Carl Boardley profile
Oval Racing News magazine

By Rob Griffin

Carl Boardley has been experiencing both the pleasure and the pain of motorsport.

Just three weeks after clinching his record-breaking fourth consecutive National Hot Rod World title, he wrecked his brand new Mercedes SLK at Birmingham.

The smash happened when the back end of the Suffolk superstar’s yellow and red machine lightly clipped the car of Jason Kew as the latter bounced off the wall in the final of the first qualifying round for next year’s world championship.

But although the contact was enough to send the Merc hard into the wall as well, snapping the rear axle, ripping off a wheel and brake calliper, and ruining any chance of it being raced at the Hednesford National weekend, Carl remained philosophical.

“That’s just racing and if you worried about these things happening then you would never get out there again,” he told Oval Racing News. “It’s just part and parcel of the sport; sometimes you get away with it and sometimes you don’t.”

All it meant was the 41 team swinging into action to rebuild the Tigra, which had been in pieces since being stripped for the scrutineers following his successful world title defence at a gloriously sun-drenched Ipswich Spedeweekend in early July.

That masterful flag-to-flag victory put him just one win behind Ulsterman Ormond Christie’s record of five crowns, which he won over a 16 year period from the early 1980s, and means he’s now firmly entrenched among the sport’s all-time greats.

“I’m pleased and proud at what we’ve done – not only for me but for the whole team,” he said. “I’d even be prepared to lay a fair amount of money on the line to say that I don’t think four in a row will be repeated again.”

This year’s win was probably his most straightforward as he totally dominated from pole position. Despite his advantage being cut a number of times by cautions, no-one came close to seriously threatening his lead.

“The plan was to spend the first 10 to 15 laps getting the car bedded in and putting some distance between us and whoever was in second place,” he recalls. “It was then a case of being methodical and making sure that if we needed to push the car a bit harder towards the end we still had some tyres left on it to do so.”

After taking the chequered flag the rest of the afternoon was spent stripping the car down for scrutineering before retiring to the nearby Golf Pub to meet up with friends and sponsors, and to blow his prize money on a bumper bar and food bill.

“We stayed there for a while and then went back to a mate’s house as he had a barbeque and beers ready for us from midnight,” he says. “This year wasn’t too bad – it only went on until about 4am the next day!”

So how did it compare to previous wins?

To beat Colin White’s hat-trick of consecutive titles was obviously a fantastic feeling, the one that means the most is his second, in 2007, because of how the previous year’s final had ended.

His brave attempt to drive round the outside of leader Andy Steward on the last lap resulted in a clash that saw the 198 machine ending up in the wall. Only after the incident was discussed at length by race stewards was the victory awarded to Carl.

“With the first win there was a little bit of controversy surrounding it so to do the back to back was a way of shutting a few people up that doubted it was justified,” he agrees. “That was really sweet from that perspective.”

However, it’s by no means certain that the 33-year-old will even be competing in the formula come next summer, let alone challenging for the right to keep hold of the coveted gold roof for another 12 months.

The hugely successful team makes a point of sitting down every December to review what has happened during the season and discussing whether they want to continue. It is only after these talks have taken place that plans are made for the following year.

“We ask all the boys if they’re happy with everything,” explains Carl. “As long as they are – and my father and I are too – we go on for another few months or a year until we get to that point again and make another decision.”

But what if he does make the 2010 grid?

“My chances are as good as any but that’s not to say that other people won’t raise their game over the next 12 months,” he says. “It’s too soon to be talking about next year. I’m one for living for the day and the week rather than looking miles ahead into the future, so we’ll just see what happens and go from there.”

It’s not hard to see why the members of Team Boardley have wanted to continue so far. Over the past few years they have enjoyed phenomenal success with a string of major wins coming their way, including English, European and National titles.

Carl insists their support is invaluable. “To do what we’ve done requires an overall package,” he says. “You need a driver with a really good understanding of the car and what makes it work; a good team around them; a decent chassis and car; a good, reliable engine; and people that are prepared to back you.”

One member of the team that has provided unswerving support since Carl first pulled on a crash helmet is his father, Richard. “Without his backing and that of the business we wouldn’t be in National Hot Rods at any level,” he admits.

The business to which he refers is the family firm, Boardley & Roberts Ltd, an electric motor specialist established almost 90 years ago. It also has a body shop which comes in very handy as far as painting the panels and chassis is concerned.

It has been the team’s base since the start of Carl’s racing career which dates back to the mid 1990s when he began as a teenager in the Spedeworth Stock Rods. Prior to this his only competition experience had been BMX racing as a child.

He spent four years in the formula, primarily racing at Great Yarmouth. “We didn’t do a great deal of travelling because it was just a bit of a laugh on a Thursday night,” he says. “We used to leave work at 5pm, get to the track at half six, do some racing, grab some chips on the way home and still be back in by midnight.”

So how did the leap into the Nationals happen? “It was born out of a crazy idea between me and my father,” he recalls. “I just happened to say to him when we were at Foxhall: ‘Why don’t we have a go at them?’ and we both just laughed it off.”

Six months later they were the proud owners of an ex-Ricky Hunn Peugeot 205 bought from Ian Butler. “We got it in July 1999 and almost straightaway we found ourselves relatively on the pace,” he recalls. “Over the following winter we then rebuilt it completely and then started messing about with it ourselves.”

Carl also struck up a friendship with Sonny Howard who had originally built the car, and between them they got it on song. “He gave me an understanding of how these cars work and how they should be set up,” says Carl. “We still speak often.”

The start of 2001 saw the delivery of a new Sonny Howard built Peugeot 206 but it was a car that Carl struggled to get to grips with, despite winning the National championship, and it was replaced two years later with another 206.

This car was campaigned until 2005 when it was replaced with a Vauxhall Tigra on a Chris Ludlow chassis. As well as all the basic qualities he liked in the 206, this machine had plenty of room for improvement.

“I was adamant that it was definitely the way to go,” recalls Carl. “We were able to get a lot of offset in the car; the Tigra was lighter so we could play around with ballast; and the body shape meant it had a lower centre of gravity.”

The history books will certainly show that switching to the Tigra was an inspired move, but it wasn’t an overnight success. “It didn’t really go according to plan for the first four or five months but once we’d got our heads around how it needed to work and had a play, it was good,” says Carl. “Now it’s like a second office. I jump in, everything is where it’s always been and it feels like a comfort zone. Once you’re ultra confident and happy with something then the rest of it follows.”

However, his desire to continue searching for that extra competitive edge led him to order a Ludlow built Mercedes SLK which he debuted at the Thunder 500, the traditional pre-Spedeweekend warm-up.

“I went a bit over kill with the brakes and the nearside front corner collapsed so we had a bit of a disaster that night,” he admits. “It was then my intention to race it at the National weekend at Hednesford but that obviously didn’t go to plan.”

However, even bearing in mind its short amount of track time, Carl is optimistic about the longer-term prospects for the Merc. “Straight out of the box it was good – not quite on the pace of the Tigra, but certainly not far behind,” he says.

The repairs are due to be carried out over the next couple of weeks with its next scheduled appearance pencilled in for the third round of the world series at Northampton towards the back end of August.

To put together a replica ready-to-race Mercedes wouldn’t leave you with much change out of £40,000, while Carl estimates that the annual budget to do the 17 English qualifying rounds, plus a couple of extra events, is around £750-a-meeting.

However, he is keen to stress that’s not the kind of money he is paying out to stay competitive thanks to the close relationship he has built up with the likes of Boss Race engines, Kent Cams and Elite Transmissions, to name but a few.

“We also do a lot of work ourselves,” he adds. “My philosophy on anything is not to pay out lots of money for someone to do something I can do myself. We’ve got a good team around us and they are all prepared to do bits and pieces.”

This back-up team – which consists of his Dad, as well as Steve, Darren and Tom – usually spend two nights-a-week on the cars, but that still leaves Carl enough time to go football training on a Thursday evening and play in a local league on Saturdays.

Although he used to be involved at a decent level, the time pressures of racing and bringing up a young family – he’s married to Emma and they have two daughters, Ellen, five, and two-year-old Lois – means it has been forced to take a back seat.

“I also follow Leeds United and have done since I was about 10 – we’ve had some highs but seem to be on a downward spiral at the minute,” he adds. “Other than that we have the occasional game of golf when we can get a couple of hours off work.”

Carl has dabbled away from the small ovals in recent years. In 2007 he campaigned an Ascar and this year he struck a deal to borrow a spare pick-up truck for four meetings at the Rockingham Raceway.

“I really like the track because it’s a real buzz to be going round a bigger oval at much greater speeds and testing your wits,” he says. “In all honesty it hasn’t gone as well as I’d have hoped but we have been trying a few things recently and it’s improved.”

Could this form of racing be something that he turns to full-time?

“We’ll probably stick with the pick-ups next year as well but I’m certainly not ready to commit to the whole series,” he insists. “For the next 12 months we’ll do the hot rod meetings. Whether we’ll do them all we haven’t decided, but we’ll still be around for the majority.”

That’s not to say he’s unhappy with the Nat Rods. On the contrary, he is pleased with driver numbers and thinks the decision to limit all drivers to a maximum of one new tyre per meeting has helped keep the costs down.

“The only thing lacking in recent times is a steward who’s been prepared to act on what he sees and issues harsh penalties to stop the unnecessary pushing and barging,” he adds. “However, they seem to be sorting that out as well.”

Attracting some big name sponsorship so there could be more televised racing, however, remains the golden goose as far as the sport is concerned in Carl’s opinion, although he acknowledges this is a tough ask in the current financial climate.

His immediate goal, meanwhile, is to be a good ambassador for the sport which is why Team Boardley are so keen on giving away laminated posters and even trophies to younger fans around the raceways.

“We’re also trying to present ourselves in the right way and race the right way which means not barging up the inside and swapping as little paint as possible,” he says. “It doesn’t always work out that way but it’s certainly what was intended.”

That’s not to say he isn’t ambitious. “Don’t get me wrong I’d like to win the National Championship and then go across to Ireland later in the year for the European and win that,” he says. “I’d also like to be around next July and win the world final but it’s not through any lack of ambition that it might not happen. First and foremost, though, our goal is to enjoy what we do and have a laugh along the way.”

As for his future plans, Carl likes to keep his cards close to his chest, as we have already discovered. It’s fair to presume, however, that he won’t be racing hot rods by the time he’s collecting his pension.

“It’s a hard one really,” he says when asked how long he’ll be around. “I don’t want to be classed as a veteran of the sport but while we all continue to enjoy it and are prepared to put the effort in then we’ll carry on.”


* Carl would like to thank the following: His father; Dave at Boss Race Engines, Tony at Kent Cams; Mike at Edwards Race Exhausts; Harry at Image Wheels; Ludlow Motorsport; Elite Transmissions, Sonny Howard; and mechanics Steve, Darren and Tom.