2002–2004, Ben Collins was an established racing driver. With a background in single-seaters like Formula 3 and GTs participating in Le Mans he took the series championship in 2004. It was only a few years later that it became known that he was ‘The Stig’ on the BBC’s Top Gear programme.
Then there was a coup for the series when ASCAR appeared on the race schedule for the visit of the USA Champ Car Series in 2002 and Colin McRae made a guest appearance. The much loved rally star finished a creditable 6th. His comments about his experience are so memorable. He’s quoted as saying something along the lines of approaching corners at 160 MPH without braking was insane. If you touched the brakes for the bends, then you rapidly drop backwards through the pack.
To be continued…
For now, I’ve added pictures from some of the meetings attended in 2004 & 2005. There are a few more images from Rockingham to come in the form of the Pick-ups. With that update there may be more about the ASCAR scene.