This was the first Rolling Thunder Show event since the confirmation that the original owners, and current leaseholders, of Arena Essex Raceway would be ceasing operations at the end of 2018. This didn’t really come as a surprise, as it had been publicised that the site had been sold to developers at the end of last year and leased back, and it was also known that the Banger-focused Promotasport organisation had been suffering a drastic decline in its fortunes. Unfortunately this also placed a big question mark over the future plans of their tenants, the Rolling Thunder Show, whose events aimed at club-level competitors continue to be as popular as ever.


The mid-August date was one of those when we wondered yet again just how much racing could possibly be squeezed into one meeting. With the final round of the 2018 SEGTO Championship added to the regular RTS classes, and a big turnout expected for what might turn out to be the last SEGTO event at Arena, the programme in theory ran to 51 races with a conservative 8 minutes per race estimate suggesting a finishing time well after midnight. The schedule was at one point pruned to 39 races, but the strong SEGTO turnout meant that it was not advisable to mix any SEGTO classes, so we ended up with a 15-class, 45-race meeting. The SEGTO “Thunder Rods” and RTS “Thunder Cars”, essentially the same formula, would run together, and with the Junior Hot Rods contesting their “World Cup”, the separate races for the white grade Juniors were dropped. With the first race on track 20 minutes early, a quick turn-round and all the SEGTO races cut to eight laps, the whole lot was finished just before the 10.30 curfew. The afternoon sun gave way to dull and overcast conditions, with some of the second heats slowed by a steady drizzle, but luckily that cleared without the forecast heavier rain arriving.


The action started with the SEGTO classes. A dozen PRODUCTION A cars turned out and despite confusion over their start line-ups (the top three SEGTO point scorers start from the back, but everyone else wanted to start at the back too!). With James Simmons starting with just one point advantage over Adrian Treagus, and Brad Wells just six points further back, close racing was guaranteed. Adrian and James in their Micras headed Peter Tilley’s Nova in heat one, while Peter beat the Micras in heat two. Adrian soon got out front in the final, but his challenge came from Martin Tullett’s Mini, which came quickly through the field to catch the leader, with Adrian just holding on to win and to grab the championship, despite James Simmons being close behind in third, ahead of Peter Tilley, Alan Goddard’s AX, Bob Salter’s Peugeot, Brad Wells’ Micra and the second Simmons Micra, with the four Novas of Katy, Tom, Matt and Harry Kerbey not starting the final.


PRODUCTION B brought out seven cars, with Rob Salter’s Peugeot starting with a 16-point lead over Barney Hayhoe’s Nova, while third placed Stuart Orford’s Starlet wasn’t entered. Heat honours went to the two Micras of Jason Cornell and Leonard Black (who at the end of the night both loaded up and headed to the Smallfields dirt track for another day’s racing!). In the final, though, young Josh Simmons, in the ex-Peter Tilley Nova, held on to win with Noel Breakspear’s Nova coming though on the last lap to grab second from Leonard Black, Jason Cornell and Rob Salter. Former Escort racer Fred Sturgess returned in a Corsa and brought up the rear after Barney Hayhoe dropped out following the first heat.


Six SPECIALS was the best tarmac turnout of the year, with Mark Stephens making a welcome return in his ARD-Hayabusa. Mark came though quickly to win both heats from points leader Ashley Lock’s Zetec-powered machine. In the slippery final conditions Mark held well back as championship contenders Ashley and Shaun Page’s Kawasaki (it looks like a very early Rawlinson Class 8) battled for the lead. With a couple of laps to go, though, Mark rocketed past the leaders, only to run wide. Mark retook the lead but a nice nudge from behind sent him out wide again – so he had the best seat in the house when Ashley and Shaun tangled on the last lap! Mark gratefully took the win as the reds came out, with Ryan Stafford’s trusty Crossflow the only other finisher as Dave Simmons’ Class 9-spec DRD-Vauxhall had already spun out.


The SEGTO JUNIORS brought out seven cars; five K11 Micras and a pair of K10s, which just happened to be first and second in the points. Angmering regular Laiton Disdle ran away with the first heat, while Will Watson took second in his new K10 Micra, replacing the car wrecked at Tongham earlier in the year. Heat two caused amusement when the field all lined up for the start on the back straight, and it took ages for anyone to notice that the starter was waving his green flag! When they did decide to go, leaders Laiton Disdle and Bailey Turner had a coming together and James Holmes came through for the win.  James led the final away but got pushed out wide and Bailey Turner then saw off all challenges to win. Oliver Adamson bounced off the armco, Will Watson also went out wide as he went for the lead and Laiton Disdle collected the unforgiving inside kerb, so Bailey ended up winning from Will, the new champion Thomas Connors and Kodi Page.


The 1450 HOT RODS had a varied six car field despite Mick Browne being unable to attend with his popular Fireblade Imp. Jason Johnsey, Nathan Loader and Barney Hayhoe were covered by six points so another close championship battle was on the cards. Josie Johnsey looked set for a runaway win in the first heat but got caught up in traffic and just held on ahead of Jason’s outwardly identical Nova and Nathan Loader’s AX. Josie had less of a start in heat two, but finished with a bigger winning margin over Barney Hayhoe, Jason and Nathan. The final saw Josie again lead all the way, just holding off Jason’s last corner challenge, while Jason took the championship. Barney was third from Nathan and Dan Dulieu in the ex-Nicky D’Souza Class 5-style Mini-Vauxhall. Jason Woodgate had replaced his Class 5 Mini with the ex-Ike Flack FWD Fiesta but the 1450 Zetec-powered car didn’t make the final.


The SUPER SALOONS had Chris Carter in an almost unassailable spot at the top of the points, after earning his place with cars as diverse as his Outlaw Hot Rod Mercedes SLK and his Class 7 Chevy-powered Suzuki SC100. Obviously he was in the SLK for Arena, joined by three more Outlaw Hot Rods for Andy Goodman, Graeme Taylor and Jamie Oates, the 2-litre Hot Rods of Steve Burgess (a newly reshelled Zetec-powered 205) and Alex Smith (a well-used Nova-Pinto), Lawrence Connors in the Class 7 “Growler”, Dave Bullen’s old school Starlet-Duratec and Michael Brooke’s FWD Peugeot. The first heat saw Andy Goodman chased all the way by Jamie Oates, but it all got a bit fraught when they caught the battling Michael Brooke and Dave Bullen, with Jamie just grabbing the win from Chris Carter and Andy. Jamie then got moved on to race with the RTS Hot Rods for the rest of the night, but there was another close finish with Andy Goodman a nose ahead of Chris Carter. Although the rain had cleared before the final, the slippery track decimated the field as some struggled for suitable tyres. Lawrence Connors put on a great show as he led the way but his efforts to hold off Chris Carter eventually gave way. Chris won with Laurence still fending off Graeme Taylor and Michael Brooke, with Alex Smith completing the field.


The still divided MICRA STOX class struggled with no local cars to race against this time. Just four cars turned up and did their best to put on a show. Craig Cobb led the most laps but inevitably Chris Tullett came through to win every race and wrap up the championship, chased home in the final by Graham Goddard, Ian Withers and Craig.


The last SEGTO class was the THUNDER RODS, with Angmering MG racers Jim Hazelgrove and Jon Sayers starting just two points apart. Unfortunately only three other SEGTO drivers arrived, but when joined by the five Arena regulars in the class they enjoyed some action packed racing. The Arena cars dominated the first heat, Andrew Geary’s Focus beating Michael Burke’s Civic, but then they all tried to wreck at the start of the second heat, with David Burke’s Civic coming off worst. Ron Wild’s MG ZT won that race but dropped out when second in the final, won by Michael Burke, while Billy Mellish’s Astra won the SEGTO battle from Shaun Maynard’s Golf, Jon Sayers, Jim Hazelgrove and John Burt’s Focus.


The RTS half of the programme was headed by the “World Cup” race for the JUNIOR HOT RODS, with a drawn and reversed grid format for the heats. 20 cars lined up for the first heat but it ended early when newcomer Patsy Keenan, minding her own business in her pink Micra, got spun out in front of the pack, leading to a seven car pile-up from which Patsy, Mille Wickens and Dylan Moore didn’t return. Swaffham visitor Warren Lown’s Saxo had started from pole and took the win. Second time out the front row starters, Daniel Freeman and Alfie Jarchow, made the running with Alfie winning from Reece Peters while the best progress through the traffic came from Perry Cooke, who made it to third, which put him on pole for the final, joined at the front by Bradley Peters, Tommy Boulden, Alfie Jarchow, Josh Hilton and Daniel Freeman. With Warren Lown having had problems in the second heat and Archie Fryatt also not appearing, there were 15 starters for the final, which Norfolk driver Perry Cooke led all the way. Tommy Boulden spun out of second in the closing stages and Bradley Peters took the place from Josh Hilton, Alfie Jarchow, Reece Peters, Callum Searle, Mallory Norris, Daniel Freeman, Austen Hayes, someone we couldn’t identify in Tommy Boulden’s spare car, Ash Shaw, Tommy Boulden, Jack Wilks and Will Deeley, while Billy Sandford retired.



A lot of the NINJA SPRINTS had drifted away from their home track unless there was a big championship on offer and this time there were just nine runners. Ollie Jones and Harry Fryett won the two heats and Harry was in front when the final was called early due to Poppy Hendy, running in a good third, spinning into the armco. Harry took the win from Ellis Snow, Charlie Soane, Joshua Perfect and Murray Hall. Ollie Jones was eliminated avoiding a spinning kart at the start 2hile Freddie Chandler and Harry Wickens didn’t make the final.


The EURO RODS had a smaller than usual 15 car field despite a few additions from the disbanded Street Stox class. One of these, Steven austen, came from the back to win the first heat from George Morris, but the white graders made all the running in heat two, with Joe Allen leading until he got spun out with three laps to go, leaving Paul Warren in front of Craig Stansfield when the red flag came out. By final time we’d lost Andy Reynolds, Tom Talbot, Matt Payne and Aaron Keynes, leaving an 11 car grid to be led most of the way by Paul Warren. In the closing laps Murray and Steven Austen both got through from the front with Steven just edging ahead of Murray to win, with Paul Warren still there in third. Tony Crozier took fourth from Georgina Goodchild, Mark Payne, George Morris, Dan Spinner, Joe Allen and Craig Stansfield, while Sophie Constable was towards the front of this group until she was helped onto the infield.


Seven SUPERSTOX appeared and the first heat ran to form with Steve Rickard’s Zetec-powered car leading most of the way, but Andrew and John Enright getting to the front by the end. The second heat was a bit different, run at tip-toe pace in very slippery conditions as a steady drizzle set in. Sonny Sherwood used all his years of Banger experience to hold on at the front, with John Enright and Steve Rickard on his tail at the end. Everyone was back up to speed for the final, with Steve Rickard leading all the way to the last corner, when Andy Enright went in with the bumper, spinning them both out. Andy was quickly straightened up but brother John just beat him to the line, with Sarah Rash holding off Aaron Smart for third, and Tim Hall and Sonny Sherwood completing the finishers.


A decent field of twelve STOCK RODS completed the first two heats with Swaffham visitor Conner Shinn winning both races from the front. The final was down to 8 cars with James Killick, Les Hatch, Luke Cornish and Ian Heffernan missing, and this time Keith Conlon led all the way to win from Conner Shinn, Simon Johnson, Hayley Tait, John Seex, Georgie Biggs, Ash Braim and Mark Shirley.


The HOT RODS looked promising but the grid fell apart when the weather deteriorated. Nine cars lined up for the first race although nobody could get near Charlie Sayers in his Outlaw Corsa. Dan Guidotti was the second of the Outlaws, having his first outing in his recently acquired BMW Mini. Andy Owen headed the 2-litre group from Patrick Keily, Tim Wright in a very nice Starlet, Scott Tait and Steve Burgess’ 205-Zetec, doubling up from the SEGTO Supers, while Terry Bell retired his Mazda 323. Two FWD cars turned up but Gary Gardener’s Saxo didn’t start and Dean Fuller’s Seat didn’t finish. Jamie Oates joined the group for heat 2 – but was one of only four cars! Dean Fuller won with Jamie coming through to second from Patrick Keily and Tim Wright. The final saw Patrick as the only one not lapped by the flying Jamie, with Scott Tait the only other finisher after Dean Fuller and Terry Bell pulled out.


A late addition to the programme was the CLASSIC V6 MODIFIED class, beautiful and spectacular cars that we’d have liked to see more of at Arena before it was too late – although it was never going to be easy to relocate the originally Swaffham-based class. Four of the Essex V6 powered cars turned up; Colin Richards’ Standard Vanguard, former Autograsser Simon Roose’s Anglia, Nigel Hopkins’ Mk1 Capri and Steve Spooner’s Mk1 Cortina They were joined by a lone Super Rod, Dave Willis’ Mondeo. Dave won the first heat from the front and, starting the wet second heat from the back, went round the outside of all the classics, although they didn’t let him get away. Dave didn’t make so much progress in the final though; the Modifieds are wide cars and when they run a complete race side by side, there’s no way past! Steve Spooner got a break at the front and with a clear track ended up joining the back of the queue that was fighting for second! Simon Roose and Nigel Hopkins had headed the class in the two heats but this time they came in two by two with Colin Richards and Nigel just ahead of Simon and Dave. Super racing, and we’re sorry we never got to see them at Arena again.