Penske Racing’s car-building offshoot in Poole may be run on deadly efficient lines, but the man in charge is also one of the great motor sport enthusiasts
It has been said of Nick Goozée that you can see all four seasons in a day on his face, but the fact that he’s the one saying it tells you a lot about the man.
“I guess I am lucky, because I probably struck right at the period of time. If you reflect all the time people think you’re being basically negative, but I think it’s very fortunate that I was able to get an apprenticeship with a man who I worshipped as a schoolboy – Jack Brabham. Dan Gurney was part of that too, but Jack Brabham in particular. If you can think of it, a boy of 18 starting work at Brabhams in 1963 when it was an extremely small company with probably no more than a dozen people there. In 1964 Brabhams had built and were supplying about six Grand Prix cars –Bob Anderson, Siffert, Bonnier, Gurney, Brabham, Silvio Moser – in those days all the drivers and all the mchanics used to descend on the Brabham workshops and it would be like a feast. And all the Formula Three drivers would have their little VW pick-ups and be there building their cars up. You got to know all the drivers, and it was wonderful. I grew up with people like Paul Hawkins and Frank Gardner. I was assigned to Denny Hume, being his lad, really, as he ran and maintained his own car. And I found myself going off every weekend to Formula Two and Formula Three races and then helping at the UK-based Formula One races. Making tea and things. You’d go to Goodwood, and be making tea also for those adjacent to us in the paddock, Lotus and that. So I’d be making tea for Jimmy Clark, and John Surtees, and then you’d go and sit in their cars. Having Jimmy Clark say, ‘Would you like to go and sit in my car?’ So this young boy in baggy overalls was able to sit in the car that Jimmy Clark would drive that race weekend – and Jimmy’d be sitting on the wheel – these are my fondest memories.
“Then of course Gurney, who I grew up to worship. I bought a Yamaha motorcycle in the early days and Dan would go off for hours riding it. And I used to drive my motorbike dressed in British Racing Drivers’ Club overalls with a Jack Brabham helmet, Gurney goggles and Gurney boots and Brabham gloves and stuff . . .One was able to live a fantasy.
“Brabhams didn’t change much. When I left briefly in mid-1966 to join Robert Lamplough in a Formula Three thing – which was an absolute disaster, the first and only time in my entire life when I’ve actually prostituted myself. I was earning £10 a week and he offered me £12 or £13 to be a mechanic – I couldn’t go back to Brabham so I went to Coopers. I was there for about four months, which was the end of their Formula Three production, then I went to work for Thompson & Taylors. Then Brabham had a BT8 sportscar that needed rebuilding, so they employed me again.
“Denny was like an older brother to me; he was best man at our wedding, and at one time I lived with him. When Denny won the Championship and left to go to McLaren, I went too to work on his car. It was such a different change, McLarens to Brabhams, and I bumped into Ron Tauranac in the old brick toilets at Silverstone and he said, ‘Nick, we’re going to be building a monocoque, would you like to come back and do this?’
“So I left McLarens and went back to Brabhams, which was really my spiritual home. We were building the BT26s, which were the last spaceframes, and then the BT33, the first monocoque. I stayed there through Jack’s retirement, and when Bernie bought the business. And the place really changed about that time, because Bernie came in with a big white paint brush and cleaned everything up. Basically a lot of new people came in and the old people left. Bernie was really good to me: he was actually a very nice person to work for, and I enjoyed those days. Colin Seeley was there, and we built a motorcycle for Barry Sheene. And that was the emergence of Gordon Murray.
“Ron Tauranac didn’t seem to stay that long once Bernie arrived. Ron was like a father to me. A lot of people had difficulty with him, but he took me when I had nothing to give, and he suffered me, and I’m using that word in its truest sense. He was very patient, and really to this day I regard him as being the most influential person in my life.
“After Jack left the business changed considerably. The spirit went out of the place, although it was nice having Graham Hill driving. And then Ron sold the business. He never told us about this: there was a lot of rumour, and then suddenly it happened. And I guess a lot of us felt we’d been sold with it, with the fixtures and fittings.
“I stayed with Bernie, and then the Penske situation arose. Heinz Hofer came up to the storeroom and left a message there if anyone was interested in joining Penske. Well of course we knew about Penske, we knew they had a fantastic reputation for excellence – the Donohue Penske partnership. I rang them up and said I’d be interested, and I was most impressed that Heinz, the team manager, drove all the way up to Surrey to interview me at my home, rather than me have to drive down there. It showed that much care and interest. The rest of it was really a foregone conclusion . . . September 24 1974 I started at Penskes.”
By that time he’d been working on the ‘renta’ Brabham, driven initially in 1974 by Richard Robarts with Myson sponsorship. The Penske offer was timely, and has proved longlasting.
How Goozée got into motor racing is an object lesson to ardent schoolboy race fans. “I was at public school and I developed this interest in motor racing when I was a paperboy. I delivered this newspaper to one house and there was a motor racing magazine in it which I believe, actually, was Motor Sport, if I remember rightly. It was pouring with rain, this house had a porch so I read this magazine, and from then on my money went on buying Stirling Moss’s Book of Motor Racing and Jack Brabham’s. I liked Jack; I don’t know why I chose Jack Brabham but I did. When I went back to school I had to write to my parents every Sunday, and I used to write to Jack Brabham every Sunday and to Stirling Moss every Sunday. And I used to get letters back! Not on a regular basis, but the letters I got from Brabham were always less formal than the ones I got from Moss, so I suppose he became my chosen hero from that respect.
“Then my father, who was at the War office at that time, was posted to West Byfleet, and Brabham had just bought this workshop there. The first day of my summer holidays in 1963 I cycled to Surbiton, which was about 10 miles away, and the Cooper workshops used to overlook the high street in those days. The doors were open, it was sunny, and you could see the cars, and people making bits and pieces. I hung around and they let me go in, and Bruce McLaren I think was actually building his Tasman car, the 2.7 Climax-engined car. And John Cooper said, ‘Well, you can start here if you like,” so I cycled home at twice the speed, but got to Byfleet, and I saw a postman. I said to him, ‘Do you know where Jack Brabham’s workshops are?’ He gave me directions so I cycled up there and hung around by the workshop doors for about two hours, leaning on my bike outside. And I looked into this dingy workshop with old tyres, engines, broken cars and a couple of crusty old laurel wreaths. Once the colour went out of the leaf they just used to get crusty and brown, with a faded piece of cloth attached to them. And eventually they said, ‘Well look, don’t stand out there come on and make a cup of tea and be useful.’ And I went in and I worked every single day of that summer holiday at Brabham’s, and it was fabulous.
“I used to make the tea, sweep the factory, and do things in the stores, and then they let me work on the cars a bit. I used to sit in the Grand Prix cars, because you had Brabham Racing Organisation, Brabham Conversions and Motor Racing Developments all in the same block. The three different companies. And Brabham Racing Organisation was the Formula One team, which was Jack, Dan Gurney and two mechanics. That was it. Then you had your car conversions where Triumph Heralds and Vivas were converted. There were a few people in that. And then you had the people building Formula Junior cars and the sportscars, they were in those days, for Ian Walker Racing. So I was really spread between the three, but I was just a kid and probably a bit plummy voiced and public schoolboy, and I got an awful lot of ribbing, but it didn t seem to matter.
“I was convinced then that was what I had to do, so I went back to school in the winter term of ’63 and managed to persuade my father to go and see Ron and see if I could start work. And Ron saod it ewas all right, so my father reluctantly released me from public school and I started there just before Christmas in ’63.”
Thirty years on, he admits things have changed. “You can’t do that nowadays. We have countless letters from people with just the same enthusiasm . . . But I’ll never forget that somebody at some time gave me the break, and if you look at everybody who runs a Grand Prix team now, every one of them will tell you the same – Ron Dennis, Frank Williams.
“And of course you really got to know everybody then. You did know all the drivers, you knew all the other teams. We used to travel in convoy on the continent. We used to share other people’s problems, and them ours. And to this day some of the most abiding friendships are the ones that were formed in those days. The hard core, you can really respect what they’ve achieved. To look at what Ron’s achieved, and Frank, and know how they started out. I mean genuinely how they started out. It really gives a great deal of pleasure.”
Besides Brabham and Gurney, Goozée has worked with some of the greatest names in the sport. When Jochen Rindt burst insouciantly on to the scene at Crystal Palace in 1964, it was Goozée who had helped build his Brabham.
“Jochen: there’s a classic example. I built that car with the foreman at Brabham because he didn’t have his own mechanic. We ran that from a council lock-up in Byfleet, as it happened, with the doors falling off. And there would be the foreman, Jochen Rindt and myself working on this, and Jochen would go off and get the fish and chips and stuff, then we’d do the race meetings. You saw the person.
“We had some super drivers. We had Jackie Ickx driving for us in 1969, when we had the Cosworth engines. He was very quick, exceedingly quick. And they were just really nice people. I don’t remember any racing driver in those days that I can say I disliked, or that I know anybody else disliked.
“Graham Hill was fantastic. I didn’t know him until he drove for us, only as somebody you nodded to in the paddock, but when he drove for us in ’72 he was a real gentleman. He was a super guy with us, and he never forgot us. If he was in the vicinity, within driving distance if he had a function, he and Bette would turn up at the factory at 10 or 11 o’clock at night. He’d be in his dinner jacket and she’d be in an evening dress, and he spent some time. He liked doing that, and he always made us feel good. One thing that Graham did probably more than any other driver that I can recall, is that he always introduced you to anybody else who came to the team. He introduced you to a visitor as his mechanic. One always felt an affinity with that. I didn’t know him that well, but I admired what I did know.”
Goozée has been around drivers long enough to recognize that they can’t always be sweetness and light, much as some of us might wish them to be. In Gurney and Rick Mears he has probably worked with two of the finest of all time, in every sense, but he acknowledges: “To be successful in racing there has to be a measure of competition within you. I think you almost have to be Jekyll and Hyde. I think in the old days that drivers and people could be just as competitive and just as unpleasant. I mean, Denny Hulme . . . who was probably the person I became most close to in my formative years, was a terror. He didn’t have the name Bear for any other reason than that he was a Bear!. He would run people down in the pit road, and he wouldn’t even flinch about knocking somebody over and the fact that he might break their leg. If he was in a bad mood, beware!
“So the drivers in those days compared to the drivers of today: they were black and they were white, but there was a distinction. The very bad were sometimes difficult to get on with, but the very good were very pleasant. And fortunately you’d see more of the pleasant than the unpleasant. So you grew up with this. Jack Brabham could have a bad mood; at Brands in 1970 he was cross, and frustrated. He had his words to say, but then it was over and done with. You knew the drivers then as workmates, because it wasn’t until Rindt and Rolf Stommelen, who didn’t live in the vicinity, that you got drivers who weren’t there tinkering away at the cars. You knew you would face Jack the next day; you’d bring the transporter back, unload it, Jack would be there in the office, then he’d put a coat on and come down and fiddle with his car. He was quiet, but then he always was. He wasn’t somebody who’d whistle, or turn a radio on; he just did his own thing. He never bore a grudge, and the next race was the next race.”
He notices more of a difference on the Grand Prix front than in the lndyCar field in which he most often moves. “I think that within the racing field nowadays that they are more distant in Grand Prix than we are in IndyCar, we know the teams and are much more closely affiliated to them. That’s what I like about IndyCars in many ways. The approach and the attitude to racing is not dissimilar to that which existed in the late ’60s and early ’70s in Formula One. We left Grand Prix at the end of 1976 as you know, and I think that the changes were well set by that time. My memories of Grand Prix, though they are primarily of the late 1960s and early ’70s, are very fond ones, and to this day I think the cars were perhaps the most attractive and the people you talk about the most came from that era. Whenever you get any people from racing together, the conversation is always about people who raced in the 1960s and ’70s. They talk about people racing today, but not with the same reverence.”
In his 30th racing season, Goozée acknowledges his good fortune.
“In that time I’ve been lucky to work basically for only two people, apart from the sabbaticals. I worked for Brabham from ’63 to ’74, and I’ve worked with Penske from ’74 to this date. And I’m very lucky that I’ve worked for two people that I’ve admired and not gone off on my own, and during that period I’ve always been fortunate to work with racing drivers who are extremely nice people. Those in the ’60s and ’70s, then Donohue to Watson and then going to all the IndyCar drivers we’ve had. Fabulous. Really fabulous. So I don’t look back with undue sense of nostalgia, because I enjoy being where I am today. I’m very lucky to be able to run this company, and we’ve got some super people that work here: you couldn’t wish for 75 better people. If you went out and selected them you couldn’t get better than we’ve got here. That might sound a bit trite, but they really have moulded into one society. We live cheek by jowl day in and day out and there isn’t any friction between any people in this place whatsoever. And then you go across to the race team, the drivers are friendly. When we have our Christmas party they come over, and they just mingle; there’s a great friendship and camaraderie, exactly the same type that we had in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s really down to creating the environment.”
He has some keen observations on the way motor racing and its image and self-promotion is going. “Sometimes I think we are getting a little bit remote from what we are trying to do. What I like about Penske and IndyCar racing is that there is feet-on-the-ground attitude. Although we all laugh and joke about Mansell going across and some of his idiosyncrasies, all of us here admire what he has achieved. In fact he’s done a great deal of good for us because he’s elevated IndyCar racing into the public eye. We’ve now become of age and are an accepted part of motor racing. And that’s all because of one person. And when you look at Mansell on the grid in Indycars you think, ‘Well how can one human being have actually done this when we’ve been doing this for years?’ and it’s hard because he’s not charismatic, but he’s there. And he magnetises the interest. It’s given us a sense of purpose now, because we’ve always been competitors against Lola, and now we’ve got Reynards coming in and probably a couple of other people thinking about doing it. And we can now look forward to 1994, having had a very successful 1993, where we believe – arrogantly, maybe – that we lost the championship and Mansell didn’t win it, because we threw away three races. But we now know that we are up here and we can compete against them, and that this year it’s going to be even harder. So we are really looking forward to 1994.”
Having seen both sides of racing, in different generations, he is wryly amused by the hype that surrounded Mansell’s Touring Car debut.
“Now we applaud Mansell as being the first driver since Jim Clark or Graham Hill to have gone from one side of the Atlantic and succeeded in a strange territory. What we forget is that in those days this used to be common practice. At the Grands Prix I used to attend, every driver was in a supporting race. They did something else, they didn’t just do a Grand Prix and fly home. More often than not the Touring Car race would be the last on the card, so they would finish their Grand Prix and then have to sit around until climbing inside a Lotus Cortina or Galaxie or Jaguar or whatever it was and thrash around for 15 or 20 laps. All this hype about Mansell doing a Touring Car race. Well, all right, but . . .
“The point I’m trying to make is that we make such a song and dance about a professional racing driver who should, if he’s good enough, be able to get out of any car and climb into another and perform in exactly the same way. If he’s got the skill he can do it in anything. That’s why Mansell, as current Formula One World Champion, was able to get in an IndyCar and adapt so quickly. There shouldn’t have been any doubt; the only doubt that was raised was really a hope. It was wishful thinking that he wouldn’t do it. I know that anybody who thought about it, knew that he was going to do it.
“I think if Grand Prix cars were more equal, in the same way that IndyCars are more equal, I’ve got no doubt that some of the good IndyCar drivers could climb into a Grand Prix car and perform, within a period of time, just as effectively as Mansell did. Not perhaps walk away and be an Ayrton Senna because he’s exceptional, but perform creditably.”
Of all the drivers he’s worked with, he picks a handful as stand-outs. “I suppose Dan Gurney had the most charisma. When I flick through my motor racing books I look at just the photographs. Dan was a giant of a man, and stood alongside Brabhams which in those days were tiny little cars, he towered over them. And he had some fabulous dices with Jim Clark. The Brabham BT4, the Lotus 25 and 33 and Graham Hill’s BRMs must be amongst the most beautiful cars that have ever been built. And the racing was very close. The first Grand Prix I went to was the 1964 Belgian Grand Prix where they all ran out of fuel and Clark won and then ran out and sat with Dan. I remember going out to collect the cars and Gurney and Clark had stopped fairly close together. They were sitting chatting on the wheels and we were chatting, and I remember absolutely vividly them talking and chuckling about what they were doing in the race, and Gurney saying that when he went through the Masta Kink, he could feel his hair bristling on the back of his head. Now he had a crew cut then, and I remember Clark running his fingers up the back of his head saying he just had to see what it felt like.
“Gurney was probably the man I idolised most, and then there would be a considerable gap until we started doing IndyCars and I started doing regularly all the races Mario did for us. Mario as a human being probably had more class than any other racing driver I’ve met to this day, in worldly terms. He won the World Championship that year running the Lotus, and he was driving for us. He had more charisma, there was more aura around Mario Andretti in those days, than any man I’ve met before or since. We worked as a very small team, there were only two of us worked on the car, and he was always courteous to us, very thoughtful at a race meeting. Always getting us little treats. Very protective of his team. You’d sit and chat, about girls, anything you wanted to talk about. And there was this absolute class there, in global terms. And to this day we always receive Mario’s Christmas card first, and at any race meeting he’ll always come across and shake hands and ask how things are going.
“Denny of course was probably the person I was ever closest to because I grew up with him and he looked after me, he raised me for two and a half years.” He points to the wall of his office. “That’s his steering wheel from winning his Championship in ’67.” There’s Brabham’s helmet too, treasures he says will never leave him, along with his father’s immaculate Jaguar XK140.
“Then beyond that, well, Rick. Rick we grew up with. My abiding memory of Rick – and I suppose I look at this in much more mature terms than I regard Gurney because Gurney I just idolised – was the very first day he presented himself. We were testing the PC6 at Phoenix at the end of the ’78 season and Sneva was due to drive it. We were staying at a hotel that happened to have a swimming pool inside it, and we were splashing around and there was this long-haired, very young-looking man sitting in a chair just watching us. Just sitting, with a beer in his hand. And the team manager came across and said, ‘This is Rick Mears, he’s gonna be testing the car.’ I hadn’t heard of Rick, didn’t even know who he was. And I guess we were a bit churlish, took the mick out of him a little bit. And the next day he came with his wife and two children and sat on the Armco about 40 yards away from where we were until he was called across. He climbed in and settled down and said the car was fine, it didn’t need any changes. And within 10 laps at Phoenix he was running quicker than Sneva, and you knew then that something was about to happen. It’s probably the nearest thing that I’ve ever known to sort of seeing a Messiah, the coming of Christ in pure human terms. And Rick has remained, not only to myself but to every single person who’s worked at Penske from those days to this, as a personal friend.
To say that he is adored is an understatement. This company and Penske Racing would do everything for Rick, even now that he’s retired, and I think this is why he stays on unlike any other racing driver, why he chooses to stay on and do all the travelling, very much in the background, because he’s repaying to the team what the team has given him. Those are his words. When you have that sort of relationship with a driver who is a team member, I think that the most successful ones are those that become totally integrated with the team. They become so enmeshed within it that the management, the mechanics, the floor sweeper, the truck drivers will all do anything they can for that individual. It must reap rewards. It did with Rick, and Danny Sullivan was a super guy as well.
“There were dark days for Penske with the PC15 – they were good days in our engineering terms but dark days in our competitive terms – and you could see Rick always try to do the best for the team. It wasn’t for himself. He never refers to himself in the first person singular, ever. When he used the term ‘we’ he wasn’t being facetious; he was being collective. He always felt so angry that he couldn’t get any better performance out of that car knowing all the hard work that went into building and maintaining it. He just couldn’t. It was not possible.
“The performance from 1986 to 1987 to 1988 when Nigel Bennett’s first car the PC 17 came along, it was like all the pressure that had been forced into a bottle had been suddenly released. The team was instantly competitive. The drivers filled the front row at Indianapolis, all three of them. We won that race, we won quite a number of races that year. The whole spirit of the team was lifted again, and it’s been that way ever since.
“It’s lovely to see Paul Tracy, too. We’ve dropped our shoulders and sighed a bit when he’s had his accidents, but I can remember when we went to Long Beach three years ago when we first saw him, and everybody getting back into the transporter and saying, ‘Did you see that kid Tracy, what’s his name, whatever it is? Did you see him in that old car? He looked fabulously smooth.’ He was signed up that particular day and now, despite the comments we might make about his crashes (and which he deserves), equally there is something very, very special there. And he’s not a bad lad either.
“You know, whatever they may say about the Sennas, and all the awkward drivers, if they actually get into the car on the day and give 110 per cent you take all the rest of it. It doesn’t matter what they throw at you. It’s when you get grief from a driver and he gets out there and decides for whatever reason that he isn’t going to make an effort despite all the effort that’s gone into the car . . . I think the sad thing that happens in racing nowadays compared to racing when I grew up is the fact that very little attention is made to all the huge resources that support a racing driver. He is the tip of the iceberg, he’s above the surface, he’s getting all the attention. And some of them are not really good at dealing with that attention. And underneath there’s a raft of individuals who are committing a great deal of personal time, at huge inconvenience to themselves often as not to keep these people supported, and there isn’t recognition of it. The great thing about the Penske drivers, always the Penske drivers, is that they are very quick to acknowledge the support they get. Whenever Emerson wins a race, and Paul too, a fax comes through to say thank you to us over here, and we are about as far removed from the racing team as you can manage to be.”
That in itself may be one of the key reasons why a manufacturing plant located thousands of miles away from the team that races the products still feels part of the operation, and still maintains unswerving motivation. There may not be any bells and whistles on Penske Cars’ set-up in Poole, but there aren’t any flies, either. Like any truly successful enterprise, its success is a function of the calibre and commitment of its workforce. Despite his massive business interests, Roger Penske still loves racing, and he has the nous to place his trust in lieutenants such as Goozée or Penske Racing boss Chuck Sprague. When they perform, he’s happy. If they don’t he isn’t, and they know about it. These days, RP is pretty much a happy man . . . His employees describe him as the perfect boss, one who knows when to intervene and when to maintain autonomy. When it comes to efficiency, Penske Cars can put fresh colours into a lot of F1 teams’ paintboxes. Thirty years into his racing career, you know that gives Nick Goozée a real buzz. D J T