Was this going to be the start of a new era for oval racing in the south of England? We certainly hoped so. Lydden Circuit (or Lydden Hill as it's now known) had a long history of Stock Car racing with Bill Chesson having created the track, originally a motorcycle grasstrack, as a dirt Stock Car oval in the 1950s before the current one mile tarmac circuit layout was completed in the late 1960s. By the mid-1970s, Chick Woodroffe's Promotasport were involved in the popular "Festival of Speed" events at both Lydden and nearby Brands Hatch, and later on staged successful Hot Rod meetings on the "three quarter" circuit, but oval racing was an occasional treat, rather than a regular part of the circuit's schedule - just as it was in more recent years when Vince O'Connor's Rolling Thunder Show paid an annual visit to run the oval side of mixed format events.


This year, however, promises to be different, with Lydden becoming the Rolling Thunder Show's new home after the sad demise of Arena Essex. Lydden doesn't see much in the way of racing action these days, with car and bike track days being the main activity, so Vince's commitment to run monthly oval race meetings has caused as much excitement among local supporters as it has among the oval racers keen to see an independent racing scene continuing in the south east.


This first of nine scheduled 2019 Saturday afternoon meetings didn't attract a huge entry by the RTS's usuual standards (61 cars in all), but the day ran so well, with a superb show put on by all the participating classes, that the entries are bound to grow as the season progresses. Drivers are needing to get used to entering events more on a circuit racing model than what they've been used to; advance booking is essential with a current entry fee of £55 entitling the driver to four admission tickets on the day. Considering that Lydden has recently charged circuit racers £150 for a day's racing (about half the going rate for the average club race meeting) and that the oval racers are getting plenty of laps on around a third of the full circuit layout, that sounds like good value to us! The first meeting catered for six groups; Ninja Sprints, Junior Rods, Euro Rods, Group A Hot Rods (a revival of the much missed PRI formula from the 1980s and 90s), mixed Hot Rods and Open Production Saloons. Also to be featured as visiting formulae during the year are the European V8 Late Model series and the MASCAR formula. Missing at the moment is any open-wheel formula, with contact racing being strictly off the agenda at what is now the biggest and fastest oval track in the UK (at least until the Mallory Park oval returns) but plans are afoot to create a suitable formula, maybe along the lines of the slick-shod Superstox that used to race at Peterborough's Alwalton Raceway, or a budget version of the UK Sprint Cars, which have been impressive at Lydden in the past but aren't on the current programme, mainly due to tyre costs.


The atmosphere on the day was also very different to the usual short sharp UK oval meeting, with drivers turning up from 9 or 10 am but the track action not starting until 3 pm, giving plenty of time to set up and socialise. There was lots to watch, with the day being shared with one of Lydden's popular track days. This had around 70 entries, split between novice, intermediate and experienced drivers, with each group getting six 15-minute sessions, meaning that for most of the day there were around 20 cars on the circuit, ranging from a Fiat Panda to a Formula Ford 2000! Entries seemed fairly evenly split between road going cars, track day specialists with modified machinery, and circuit racers getting a generous day's testing time.


The Oval action started with the NINJA SPRINTS racing in two eight lap heats and a ten lap final. Just five karts turned up, four of those who'd been here last November, plus Poppy Hendy having her first Lydden outing. Poppy came through the field to win a very close fought first heat from Thomas Percox, and Poppy then won the second heat from the front. In the final Rylee Harvey led all the way, with Poppy coming through to second ahead of Lewis Riley, Thomas Percox and Jayden Steward. A bonus Allcomers' race was intended to be a test of the proposed "Devil's Elbow" circuit, but was run again on the big oval with Poppy taking another win.


The JUNIOR RODS had an eight car grid, with seven cars battling for second while Daniel Freeman's Micra took a runaway win in the first heat. That of course meant that Daniel was at the back of the grid for the rest of the day, but he came through to fight for the lead of the second heat, eventually taking a spectacular last corner win over the Micras of brothers Reece and Bradley Peters. Also starring in that race was Lily-May Burbidge, who'd led for eight of the twelve laps. Lily-May then went even better in the fifteen lap final and although the three battling Micras eventually passed Zak Brunning's Nova for second, Lily-May still managed to keep a gap between her Peugeot and the chasers, coming home the winner from Bradley Peters, Daniel Freeman and Reece Peters. Jackson Francis had his best race yet to take fifth in his Corsa from Zak Brunning, while Grayci-Lou Burbridge's Peugeot brought up the rear after getting spat out of the second place battle. Albert Webster's Citroen C2 retired from the final.


A twelve car grid lined up for the EURO RODS, with ladies first as Tracey Gilbert and Sophie Constable made the early running. Stephen Austen made very quick progress though and came through to win as Sophie took a good second from Matthew McMahon. Sophie again led much of the way in heat two, but eventually spun out of the lead as Stephen Austen closed in, with Stephen going on to win from son Murray and Dean Webster. The final was down to nine cars after Matt McMahon's battery blew up on the way to the line, while Matt Payne and Paul Warren had problems in the heats. Sophie Constable had another impressive run in the lead, and put up a good fight when Stephen Austen caught her, but Stephen again couldn't be beaten and led Murray home for another 1-2. Dean Webster took third from Mark Payne, with Cliff Hutchins taking fifth from the Micra of Tony Crozier and Sophie dropping to seventh ahead of Tracey Gilbert. Bringing up the rear was Chris Amos' immaculate Tigra after spending all day out with the track day cars, but ending up with no second gear.


Nobody quite knows what to call the next class but bringing back the GROUP A HOT RODS title seemed a popular move for the former Stock Rods, or 1450 Hot Rods. Eight cars turned out, with six FWD Vauxhalls up against the two RWD Starlets of Dave Lamb and Daniel Melhuish. The Starlets started fighting for the lead before being interrupted by a couple of cautions to recover Paul Haralambou's Corsa and Alfie Jarchow's Nova. Under the yellows Daniel's Starlet got collected in a rear corner, pulling off with a rubbing tyre and, as it turned out a broken diff. That left Dave Lamb to battle alone with the FWDs, which he did as spectacularly as ever, taking a close third behind Chris and Doug Constable. Birthday boy Chris again led his dad home in heat two, with Dave Lamb third again, and then the result was repeated in the final with Chris Constable winning from Doug Constable and Dave Lamb. Alfie Jarchow, first time out of Juniors, struggled with a misfire in both heats but got going a lot better in the final to take fourth from Stock Rod veterans Paul Haralambou and Gary Hicks, with Alex Martin a non starter in the final.


An extra ALLCOMERS race pitched most of the Euro Rods against a couple of the Group As, but an early coming together eliminated Dave Lamb and left a Starlet shaped dent in Murray Austen's door. Stephen Austen took yet another win, chased by Mark Payne and Dean Webster, with Alfie Jarchow the best Group A. Murray Austin ended up spinning into the tyre barrier in the last corner.


The HOT RODS brought out a 16 car grid, racing in three classes. Matt Leadbetter and Trevor Ward would fight out the Outlaw class, while two Zetec-powered 2-litres contested "Group B" with seven Lightning Rod Sierras. The grid was completed by five V6 Super Rods. The first heat saw a tremendous battle between Matt and Trevor in the Outlaws, with Matt just hanging on in front as they lapped the Group B winner, Kevin Duce's Puma, in the last corner, with Jim Wicks heading the Super Rods and Chris and Marcus Reeve quickest of the Lightning Rods. The Outlaw battle was resumed in heat two, with Matt again holding on to win despite coming sideways off the last corner. Kevin Duce was again third. Dave Leeks held off Jim Wicks in the Super Rods and Marcus Reeve turned the tables on Chris in the Lightning Rods.


The final saw a chaotic start with Chris Reeve spinning in the startline link, scattering the other Lighning Rods with Marcus buried in the bank and Wayne Londors finding the safest option was to rejoin via a lap of the full circuit. Marcus rejoined but brought out the yellows with a front wheel jammed into the bodywork. The restart gave the Outlaws a few extra laps before they caught the traffic, with Matt Leadbetter again fending off every move by Trevor Ward, until they finally started lapping the others and Trevor found a gap to nip through. Matt fought back, taking a run round the outside at the last corner but spinning as Trevor took the win and Kevin Duce sneaked second overall before Matt passed the flag on the grass. Gavin Cocks took the win in the evenly matched Super Rod group, holding off Jim Wicks, Dave Leeks and Dave Willis. Brian Smith was the first Lightning Rod home, earning him second in Group B, with Wayne Londors awarded third from Jason Anderson, making a welcome comeback, and Chris Reeve. Missing from the final were the Lightning Rods of Dave Carroll and Paul Apps, who threw a front wheel off in the first race and former grasser and Classic Hot Rod racer Dean Raggett, who had a troubled first outing in his Zetec-powered Corsa. Sadly long time racer Jamie Johnson's guest appearance in John Wicks' Super Rod ended with a broken driveshaft before taking the start of the first heat.


The final group was the OPEN SALOONS, based on the old Arena Thunder Cars class, bringing out a 12 car grid with four BMWs and four Vetec Civics plus a Lexus, a Sierra, a BMW Mini and a Zetec Fiesta. Coombe Valley racer Steve Cross turned up in a trackday Civic and ran away with the first heat before having problems in the second race and missing the final. Darryl Mundy's BMW burnt out its ignition switch before the first heat, but was back to win heat two, while former Street Stox racer Trevor Drayner dropped back in his newly built BMW before fighting back to second ahead of the Civics of David Burke and Billy Perry. Trevor then led the way for the first half of the final, but eventually Darryl caught and passed him to win, with Trevor second from David Burke. Danny Ellis' Lexus took fourth from Harry Marsh's Fiesta (a Coombe Valley "Banger Rod"), Nathan Moat's BMW Mini and Dylan Ellis' BMW. Retirements were Mike Burke's Civic, Andy Burbridge's Sierra and Billy Perry, while Mick Day's BMW dropped out in the first heat.


An excellent day's racing in the overcast and cold conditions, with the only disappointment being that the PA system had blown up so we were unable to enjoy Dave Lawday's commentary this time. Dave will be back on 13 April (when the pre-race entertainment features a Drifting day), and so will we, and we hope a growing number of drivers to appreciate this excellent facility for oval racing with a difference!