History repeats itself

Goodwood Motor Circuit has been active for as long in its second life as it was in its first. We look back across two different eras and speak to those who’ve known the venue both then and now | writer Simon Arron

It’s as much a part of the modern motor sport lexicon as understeer, track limits or grid penalty – and also a social staple in the manner of Henley or Ascot. As far as we know, the specific phrase Goodwood Revival was first used – with lower-case ‘r’ – on the April 1994 cover of Motor Sport, when the idea of bringing racing back to Goodwood was gathering pace in Lord March’s mind. Ambition became reality a few summers later and this year heralds a significant milestone: Goodwood has been operational as a heritage circuit (1998-2016) for as long as it was in its original guise (1948-1966).

In reality, of course, Goodwood never went away. Having staged its ‘final’ meeting on July 2 1966, the circuit survived unmolested to host testing (Formula 1 teams continued using it into the early 1980s), sprint events and track days, but for more than 30 years racing was off the menu.

The first motor sport event in the area took place in 1936 – a one-off hillclimb through the grounds of the stately home that forms the Goodwood Estate’s centrepiece. That was the initiative of its resident, the 9th Duke of Richmond & Gordon. He was better known in the racing world as Freddie March and had shared the winning MG Midget in the 1931 Double-Twelve at Brooklands. March later he donated a chunk of his land to assist Britain’s war effort and, situated just across the road from Goodwood House, RAF Westhampnett became a fighter base during WW2.

After hostilities ceased, March’s racing friend Tony Gaze – later the first Australian to take part in a world championship Grand Prix – suggested that Westhampnett’s perimeter roads might be suitable for racing and March responded positively. Goodwood wasn’t the first UK venue to stage post-war racing events (Gransden Lodge, Cambridgeshire, set the ball rolling in June 1946), but it was the first permanent circuit so to do. It opened its doors on September 18, 1948, a fortnight before Silverstone did likewise. Goodwood went on to host star-studded non-championship F1 races and rounds of the World Sports Car Championship, but by the mid-Sixties it was clear that the circuit would struggle to contain the sport’s escalating speeds. Alterations would be prohibitively expensive and, with public roads close to the venue perimeter and an airfield at its core, impractical. Racing stopped, but the facilities were never dismantled.

The estate regained competitive momentum in 1993, when March’s grandson Charles devised the Festival of Speed, reprising the 1936 hillclimb through what was effectively the family’s back garden. Public admission was set at £4 per head and Charles hoped it might become an annual event. This was, though, just part of a grander vision. Nobody was about to confirm the nearby circuit’s reopening, but feasibility studies were taking place to see whether it could be used occasionally for historic events.

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One year on, the project had gained further impetus, triggering our ‘Goodwood revival?’ cover story. Speaking exclusively to Motor Sport at the time, March said. “We’ve still got a lot to do, but experts in this sort of thing tell me we’re about 50 per cent of the way to achieving what we want. If we succeed, then 1996 is probably the earliest reasonable date for racing to recommence. 

“I’m very enthusiastic about the project. I wouldn’t be foolish enough to say I was 100 per cent confident, but I hope it will happen. For the first time, the local authorities have really taken on board the economic situation. They can see the need for a potential tourist attraction.” 

When the local council met to discuss his plans, there had been 18 votes in favour, four abstentions and no objections.

March added: “For me, it’s critical that the track should be just the same as it was. We want to retain as many of the original features and as much of the character as possible. We won’t be having any Armco. We’ll use earth banks protected by substantial tyre walls. The MSA has been incredibly supportive and has approved the system, but we will of course have gravel traps at strategic points.”

And so it came to pass, albeit slightly later than anticipated. On September 18 1998, 50 years to the day since Goodwood’s inaugural race, drivers went out to practise for the inaugural Revival Meeting. March christened the circuit with a lap at the wheel of a Bristol 400 – the one his grandfather had used for the same purpose in ’48. Racing resumed with the Woodcote Cup, won by Ludovic Lindsay in ERA R5B: the same car had been present at the opening meeting half a century beforehand, but ran its bearings during practice. Lindsay described his landmark victory as “a touch of unfinished business”.

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The circuit had been restored to retain as much period detail as possible, but there were subtle differences – as photographer Michael Tee recalls from his days working for Motor Sport. “I don’t remember it ever being as smart as it has become,” he says, “but it had a very nice, laid-back atmosphere.

“I’d been to the British GP at Silverstone in 1948 and that was the first time I’d set foot in a paddock. The pictures in Motor Sport always used to be a bit grey and dull, yet I walked into this world full of vibrancy and colour. I told The Old Man [his father Wesley, then the magazine’s proprietor] that he needed to project some of this atmosphere properly, so he gave me a camera and said, ‘See what you can do then, boy.’ 

“The established photographer George Phillips saw me at my first Goodwood meeting, which must have been Easter 1949. He wandered over and asked whether I was new... because I still had my lens cap on. He gave me some very useful advice and said it was OK to stand a couple of inches from the white line to the inside of the track, because the drivers wouldn’t cross it, but I’m not sure you’d be able to trust them to do the same nowadays. It was possible to get close enough to fill the frame with a 50mm lens and you could sometimes feel the wheels of the 500cc F3 cars tweaking your trouser legs. At my first meeting, I remember an ERA spinning off the Lavant Straight and sending cabbages flying in the adjacent field.

“It was a favourite circuit for photographers, but you can no longer take some of the shots that used to be possible. One year I was sent to the Revival to recreate a well-known picture I’d taken of Graham Hill in a Ferrari 250 GTO. Damon was racing the car and it was a nice idea to do the same thing again, until I was told that we were no longer allowed to stand on the inside…”

He’d always had to use his shutter release button prudently, too.

“I witnessed Stirling Moss’s career-ending accident in 1962,” Tee says. “I was too far away to take photos, but wandered over afterwards. He was in a terrible state and I didn’t think there was any way he would survive. I didn’t take photos – it wouldn’t have been in good taste and, besides, I knew the magazine wouldn’t use such shots and I didn’t want to waste any film. I was allowed to take only three rolls to a meeting, so 108 exposures for the weekend – not quite like the digital age. 

Motor Sport didn’t have enough money to put me up in a hotel, either, so I used to ride or drive there and back from Essex. On one trip home, I crashed my motorcycle into a ditch and knocked myself out. When I came to, lots of people dressed in white were looking at me so I assumed I must be in heaven, but I’d actually landed on a cricket pitch.”

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Goodwood played an important role in the bike-to-car conversion of multiple world champion John Surtees, after he’d shared a table with Britain’s first F1 champion Mike Hawthorn, Aston Martin team manager Reg Parnell and Vanwall team owner Tony Vandervell at a Sportsman of the Year lunch. “Mike asked whether I’d ever driven a racing car, which I hadn’t, but he felt I should ‘because they stand up better’,” Surtees says. “That started it. Reg subsequently called and told me to get myself to Goodwood to test the DBR1 Moss and Jack Brabham had used to win the Nürburgring 1000Kms in 1958. I’d previously entered a motorcycle race at Goodwood but hadn’t actually attended, so that run in an Aston was my first sight of the track. Reg subsequently offered me a contract, but I declined.

“By 1960, though, I had limited opportunities to race bikes so I ordered an F2 Cooper to try some car racing. When I went to the factory, John Cooper introduced me to Ken Tyrrell. He was setting up a Formula Junior team with Cooper and said, ‘I’ve entered you for a race at Goodwood, will you do it?’ He’d already spoken to the RAC about a licence, which I’d been told I could have once they’d watched me practise. So the first car race I ever attended was at Goodwood and I watched it from behind the wheel. I qualified on pole, but finished second [to Jim Clark] after making a mistake during a passing manoeuvre – I’d forgotten I had four wheels rather than two.”

Does he recall much about the convivial party atmosphere that was reputedly a feature of major Goodwood events?

“I’m sure that existed,” he says, “but I didn’t see too much of it. For one thing I was serious about my racing and very focused, for another it was a completely new world to me and I didn’t really know anybody outside the Tyrrell team. From a social side it wasn’t so different from anywhere else, from my perspective, but it was a very pleasant place. I do think, though, that it is easy to romanticise about the past and make it a little too rose-tinted. 

“That said, I love the way the public becomes emotionally involved in the Revival, with all the dressing up – the off-track activities are superb. It’s sad in some ways that the best way to run a historic meeting seems nowadays to be with recreations. I recall doing Tourist Trophy meetings at Goodwood in the early 1960s in a Ferrari 250GTO – a lovely car to race – and we were up against lightweight E-types that had about 300bhp. Today, those same cars have gained another 100bhp or so. You can’t relate relative performances because things have been disfigured by development, but it’s a super environment and feels very special. Charles March has done a wonderful job to retain so much originality and give so many people so much pleasure. Motor racing sometimes struggles to push itself to the public, but the Revival does it very well.”

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Nowadays CEO of the Historic Sports Car Club, Grahame White was clerk of the course – and race starter – for Goodwood promoter the British Automobile Racing Club from mid-1962 until the circuit’s ‘closure’ four years later. He has vivid recollections of its atmosphere.

“I loved Goodwood because it was the first track I ever visited,” he says. “Most meetings were clubbies, but there were two or three bigger events every year. During one World Sports Car Championship race, I remember lying on the bank by the main straight, just listening to the D-types and Aston Martins going around and thinking it must be the best place in the world. It did feel different from other circuits, probably because of its setting within the South Downs. There was something special about it, but when you arrived you just parked in a field opposite the main entrance and there weren’t often very many people there. There were none of the frills we see today, but it was lovely.”

And then there was the time Jim Clark made him an apple-pie bed.

“He was world champion at the time,” White says. “I was staying in the same hotel as the Lotus team, so there were jinks and lots of banter – it was all so, so relaxed. The following morning Jimmy saw me in the paddock, asked whether I’d slept well and feigned surprise that I’d had any trouble. One of the mechanics told me who’d done it.

“I also remember Jimmy testing a Lotus Cortina at Goodwood and Colin Chapman telling him to go out and see if he could find the limit. He promptly rolled at Madgwick, then strolled back to announce that he’d found it.

“On another occasion, I received a phone call in race control. It was Ken Tyrrell, saying that he believed we had a young Scottish driver racing with us, a chap named Jackie Stewart, and he’d like to speak to him. He held on while I went to find Jackie. When I told him a guy called Tyrrell would like a word, he replied, ‘What on earth does he want?’ I believe it was the first time they spoke.”

How did he feel when he learned racing was to cease?

“We didn’t know until quite close to the start of 1966,” he says. “The Duke of Richmond & Gordon was the most charming man, but he never really told the BARC why he was closing Goodwood. Personally, I think the main reason is that we needed to extend the run-off areas – and you couldn’t because the public roads were so close in places.

“At the time it didn’t feel like a complete disaster – we’d been told the circuit would still be used for sprints and other events, so it wasn’t as though we were locking the doors so they could dig up the track, but I think reality hit home afterwards, when we began to appreciate that the BARC urgently needed to find a new home [which eventually it did, at Thruxton]. I felt very sad at that last meeting, because it had been such a privilege to work there. I have some very happy memories and still love the place.”

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That is something of a recurring theme – and echoes the sentiments of Richard Attwood, a regular Revival competitor who cut his teeth at Goodwood en route to becoming a Grand Prix driver and Le Mans winner.

“Goodwood attracts big crowds now,” he says, “but that used to be the case only at bigger meetings. I don’t recall many people being there at club events, when BARC members used to turn up to thrash around – in a Standard 10, in my case. I thought it was wonderful, though, and the setting was absolutely beautiful. I used to love driving towards the track over the Downs, even if it did take me six or seven hours to get there from the Midlands in the days before motorways.

“It was definitely a special place and doesn’t really feel as though it has changed. I’m aware of Lord March’s eye for detail and he’s kept it as close as possible to the way it was, although obviously there are a few new buildings here and there. The paddock is fairly accurate, as we always used to park in bays with funny tin roofs, and I still love racing there. The track layout is sensational, with all those fast flowing corners, and it’s very ballsy. It felt like that in my Standard 10, too, even though its top speed was probably only 80mph…”