BALLYMENA Raceway started 2013 in fine style with an entertaining programme of short oval racing for the sizeable holiday crowd to enjoy on New Year’s Day.
Main event of the afternoon was the 2013 Winter National Championship for the National Hot Rods, which went the way of former World Champion Keith Martin.
Also celebrating was Ballymena’s Chris Gordon, the current World Champion in the Stock Rod class.
Gordon added the Gilmore Engineering Challenge Trophy to his collection of honours, while Aughafatten lad Jaimie McCurdy left Raceway with the Star of Tomorrow Trophy after a great performance in the Junior Rod class.
NATIONAL HOT RODS
Two reverse grid qualifying heats determined the grid for the Winter National Championship and the first of these brought a victory for 2005 World Champion Keith Martin. Andrew Murray followed Martin home, with Stewart Doak in third.
Defending Champion Doak took the honours in heat two, with Murray second once more and Martin third. The qualifying results placed Martin on pole position for the Derek McMillan Commercial Refinishers-sponsored final, with Doak alongside on the front row, while the unfortunate Murray was forced to sit this one out after a ruptured fuel tank was discovered in his quick Vauxhall Tigra.
Martin eased ahead at the green flag and controlled the race from the front to secure the title after a strong showing in his Vauxhall Tigra. Ian McReynolds enjoyed his best run of the day to finish as runner-up in his Citroen Saxo, with Doak in third ahead of Andrew Stewart, Frankie Lynn and Petie Donnelly.
Heat One: 1. Keith Martin (Dungannon), 2. Andrew Murray (Randalstown), 3. Stewart Doak (Portadown)
Heat Two: 1. Doak, 2. Murray, 3. Martin
2013 Winter National Championship: 1. Martin, 2. Ian McReynolds (Portadown), 3. Doak, 4. Andrew Stewart (Portadown), 5. Frankie Lynn (Cullybackey), 6. Petie Donnelly.
Chris Gordon eased away from the pack to secure a polished victory in the first qualifying heat for the Gilmore Engineering Challenge Cup. Derek McMillan chased the World Champion home, with the Vauxhall Nova of Jonny Cardwell in third.
Ben McCully looked to have secured the honours in heat two, but a jump start penalty dropped the Waringstown lad to third and handed victory to Kells racer Carl Sloan.
A second place finish for Gordon, coupled with his opening heat win, was more than enough to earn the World Champion pole position for the 20-lap Challenge Trophy final.
Gordon set the pace from the start and steadily built up a healthy lead while his pursuers engaged in an entertaining dice for second. Dubliner Gary Butler eventually freed himself from this scrap to chase after the leader, and was closing quickly towards the end, but Gordon still had enough in hand to secure a dominant win.
The race winner received an additional prize of two Yokohama Tyres provided by Stephen Gilmore of sponsor Gilmore Engineering Cullybackey.
Heat One: 1. Chris Gordon (Ballymena), 2. Derek McMillan (Kells), 3. Jonny Cardwell (Ballinderry)
Heat Two: 1. Carl Sloan (Kells), 2. Gordon, 3. Ben McCully (Waringstown)
Gilmore Engineering Challenge Trophy: 1. Gordon, 2. Gary Butler (Dublin), 3. Victor McAfee (Ballymena), 4. McMillan, 5. Sloan, 6. Cardwell.
GROUP TWO LIGHTNING RODS
Two reverse grid qualifying heats determined the grid positions for the Winter Cup, and the first of these brought another victory for Mark Turtle in his Vaxuhall Astra, before Freddie Fleck withstood a strong challenge from Owen Cunning to take the honours in heat two.
Solid performances in the qualifiers earned Stewart Nicholl pole position for the final, but it was impressive newcomer Greg McMullan who moved through from row two of the grid to claim a well-earned victory and the Winter Cup.
Irish Champion Curtis Greer produced a spirited drive to roar through from a lowly grid position to second at the chequered flag, with Samuel Montgomery completing the top three finishers.
Heat One: 1. Mark Turtle (Ballymena), 2. Stewart Nicholl (Kilrea), 3. Noel Hazlett (Ballymena)
Heat Two: 1. Freddie Fleck (Broughshane), 2. Owen Cunning (Ballykelly), 3. Ricky Shaw (Antrim)
Winter Cup: 1. Greg McMullan (Castlerock), 2. Curtis Greer (Cullybackey), 3. Samuel Montgomery (Castlerock), 4. Shaw, 5. Gary Thompson (Cookstown), 6. Fleck.
Jaimie McCurdy started the afternoon with a good win in the opening heat, and looked to have repeated the feat in heat two, but the race steward had other ideas. The officials imposed a two place penalty for a jump start, which demoted McCurdy to third and handed victory to local lad Aaron Moody.
It was Moody and McCurdy who shared the front row for the final, and the pair proved to be the class of the field, as they fought out a tooth and nail battle for the Star of Tomorrow Trophy.
McCurdy managed to stretch out a gap as the leaders picked their way through the back markers, and this proved decisive in the final outcome as the Aughafatten lad held sway to notch up another win.
Heat One: 1. Jaimie McCurdy (Aughafatten), 2. Aaron Moody (Ballymena), 3. Peter Stewart (Moneydig)
Heat Two: 1. Moody, 2. Mark Graham (Upperlands), 3. McCurdy
Final: 1. McCurdy, 2. Moody, 3. Graham, 4. Calvin Blake (Ballyclare), 5. Adam Brogan (Ballymoney), 6. Stewart.
DRIVER OF THE YEAR
Saloon Stock Car Irish Champion Ryan Wright was voted Ballymena Raceway Driver of the Year for 2012 by the Raceway fans.
The popular Cullybackey racer topped the poll, which was run on the official Raceway website over the winter months.
Wright received his trophy on New Year’s Day, along with runner-up Chris Gordon and Group Two Lightning Rod Irish Champion Curtis Greer who finished third. The awards were kindly sponsored by trophiesni.com