The 2009 Autosport International Show from the NEC

Saturday 10th January 2009

Report and pictures by Richard Stirling © 2009


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I strolled into the show and already my shoulder was aching from my heaving rucksack. I could hear the unmistakable voice of David Coultard on the Autosport microphone; and being an F1 fan, I shuffled over to have a listen to what David had got to say. Within a few moments he was talking about his new role as commentator on the forthcoming BBC coverage and he was urging people if they had something sensible to say about his commentating, then he should let him know about it and not bombard the BBC instead. The question “How do we get in touch?” rushed into my head and David had the measure of all of us, by saying “The address is simple: DC Monaco”. What an address! Anyway, he then went on to apologise for his rambling on (I hadn’t noticed) and for those around him who could smell alcohol on his breath. Apparently the bar was pretty much buzzing the previous evening and seeing as he wasn’t driving, David had thought it rude to leave early. The consequence of him politely staying for a “wee dram” was that he got soundly hammered; a fact that he freely admitted on camera in front of his new bosses. Anyway, no one seemed to mind and after I popped a couple of shots with my trusty camera, I moved on.


At the Santa Pod stand in the main hall, I was impressed by it’s physical location. It was positioned on full display between two halls and formed a magnet for all and sundry passing in these parts. I was amazed to hear from Darren Prentice that they only had the opportunity to set up this stand the previous night and that it was after 3am by the time he and the others got back to the hotel! That’s dedication! On the stand were Andy Carter’s demonstration Top Fuel Car, the Santa Pod Junior Dragster, FireForce 3 – the Jet Car, The Jet Bike and PodZilla, the Monster Truck. They all added up to an impressive sight indeed.


One thing that impressed me was the collection of Stock Car-related vehicles which were positioned behind the Santa Pod stand. It’s funny how folks from the Drag Racing feel they have nothing in common with Stock Car Racing and vice versa, but people have short memories. In the engine department, there’s lots in common. A handful of builders (ICE, Peter Knight, etc.) build for both Drag Racing and Stock Car racing. There are a few ex F1 Stock Car racers in Drag Racing, as we speak. These number Al Jackson (Crew Chief for Micke Kĺgered) and John Wright (Chaos Altered) amongst them.

In any event, I was impressed with the Stock car restorations and in particular, the restored F1 Stock Car of Bert Finnikin. Memories soon came flooding back of this car and the mighty Bert, himself. I raced against Bert and this very car on a handful of occasions and loved every minute; Bert is a smashing chap and would lend you anything, but it was funny how that friendship and camaraderie would be instantly forgotten, once you got on track. You wouldn’t expect it any other way, of course. When the late Richard Stanley upped his sponsorship commitment in ’88, Bert worked out that if he played his cards right, he could buy all the latest gear for a big new Chevrolet V8 and that he would end up with the first Big Block F1 Stock car, to use aluminium connecting rods. In order to maximise what he could buy, Bert built the engine himself and I can clearly remember this motor howling around Europe’s biggest (banked) shale speedway in Crewe. He left everyone for dead (including me) and swept the board, winning his Heat, The Final and The Grand National races and no-one could touch him. That was until several of those lovely aluminium rods threw the towel in at the very next event. Oops. Anyway, at the NEC, it was like seeing an old friend again and the only pity was that Bert himself was not on the stand to say “Hi” to the adoring fans. I did hear that he suffered a heart attack around 4 years ago, so I hope he has recovered well.

At 2pm, all eyes were focused on the Lucas Oils top fuel dragster stand and in particular, Andy Carter and Dan Welberry as they launched their book “King of Europe”. On display at the launch desk (or perhaps launch pad?) was Andy’s third FIA Top Fuel award which was helping take some of the strain off Andy’s creaking trophy cabinet, back at home. Having glossed the book briefly, it seems an extremely high quality product; a hardback book adorned with a super picture by Roger Gorringe inset with several small pictures from the shutter-button of yours-truly. It has been well written and tells the story, as you’d expect, of Andy’s driving career to date. Eager customers were there at the table and it was a youngster who was first to buy a copy of the book signed by Andy and Dan. Others were swift to step forward, including racers such as Bob Glassup, (who I dare say could produce an interesting book of his own, about his long experience in drag racing) who appeared most excited at getting his autographed copy… well, that’s what the cheesy smile told me! Andy and Dan were effortlessly swishing their Sharpie pens on the inside covers of what appeared to be countless copies that were being snapped up by all and sundry and the crowds at the Lucas Oils stand didn’t quieten down till later.


On my way off into the other areas of the exhibition, I came across the historic Formula One car exhibition. It was fantastic to see the cars from Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Nigel Mansell, Michael Schumacher and even last year’s car from young stand-out Sebastian Vettel. These were well laid out, giving plenty of room for the amateur (sometimes not so amateur!) photographers to get a good picture.


I continued strolling around and spent some time at the Aston Martin/Prodrive stand, just waiting for a clear opportunity to photograph the Aston Martins on the superbly lit stage.  The place just seemed to draw people like a magnet, perhaps the superb lighting had something to do with it!


In the Pistonheads part of the show, Santa Pod had their second stand which seemed to throng with people, especially those who took an interest in John Bradshaw’s amazing 7 second Nissan Skyline. There was a super display, as usual and Santa Pod’s Rick Cuthbert was fussing around the frequent visitors giving them all the information they would need about Santa Pod, all mixed in with a good injection of drag racing enthusiasm to boot. Rick was being admirably supported by his Santa Pod colleagues as well.


I thoroughly enjoyed the show, but as the hour approached 6pm and I heeded Rick Cuthbert’s warnings of “It’s minus 11 outside”, I wearily left the show and trudged towards the bus stand. Once outside, I let my nose venture out momentarily from my warm and woolly scarf and I didn’t think it was THAT cool; though perhaps performing the temperature-check whilst on a warm bus wasn’t the most scientific approach!


Thanks for reading this article. We look forward to you visiting soon!


 Richard Stirling ©, January 2009