Best that never qualified, top 10 list
Originally on Whistlin' Jack Smith 2014
10. Mike Oliver (57)
Being based in Wales was the biggest disadvantage to his Mike’s Hot Rod career, if he had hailed from Germany or Holland he would have probably been granted a place in the World Final but was never given that luxury and had to work out which series he wanted to qualify through.
Mike did attempt to qualify on a few occasions through the Irish series but the lack of racing at every meeting didn’t allow him to score enough points. Mike will be remembered as the driver who kept on racing a Peugeot 205 when everyone else had moved onto newer machinery.
9. Lee Wood (333)
The qualifying places within the National Hot Rod English series is commonly referred to as the ‘top 20’ on the basis that the top 20 positions qualify for the World Final, yet on a few occasions the top has changed to 18 or 19 to allow more drivers from other countries.
One of the drivers that finished 20th in the points in a year where only 18 qualified was Lee, who although he won the final at the last qualifying round of the year in 2010, he ended up just 9 points adrift.
Lee’s campaign that year was his first full assault at National Hot Rods and at that point had fairly limited experiences in Hot Rod racing, after this he switched back to Classic Hot Rods and currently remains one of the top drivers in that class.
8. Wilson Hamilton (904)
When Wilson made his debut in National Hot Rods it came in the hands of the ex-Jeff Simpson Colt which was a very competitive car of the time but it suddenly seemed to disappear. After a few years rumours began that the car was to be raced by a former World Champion but reports were sketchy, now in this time period the internet was its infancy and social media didn’t exist. Perhaps that scenario now the owner wouldn’t have been such a mystery.
Wilson of course was Super Rod World Champion, winning the title three times back to back and although he had been away from racing on the ovals for many years he did fit the bill of a new quality driver to National Hot Rods, however Wilson never raced that often which meant he was never in the hunt of qualifying – he still races this Colt (as well as newer Tigra) but races at the domestic meetings for the ‘Outlaw’ style class.
7. Shaun Brooker (69)
In the late 1980’s Shaun Brooker moved up to red grade in Superstox and in a 25 year career in the open wheel class he still remains graded there, only recently selling off his European Championship winning car. There was however a small blip to his stock car career when he moved to National Hot Rods.
Brooker’s debut came in 1998 at the wheel of a former Jeff Simpson Starlet; his debut came at the same time as Jason Fitch completed the same move, who bought the ex-Bland Peugeot 205. Brooker was expected to do very well in the class, one current NHRPA official even commented at the time “Brooker would be a World Champion contender if he bought the Bland 205”. He didn’t though but that didn’t mean he had an uncompetitive car.
The Starlet though didn’t last that long as he upgraded to a brand new Steve Wills built Ford Fiesta, the car that had an unconventional yet huge wing. Performances didn’t seem to improve that much and he languished in about 25th in the points, the car was then sold onto Chris Baylis and Shaun returned to contact racing.
6. Ian McReynolds (977)
Like a lot of current Hot Rod Ian comes from a family with a huge Hot Rodding heritage, his brother Mervyn McReynolds was a top driver in Northern Ireland during the 1980’s and still hugely respected. Ian first came to prominence in Lightning Rods when he was first over the line during the 2000 World Final but he failed scrutineering that day, he raced 2L Hot Rods successfully before stepping up to the premier class.
In National Hot Rods he has been one of the few drivers to stick with a self-built car and the Citroen Saxo has taken wins over several years but never done enough to make the cut. Perhaps the Northern Irish scene is too competitive or not enough spaces are available but it would seem he would have qualified through other regions.
5. Jason Cooper (482)
Another Superstox convert but this one is a legend of that class. There is nothing Cooper hasn’t won in Superstox and dominates in the same manner Sparkes and Brand did in the past.
His move came in the ex-McCall Peugeot 206cc and he quickly upgraded to a brand new Vauxhall Tigra B, which ended up sat on the top of the fence at Northampton at its debut. Fast forward 6 months and a new qualifying campaign began during the summer of 2011 and Cooper had a great start and headed the points, but after a few poor meetings he was soon on the bubble before stopping with National Hot Rods, citing the car needed working on every day compared the Superstox that could be left most nights. Cooper sold the Tigra, which now resides in Northern Ireland and returned to Superstox. However for 2014 Cooper has re-licensed with the NHRPA .
4. Mick Cannon (247)
A Hot Rodder of the 1980’s he was one of the few to race with the Ford Escort mk3 when the rules allowed for front wheel conversion. In fact he was pretty handy with it and ended with the silver roof whilst racing the car, at this period all promotions were in the process of being amalgamated and over a hundred drivers were registered (getting to all race at once was a separate issue), the likes of Polley, Grimers, White, Hunn, Skitmore, Collard, Simpson and Harris all raced. At the end of 1989 Mick Cannon went into the New Year Eve meeting leading the points, but World qualifying points began two months later at Wimbledon and at this point his National Hot Rod career soon stopped.
3. Alan Connolly (77)
One of the most successful Stock Rodders ever, he won the World, European, British and Irish (five times in fact). He made the leap into National Hot Rods when the Neal Smith Peugeot 206 became available, but although competitive he became another to suffer the fate of not completing in every single qualifying round and subsequently didn’t make the cut.
After competing irregularly around 2006/7 his racing career was cut back severely due to illness and never again raced in National Hot Rods.
2. Tick Steward (98)
One of the top Stock Rods during the 1990’s he finished in the class about 1996 after winning World and European Championship. His brother Andy had been just as successful but moved into National Hot Rod racing, when Andy picked up a ban at the end of 2001 at Wimbledon it seemed the one was peeled off the number and Tick began racing as number 98.
In those 6 months he didn’t have to worry about probation meetings from the back and just went out for fun, he ended up finishing 26th in the points, but scored 13 points less than brother Andy who also raced in 8 meetings.
1. Ian Thompson Jnr (901)
One of the most talented drivers ever to race on the ovals he had bundles of speed and won a lot of races. He came to National Hot Rods after racing 2L Hot Rods and Brisca F2 yet at this stage was still younger than most of the other drivers. His first qualifying campaign was not a full campaign and he finished 9th during 2004-05, during the summer he destroyed all in the Spedeweekend Support races before winning the National and British Championship, it seemed like a new star of the sport was emerging but the for next World Final Thompson just didn’t do enough to qualify in 2006 (he didn’t compete in every round) and ended up 7th, John Christie taking the final spot that allowed him to qualify for the first time.
So who missed the cut, the obvious one people would say is Neal Smith and yes he never raced in a World Final but he did qualify for the World Final but was banned for that year due to tyre infringements.
A few names sprung to when thinking of this article – Robin Sloan, Deane Wood and James O’Shea but they did qualify on at least one occasion. In recent years Nigel Pike, Peter Blood and Sam Holland all failed to qualify but due to late cancellations they were allowed to race in the World Final.
There are a few quality names from the late 1960’s missing: Doug Warner, Martin Morris, Terry Haywood and Ron Higgins may never have raced in the World Final but were omitted from the list; they raced in a period before the World Final was invented plus it is difficult to establish whether they could have or even wanted to race when the event was far more invitational when the first World Final was run in 1972.
Other considered but didn’t make the cut were John Murray, Graham Luscombe, Mark Peck, Wayne McClure, Leon Fasey, William Buller, Mike Beeston, David Polley and Adrian Mills – in fact there could have been a lot more!