Still the newest race track in Ireland, the Ballymurn Hot Rod Club continued to keep the long standing tradition of dirt Hot Rod racing alive in Wexford as the club entered its second full season in 2018. The club’s first couple of race days, at the end of the 2016 season, had impressed everyone with a big, fast, wide open, up and down hill track on a reclaimed quarry site, just outside the village of Ballymurn, buried in a largely unexplored area of County Wexford, between the busy and historic town of Enniscorthy and the attractive seaside village of Blackwater.


By the time we first visited Ballymurn, for the club’s first big cup meeting in the summer of 2017, the site had seen a massive amount of work to make it one of the best dirt racing facilities in Ireland, with a covered trailer/grandstand for spectators, high banks and catch fencing surrounding most of the track, and loose run off areas to make sure very few cars actually found those banks. With the spectacular layout of the track itself, the turnouts of cars and spectators (from Wexford and much further afield) were already proving that Willie O’Connor and his team were delivering exactly what the grassroots racers of Ireland wanted.


When we returned in June 2018, a week into the seemingly endless summer heatwave, there’d been a lot more work done at the site. The pits had been moved from the top to the bottom of the hill, enabling an Autograss-style straight-line startline to be set up with an uphill run to the first corner. More banking had been added, plus an elevated photographer’s platform if we were brave enough to climb up to it! The commentary position had moved from the top grandstand to another platform in the pits, and a second grandstand had been added on the hillside, with easy access for wheelchairs and prams. The orange netting that had protected spectators from stones, but restricted viewing, had been replaced with very well designed new double layer catch fencing that a lot of other clubs could learn from. And, just adding to the atmosphere, a nice picnic area had been laid out at the top of the pits. The thought and attention to detail that’s gone into this venue never ceases to impress, especially as it’s coupled with a racing surface that would be a credit to any Autograss club.


An impressive array of perpetual trophies was on display in the pits, but they’d be up for grabs later in the season. Our visit was for a normal club day, but despite the heat, a very respectable 50 drivers came through scrutiny, with just two shared cars among them.  Once racing was under way, the organisation was as impressive as the venue, meaning that everyone got four full rounds of racing and still finished early enough to enjoy the rest of the sunshine. The inevitable dust was kept down well without ever over-watering and with Paddy Lambert as usual entertaining everyone with his commentary, this was as near as you’d get to a perfect day of “back to basics” racing.


The classes at Ballymurn are pretty much what you’d expect at any Irish Hot Rod venue, with the added twist that Classes 1, 2 and 3 are split into “standard” and “modified” divisions. Every class started its first heat from a straight line grid, with each subsequent round getting re-handicapped based on the points so far, which worked well in spreading the race wins around.


CLASS 1S contained six 16 valve K11 Micras and one 8 valve K10. Maurice Purcell was the top scorer on the day after taking two wins, while Chris Mahon was also a winner and James O’Toole in the older Micra crossed the line sideways in front of a close bunch of cars to take a spectacular win in the last race. Pike regular Kieran Cooney and John Fernihough were well in contention throughout, although Brendan and Philip Mahon both had problems.


CLASS 1M featured a splendidly retro Fiat 127, an ex-Paddy Sinnott car that turned up with Basher Mahon at the wheel. He was joined by Tpot Cadogan in a K11 Micra featuring the same strange little engine as the Fiat (maybe an early 1-litre Hyundai?) and Alex Cooney’s 8 valve boxy Micra. Unfortunately the Fiat was very sick, prompting Basher to run across and retrieve his regular Mitsubishi-powered Lupo from the unloading area. Alex pulled out after winning the first two races and Tpot ended up as the top scorer.


There was only one entry in the LADIES, so Séidhlin Black raced her standard 8 valve K10 Micra with the 1Ms for a couple of rounds and ended up out with the Juniors.


In CLASS 2S Shane Vincent’s Micra was the car to beat, taking three wins, plus a close second behind Bob Breen’s 1.2 Fiat Uno. Martin Redmond’s Peugeot dropped out after the first race and Craig Bradley’s Fiesta completed the class.


CLASS 2M promised plenty of action with seven entries. Some extremely close racing resulted in four different winners; Joey Sinnott’s Mitsubishi Colt, Craig Kinsella’s Mitsubishi-powered Micra, Basher Mahon’s Lupo and John Doyle’s ex-Autograss Nova, which ended up as the day’s top scorer. Other contenders were Sean O’Toole’s Toyota-powered Starlet, Benji Cullen’s Mitsubishi-powered Corsa and Dylan Murphy’s Colt.


In CLASS 3S Johnjoe Jordan was the day’s pace setter with a 16 valve powered K10 Micra, winning two races. Patrick Lambert Jr had a win in his K10 Micra, as did Michael O’Neill’s 16 valve Starlet, while Brendan Quinn’s Nissan Sunny-powered Yaris took a couple of second places before retiring.


All the Honda-powered cars got moved into CLASS 3M this year to make the scrutineers’ life easier, so this class was populated by the typical Irish Hot Rod hybrids – three FWD Starlets, a Micra and a mid-engined Corsa, all fitted with the favourite Honda D series SOHC Vtec engine. Ciaran Fortune’s Starlet 70 came out on top of the fast and noisy battles with three wins, while Tom Cowman’s Micra just held Ciaran off in the other race after Ciaran had a close encounter with a tyre wall. The Starlets of Michael Purcell and Shane Doyle were strong contenders, as was Paul Dowling in his Corsa before he had to pull out.


Honda power dominated the top classes although CLASS 4 also featured PJ and Danny O’Neill, down from Kildare with a 1500 8 valve Micra that unfortunately dropped out after a good run in the first race. Tommy Leacy’s 1.6 Civic took three wins while Sean Connolly’s cut-down Civic was the other winner. Andy Foley arrived with a Toyota 16-valve powered Fiesta that showed promise after breaking in the first race.


CLASS 5 saw Pat Power’s Civic DOHC Vtec switching to the dirt after starting the season at the Pike and he took three wins, battling with Daryl O’Connor’s Vtec Starlet when he got the chance. Daryl took one win in between changing driveshafts all day, although in the first race a red flag gave him time for a quick pit stop, rejoining in Séidhlin’s Micra. Nigel Dooley’s Starlet-Honda completed the class but had problems all day and only finished one race.


Quickest of all were the four Vtec Hondas in CLASS 6, all in different shells. Lionel Martin’s Starlet (his Mallow BAS heat winning Autograss car) won three of the four races with the other going to Wez Martin’s Colt, while Trevor Moran’s later Starlet and David Martin’s Micra were both early retirements.


That just left the biggest class of the day – of course the JUNIORS with five Micras against one Peugeot and the quick little 3 cylinder Daihatsus of Kyle and Jake Stamp. After plenty of action, with no casualties apart from a few bumpers, Kyle emerged as top scorer after winning two races, while Jake had one win, as did David Browne, who’s been one of the year’s top newcomers at the Pike. David Hamilton, Conor Murphy, Jamie Cadogan and Jack Cooney all featured well with their Micras, but Darren Redmond was unlucky with his shared 106 after it broke in the first Class 1 race.


All in all an excellent day at a friendly club in a lovely part of Ireland. As it turned out this was our only visit of the year to Ballymurn, but it’s a track we’d love to get to more often if our calendar allowed it!