Tiff Needell is that rare case: a racing driver who was a fan first. As a peek into his scrapbooks shows, he trod the spectator banks in the 1960s, and was handy with a camera, too
He’s been a racing driver for 40 years, but still there remains a boyish enthusiasm about Tiff Needell. His new autobiography (see Reviews, p129 and a special subscription offer, p90) tells his roller coaster story of ‘could’ve beens’ and ‘should’ve beens’, to the edges of Formula 1 and back again, on to success in sports cars and tin-tops, and of course his ‘other’ life on the telly. Through it all, one fact remains: Tiff just loves motor racing.
Like many of us, the influence came from his father, who was a pre-war spectator and auto-tester at Brooklands. After the war, Tony Needell entered the first Members’ Meeting at Goodwood in 1949, driving a Ford V8 in a handicap event. But with the arrival of a young family, the flirtations with
racing stopped — and happy days on the spectator banks of Goodwood and Brands Hatch replaced them. Young Michael and his little brother Tiff (he couldn’t say Timothy) were smitten.
Needell Sr was a boat designer who became the “Jean-Marie Balestre of powerboat racing” according to Tiff, who briefly tried his hand at speed on the wet stuff. But his first love was always racing on four wheels. He bought a little second-hand Pal M4 camera to capture his heroes and developed the films himself in a lab at boarding school. The results filled family scrapbooks, which Tiff dug out and dusted off as he began work on his book.
Racing drivers usually only visit tracks to compete, but Tiff is different. Like most of you reading this, he first loved the sport sitting on a spectator bank with his family. Here, he shows us the evidence.