Mud, mud, glorious mud

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2013 Winternationals, Chesterton Stadium, December 29: a little-known sporting outpost within a stone’s throw of Stoke

There are no road signs to indicate the facility’s existence, but the size of the crowd implies that local knowledge runs deep. According to the boards outside, Chesterton Stadium – a mildly dilapidated venue on Newcastle-under-Lyme’s fringe – is home to speedway (true, the Stoke Potters race here) and greyhound racing (not true for about 10 years).

There is no mention of short oval motor sport, but it’s here that my 2013 campaign concluded – 363 days after it began at Wimbledon Stadium, a similarly down-to-earth enclave. It was my 52nd event of the year, a schedule that embraced eight Grands Prix, the Le Mans 24 Hours, a handful of rallies, assorted sprints and hill climbs, one day of drag racing, some VSCC driving tests, several motorcycle race meetings, countless clubbies (historic, vintage and modern), the Goodwood Revival and now this.

There is evidence of the old dog track around the circuit’s perimeter and the active part of the stadium wasn’t a great deal less muddy. Officially this is a shale surface, but it had morphed into sludge following days of rain and conditions became increasingly boggy with each passing lap.

The paddock echoed to the axle-grinder’s siren call as banger drivers (sharing the bill with junior bangers and stock rods) made last-minute preparations, removing tow-bars and filing away bits of rear bodywork to give rivals less of a target. The schedule is cheerfully slapdash, races being delayed by a minute or two to allow drivers to get cars ready, but nobody appeared to object. You can’t run a rigid timetable when it might take two minutes to clear up the post-race carnage… or possibly 25. Usually, it veered towards the latter.

The wrong driver was called forward to take the first trophy of the day: it transpired that they had been a lap in arrears, but the controversy is unlikely to scale 1966 Indianapolis 500 proportions. The commentator later informed us that one competitor took second place in a previous meeting, “but only on the basis of laps completed, because no cars actually finished”.

People are invariably sniffy about events such as this, but I know from past experience that any form of oval racing – bangers included – provides a useful platform for those who wish to fine-tune their car control (or not, in my case, as shots of a mangled Ford Cortina Mk2 once testified).

It’s the perfect way to dispel any post-Christmas torpor, a fun day out for £14 and, of course, a form of racing best served with the scent of fried onions.

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