Goodwood's Debut

Now that the Goodwood Festival of Speed is so firmly established and the present Earl of March is working hard and enthusiastically towards a resumption of motor-racing at the former Goodwood circuit, this seems a good time to recall how racing there, which in many ways was an extension of the kind of sport known at the old Brooklands Motor Course, which war had rendered redundant, had begun.

By the time war broke out in 1939 the Junior Car Club, which had developed from the pre-First World War Cyclecar Club, was a very influential body, having progressed from holding events such as its Member’s Days and High Speed Trials (over a most ingenious and daring course, as described in earlier issues of MOTOR SPORT) to organising such ambitious, influential and important races at Brooklands as its 200-Mile Race “Double-Twelve”, 1000-Mile Race and the Internation Trophy contests. When the Hitler War finally ended the JCC was therefore in a strong Position to continue what Brooklands had regrettably been forced to abandon. This ambition was encouraged when the Council of the JCC visited the Weybridge Track to see whether there was as much as a section remaining where a speed-trial could be held; it found that no such stretch remained, (All credit to the hard working members of the Brooklands Society which was formed in 1967, that the bankings were cleared sufficiently for some use of them to be resumed.)

When it was clear that the life of the old BARC had terminated after forty years of existence, the JCC proposed to takeover where it had left off. At a Committee Meeting chaired by the Club’s President, His Grace the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, the change of name was put to the meeting and it was finally agreed that what had been the universally-recognised initials of the Brooklands Automobile Racing Club should become those of the new British ARC, fading out the JCC. At an AGM on January 1949 a vote was taken on this change of the Club’s title, and was carried 88 for to 41 against, although at first Lord Howe had pressed for no change and the RAC had objected to the inclusion of “British” in the BARC’s nomenclature. But it was notable that many of the officials appointed had had close associations with Brooklands, including the President himself, grandfather of the present Earl of March, A Percy Bradley, the former BARC’s Clerk of the Course, H R Godfrey, Archie Frazer Nash, Prof A M Low, L F “Bunny” Dyer, who had been “Johnnie” Morgan’s assistant at the JCC, Morgan himself now acting as Secretary to this post-war BARC, C S Wilkinson who had been an important official at the old ,Track, E C Gordon England, W Urquhart Dykes, “TASO” Mathieson, Charles Follett, and others.

So to Goodwood’s debut as a race-track. It had been established prior to the formalities of titlechange just described. The Duke, who had won important races at Brooklands before the war, needed little prompting when it was put to him by Wng-Comdr Tony Gaze, RAF, seconded by Tommy Wisdom, that the war-time aerodrome that formed part of the extensive Ducal Goodwood estate was the place for a new race-circuit. Work was quickly put in hand, and although devoid of pits, grandstands, paddock buildings or many other amenities, the JCC (not yet the BARC) was able to open Goodwood with an experimental meeting on what must now be regarded as an historic date — September 18, 1948. It constituted the beginning of race meetings that were much in the former Brooklands style and tradition, and therefore informally enjoyable, which were to progress into a circuit where very important fixtures took place.

This opening venture was a modest affair, redolent of Brooklands in its short races and friendly atmosphere, yet contested by celebrated drivers. There were eight events in all, differing from the fare at Weybridge in being all scratch races, the grids decided by ballot. This tended to favour the front row starters. The race-grouping had been worked out reasonably, except that the larger non-s/c cars were at a disadvantage and F2 cars were made to race with the s/c 1100s. This starting procedure was necessitated because not more than a dozen cars could be lined-up across the course, so that one missed the comfortable expanse of Brooklands. The lap-distance was 2.38 miles and the adequate number of corners would soon become well-known. Although this was but a start, the JCC had amassed £500 in prize money from the Daily Graphic’s purse. The paddock was somewhat cramped and was grass-grown, with an anti-skid centre path, sportscars on one side, racing cars opposite.

Friday practice was without incident, times unannounced, but I timed Bob Gerard’s ERA as the fastest, at about 83 mph. And there were interesting cars present, such as Reg Parnell’s two-stage works Maserati which “Wilky” Wilkinson had brought from the factory just in time, only to find a slight leak from its fuel tank, while Leslie Johnson was out for a few laps in the E-type ERA. Racing began after Monica Whincop had presented a bouquet to the Duchess and the Duke had opened his new racing circuit by driving round it in a Bristol, followed by two MkVI Bentleys, one driven by Tommy Wisdom, and a cavalcade of other cars. And the p a system worked perfectly.

First non-s/c sports cars up to 3 litres had a three-lapper, won by Pycroft’s unusual-looking 2.5 Jaguar aerodynamic coupe, which led throughout, followed home by two 2.4 Healeys. But with three Healeys non-starting, the field was reduced to three more, and Brock’s HRG coupe. A similar race for 1100 cc sports cars saw Lester drive a calm race in his MG, to beat Peter Morgan’s Morgan 4/4 and Len Gibbs MG. Joe Lowrey overturned his 1100 cc HRG at Woodcote and so had the first Goodwood accident — cutting a thumb.

And the Editor of The Motor helped him out, when he must have realised that his contract with that paper forbade racing! That over, a mix of blown and non-blown small sportscars contested their three-lap event. George Phillips, the Autosport photographer to be, won in his 1250 cc MG from the 1500 HRGs of Ruddock and Meisl, but there was only 0.4sec in it.

Having enjoyed that close finish it got better, as the big non-s/c sports cars had a race with the s/c 1 1/2-litre cars. It was even closer this time, a matter of 0.2sec between the 328 BMWs of Watkins and Tony Crook, the latter arm-waving to ask for a passing opportunity. Lusty’s s/c 1250cc MG was third; ten ran. A five-lap race was held for the new breed of 500cc racing cars. The winner — Stirling Moss in a Cooper-JAP, driving so fast that Father Moss was seen to be slowing him down; Stirling averaged 71.92mph nevertheless. The Coopers of Eric Brandon and Drydon were next home. Sportsmanship had prevailed when the engine of Lord Strathcarron’s Marwyn blew up; he was lent another by a rival entrant, but retired when a chain came off. The faster multicylinder cars then had their races. Dudley Folland’s s/c 1087cc MG won that for s/c 1100s against non-s/c 2-litre cars, too much for Frank Kennington’s MG and de Mattos in the Spikins Special, who were the placemen. The over 1450cc s/c cars then came out and a splendid race it was. Dennis Poore’s 3.8 Alfa Romeo finished 1 sec ahead of Peter Walker’s 1-litre ERA, with John Bolster third in the 2-litre ERA. Geoffrey Ansell spun off at “Lowrey’s” corner but Goodwood was proved to be a fast circuit, Bolster having lapped at some 81mph. Even better was to follow, in the 10-lap Goodwood Trophy Race for the top runners, described as “one of the best struggles seen since racing had resumed after the war”. Indeed, Reg Parnell’s “official” Maserati was chased unrelentingly by Bob Gerard’s ERA, to the delight of the spectators as both took the final corner side-byside, the Maserati drawing away to win by a mere 0.4sec, at 80.56mph, and Gerard setting the lap-record to 83.4mph. Third came David Hampshire’s Maserati. Others who drove in this first big race were Harrison (ERA), Baring (Maserati), Ansell (ERA), Salvadori (Maserati), Walker (ERA), and Duncan Hamilton (Maserati). After Kemsley Press’s Hon David Berry had presented Parnell with the Trophy Reg, Gerard and the Duke drank champagne from it — far better than spraying it about! — as the National Anthem was played. The spectators must have been well satisfied with the racing at the new Sussex circuit; they were estimated to have numbered about 14,500. They had arrived in 22 motor coaches, on 36 bicycles, 294 motorcycles and in 1419 cars (compare this wit the 1462 cars which had brought 6630 spectators to the JCC 200 Mile Race at Brooklands in 1921, explained perhaps because many had then came alone in each car, whereas the greater popularity of motor racing by 1948 resulted in crowded vehicles). The Daily Graphic let their Kay Petre have a double page spread to report the racing, wrongly described as the JCC’s first post-war event, overlooking its Jersey race in 1947. I bettor the first time, schoolboy sixpences on the Derby excepted, the results being so predictable, and the “bookies” having no knowledge of motor racing, that as I collected on race after race mine said “Please just go away.

That was how Goodwood motor racing began. It just had to expand, and in 1949 the new BARC decided on an International fixture for Easter Monday. There were problems imposed by the newly elected Labour Government, like car purchase-tax, that restricted sales of models in short supply due to steel restrictions, and competition from the newly-opened Silverstone circuit. But the Duke of Richmond & Gordon was enthusiastic, the Kemsley Press continued its sponsorship, and work went ahead on new grandstands, car parks, better entrances, improvements to the Paddock, etc. The meeting attracted such a large crowd that things got somewhat out of hand. The paying “gate” was 40,000 but some people got in free, breaking down hedges and even using wire-cutters on the fences. That apart, it was redolent of pre-war motor racing I wrote: “All the old atmosphere of Brooklands prevailed. The cars that began to fill the enclosures were the same mixed bag, there were the attractive-looking girls, the fashionably-dressed ladies, some of the same faces in the Paddock, that similar hush of expectancy as zero-hour drew near”. Moreover, the meeting finished on schedule, the grandstands were packed to capacity, the enclosure rails lined with keen onlookers, and afterwards the traffic left in an unbroken stream. It was a fine tribute to JCC/BARC efficient organisation.

At this so-called International Meeting there were handicap and scratch races over five laps, for different classes of cars, leading up to the ten-lap Richmond Trophy F1 race. It was quite an occasion! The son of Mr A V Ebblewhite, the legendary time keeper, did the handicapping, LSR-driver John Cobb was a Judge, and among the visitors were Anthony Eden and his wife, who had the Countess Howe in their party. Earl Howe arrived in his V12 Lagonda, Capt George Eyston was present, and the Duke of Richmond and Gordon was using his new Bristol saloon, and who but he would have thought of inviting wheelchair occupants into his Guests’ enclosure? Prince “Bira” and his wife watched the racing. . .

On that sunny Easter afternoon, popular Reg Parnell dominated the Richmond Trophy Race in his two-stage 4CLT Maserati, taking the lead on the second lap. He was well in command of the Dunlop-shod car, Gerard was making a great effort to overtake Rolt’s Alfa Romeo until there was a coming-together and both were out — nothing new! Peter Whitehead was on the limit as usual in his B-type ERA, Parnell lapped Gale’s Darracq, and Whitehead and Harrison (ERA) eventually got past the Maserati of Ashmore, which did not want to exceed about 70mph. Harrison, in the old Delage, now with i f s, gave Parnell all the room he needed to go by, and Reg won easily, at 82.89mph, haying taken the lap record to 86.23mph over a course slightly wider than in 1948. Whitehead was 3.8sec in arrears, Harrison third. Of the E-type ERA driven by Johnson MOTOR SPORT said: “This race emphasised that it was now a back-number arid that the GP Alta of Abecassis had not not much longer to go before the same would apply” The handicap races had been won by Kennington’s Cisitalia, Moss’s Cooper-JAP, and Parnell’s Maserati, which now took the lap record to 87.10mph, the scratch races by Folland’s new Pirelli-shod 2-litre Ferrari, Coldham’s 500cc Cooper, and Parnell’s Maser yet again, rather like today’s VSCC meetings.

It had been an entirely successful day, putting Goodwood in the forefront of British circuits. But His Grace wisely decided to cancel the proposed Whitsun 1949 Meeting until further improvements had been carried out. So the first full season was completed with a couple of Club race-days, in which Parnell improved his lap-record to 89.26sec which he later equalled, and on his 21st birthday Moss was victorious in a 988cc Cooper-JAP.

Very, soon, however, Goodwood was holding top race meetings, in an atmosphere very like that at pre-war Brooklands, and important long-distance races were held there, contested by the top drivers, including those from overseas, as is indicated briefly in the following table. From April 1952 a chicane which increased the lap-distance to 2.4 miles was put in at Woodcote in the interests of safety, and finally Goodwood closed down as a racing venue in July 1966. Those who have enjoyed the Goodwood Festival of Speed will join rue in hoping that the present Earl of March will soon be successful in reviving racing over his grandfather’s Sussex circuit. W B