Lord March podcast, in association with Mercedes-Benz

Historic Racing News

The penultimate podcast of 2016 and the team head to Goodwood to talk to Lord March about his grandfather, the Festival of Speed, the Revival and what it takes to run these events every year. 

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Ed Foster: Hello everyone, and welcome to another Motor Sport Magazine podcast in association with Mercedes-Benz.

I’m Ed Foster and we have an absolute treat for you today. The eagle eyed amongst you will realise we are not in Motor Sport HQ, we are in fact at Goodwood in Lord March’s office. Lord March thank you so much for having us here and sparing so much of your time.

Lord March: Pleasure. It’s very nice to be here.

EF: We are also joined by veteran podcaster and Goodwood man Rob Widdows and behind the camera Alan Hyde.

Lord March I wanted to start with your grandfather, who obviously was steeped in motorsport and was an extremely good driver. Is that where the motorsport passion came from? You used to watch racing with him as a young child?

LM: Certainly. I’d come down here twice a year for the horse racing in July and the Easter Monday motor racing meeting. That was the highlight for me and he would take me under his wing a bit and take me round. A lot of the drivers were here in the house and he instilled the bug. He sent me the magazines at school and my grandmother too was very good at keeping it. She was the person who nurtured that relationship, sending the stuff and getting him motivated.

EF: From what I can read about him he was a very interesting man because not only was he this racer and involved in motorsport but he spent a bit of time at Bentley motors in the service department. He was known as Mr Settrington and no one knew who he was. Was that true?

LM: Absolutely. He left Oxford very early much to his parents’ fury. He was riding his bike, doing that famous standing ¼-mile Oxford all the time on his motorbike. He left Oxford early and got a job on the shop floor, he did rise to the sales department I think, then he set up his own dealership in Berkley Square. When he started off there’s a famous story of him lying under a E17 car and a mechanic with him saying “I think there’s some bloody Lord working here. Do you know who it is?” and him saying “no, no idea!”

Rob Widdows: He was a good engineer and a good designer as well. In a way his reputation, what he did, is undervalued in some ways.

LM: I agree, I think he was very innovative in terms of the technology that he not only developed a little but enjoyed. He loved small, clever cars. You’ll notice all the cars he raced… he didn’t drive Bentleys, he liked small, clever, new design, new technology. We had one of the very first Minis here when it first came out. My grandmother was absolutely terrifying in it, in fact she wasn’t allowed to go out of the park in it. I remember zooming up and down out here in the Mini and he had small, clever cars and Dan Richmond tuned the hell out of them so they went like stink, all of them, but they looked very ordinary.

I’ve got quite a few of his cars, the lovely pre-War AC he designed. A lot of people have been very positive about the influence he had and have talked to me a lot about his role in terms of English sports car design. The double-scuttle front was very much his signature, the slab tank on the back. He had very much a look, he was a designer he drew very well, he was a good artist. He was unusual I think in that he was very artistic and a good engineer. He flew and built his own aeroplane which is no mean feat really is it?

EF: I discovered an article in Motor Sport by Mike Lawrence from a couple of decades ago and he was telling a story about how your grandfather had to deal with customer complaints as he moved up to the service department. There was a lady who’d been loaned her boyfriend’s Bentley, she complained the horn didn’t work. It was tested and found to be good, she said “not that one, this one” and pointed to the starter button. There’s a whole long list in the piece, fantastic insight.

RW: We’ve got to remember that when the Festival of Speed started in ’93 we were looking back at 1936 when your grandfather was the first man to compete up that very road. He did everything first in a way.

LM: We found out all of that later which was rather amazing so we have the idea to do the Festival of Speed because being restricted what we could do on the track and that didn’t look like it was ever going to happen. So we thought “could we do it somewhere else?” and discovered he had held an event here already in ’36 for the Lancia Car Club which he won himself. We found a nice little trophy, a silver horse which was the trophy for it, so it was interesting the way it kind of fell into place.

EF: I thought the idea slightly came from his Lancia Owners Club event.

LM: The truth is I found all his scrapbooks later and then miraculously after Rob and I had been working on it for some time and trying to think how we were going to begin in explaining it and marketing the idea, I found a lovely little picture, it’s not very sharp, in one of his albums in his Lancia going up the hill, so that there he was actually doing it.

EF: I want to talk about when you took over Goodwood and the introduction of the Festival of Speed and the events we have today. The Second Duke loved cricket and cricket is still played on the pitch, the Third Duke loved horse racing and Goodwood Race Course was created, the Seventh Duke built the Golf Course, of course your grandfather made racing happen at Goodwood Circuit. It must have been quite a weight on your shoulders with that illustrious history. Were you ever frightened with not coming up with these new ventures and ideas?

LM: Not really. All that sort of story of sport at Goodwood hadn’t really been developed or told at that point, so that angle which is absolutely critical to everything we do wasn’t really developed. My father had brilliantly got hold of the race course and determinedly turned that into a successful… retained its pole position in terms of the English summer and social season but also turned into a commercially successful operation.

They moved here in 1986 tax was 98% and they moved in thinking they’d give it a go. No one had any money really, they spend £100,000 on the whole house, which was a lot of money then. The house hadn’t been properly lived in by my grandparents since the war so it was in very bad shape and no one lived here, it was just opened up for the horse racing and motor racing and shut up again. My parents took on a massive, a huge job, to put some processes in and get it going.

Having had the idea to try and get the motor circuit going and got the bit between our teeth fell into the Festival of Speed which was a piece of luck really. The motor circuit definitely wouldn’t have turned out the way it has if we hadn’t done the Festival of Speed first. We were given the opportunity, it felt like we’d been dealt a difficult card but it was the best result really. We had seven years to work that out and seven years to realise the great thing about the motor circuit was it was untouched so let’s put it back how it was.

Other leases came back, the golf course lease we managed to get back, this lovely building – the Kennels – came back. I then thought “bizarrely we have all these sports here. They may have been asleep but they’re easy to wake up.” Suddenly we have horse racing, motor racing, golf, shooting and cricket in one place which is a unique story. It’s the authenticity around those that Goodwood is all about. Over 300 years the family have developed all these sports – that’s a unique thing. What’s really unusual is the fact they were shared in a way, so they may have raced their horses on the top of the downs, lots of aristocrats did against their friends, but it wasn’t a shared experience, the public weren’t invited in. Likewise my grandfather, he loved motor racing, it’s interesting why did he suddenly want to have all the public. Why did he go motor racing? He decided to hold a motor racing event, and from the moment the house was built it was open to the public as well, so I’m flattered when people say to me at The Festival of Speed people say “it’s been the best weekend I’ve ever had.” When a 16 year old says that it’s fantastic. “Best weekend we’ve ever had of our lives, but why do you let all these people in? Why do you let 200,000 people in for the weekend?” That’s sort of in the air, it’s what the place is about in a way. I’d love to take all the credit for that but I think it’s just how the place has developed itself. The place has a very particular style and atmosphere and that reflects well on a lot of people being able to enjoy, and I hope having a very private experience. For me the real excitement is putting on something where we have a lot of people but everyone feels like their having their own particular moment.

RW: I think it’s true to say there’s a great passion out there waiting to be satisfied in a way. The beginning of the Festival of Speed people used to ring up and say “I hear there’s a V16 BRM coming to this event that you’re doing. I saw it when I was a boy and I’m going to be there even If I have to crawl there.” There was that wasn’t there? A demand for that kind of event I think, and the same with the circuit in a sense that when it shut people were so disappointed. “Why has the Duke shut the circuit? What’s the problem? Where are we going to go now?”

25,000 people turned up for the first Festival of Speed, we thought it might be ten people!

EF: That was a surprise wasn’t it? You say you lucked into the Festival of Speed, I don’t think it’s a simple as that and it never is…

LM: We did. Believe me!

EF: I think you were quite surprised at the sheer numbers?

LM: As Rob said, he was there at the beginning, he’s a founding father. We had no idea of the pent up demand, we thought there was an interest and I guess now we say that we did the Festival of Speed because we wanted to see how much interest there was but actually we did the Festival of Speed because they said we couldn’t do anything down there and we wanted to do something. We thought “well they can’t stop us doing it in front of the house” because the way planning regulations were, so let’s try it there. Then I we got a bit more I suppose put a serious sort of feel around the whole thing. “We’ll do it as a little test, see if there’s any interest in Goodwood and motorsport, whether anyone still makes that connection” and Rob’s right in the sense then that we realised very quickly and it was a great feeling. I think both of us would say one of the best feelings ever for sure was on the Sunday night here. Both good and bad in a funny way. It had been such a tumultuous weekend. Ecstatic, joy, huge amount of disappointment, terrible moments, poor Chas Guy was killed on the first morning and I thought it was all over at that point, we’d done a terrible thing and it’s finished.

So it was a weekend that lasted for a year in a way as you said we were expecting more, the BARC told us we would be lucky to get 2,500 – 3,000 people for something like that, a hillclimb.

EF: Probably a fair assumption.

LM: We’d never seen it as a hillclimb so I suppose that’s the difference, we’d never said, this is not a hillclimb, this is something different. And of course Doug Nye and Robert Brooks got very involved, they were extremely helpful and supportive in terms of vision and what cars. They had access to a lot of the owners so we thought actually let’s put something different together. We got a bit of sponsorship from Honda, Aston Martin, Robert Brooks as it was then and Citroen a little bit. That was enough to cover some of the basic costs. We thought “if anyone comes then hopefully…” y’know.

Amazingly I’ve told the story many times but I wasn’t sleeping much the week before, it was pouring with rain actually and I painted the bridge myself in the pouring rain getting covered in white paint. The week before was very stressful and I ended up parking the cars, I remember standing by the side of the road, I was waving them in. Poor Paul Ormond of Honda, I remember ringing him up on that first morning giving him absolute hell down the phone saying “Paul you promised me the sign on tent” we were only looking for a 10 x 10 tent, it was tiny, smaller than this room. “Where is it?”

He said “don’t worry it’s in the back of my car”

I said “They’re queuing to get in and we haven’t got the tent!”

We didn’t really deserve the success in many ways but we certainly tried hard. I think one thing we did realise was that we didn’t stumble on it in some sense, we felt it had potential so we did try, we did think “how are we going to market this, how will we get people excited” the first time we presented it in a way no event like that had been presented, in that we presented it to the public not the competitors. It wasn’t a competitor event, about entry fees and such it was about the people coming to watch it. Our model since then has been there is no entry for a Goodwood event.

EF: When you look out the window now on a Festival of Speed morning do you scratch your head and wonder how you’ve got to where it is now? I’ve only been here a couple of times when there isn’t anything here, but during the Festival of Speed Weekend there’s a whole town out there and with these manufacturer buildings which are incredible on their own, do you ever think “blimey, how on earth has this happened?” and the huge progression from the first event in ’93?

LM: Its bizarre, it just goes on. I guess it suddenly got big and you don’t… when people remind me where it was ten years ago or seven, how much it’s grown since then even. We were told the other day it was the biggest Greenfield site build in the world in terms of scale from nothing. There’s a little bit under the ground there in terms of infrastructure but basically there’s nothing there. We put enough power for the whole of Chichester so we could run the whole of Chichester with the power we run in there, so its huge for generated companies, I don’t know how many square metres we cover but there’s 200 acres out there, it’s a huge build.

EF: The set up takes weeks doesn’t it?

LM: We have 2000 people on site building it. The set is up three months really so that’s become quite an issue, that’s quite imposing so it’s three months in and out, two months in and a month out.

RW: In wet weather, two very wet events and the park is just trashed.

LM: It’s a worry, an increasing worry. We are going to try and move a few things around next year to reduce that impact a bit. This year was very difficult as it was very wet before it which caused us lots of problems with the parking and that requires more infrastructure, more hard standing and of course we can’t do that. It’s a very important park.

EF: We’ve got lots of questions, some of them are just saying thank you. Past visitors of Festival of Speed, the Revival and Member’s Meeting.

We have one here: what do you think your grandfather would make of what you’ve achieved since ’93 and the circuit with the Revival and Member’s Meeting?

LM: He’d be absolutely horrified! Rob knew him a bit too, I think perhaps after a bit he’d think it was great and be pleased but he’d probably say “absolutely ridiculous. Why are you doing this?” He looked forwards a lot, he was very modern, I used to talk about Brooklands, isn’t it tragic? “It’s not tragic at all, Brooklands was finished, it’s over, old hat, move on.”

I think he might think that he closed Goodwood down, no looking back, “why do you want to start it up again, its mad.”

I hope he’s looking down with a smile and he’s a bit chuffed with what he created has gone on to, in some ways, and with the digital world we’re in, we’ve been able to share that with so many more people around the world and Goodwood has become known in a way we would never have dreamt of when we started 25 years ago. I’m just astonished, I’m walking around Beverly Hills two weeks ago and people were coming up to me saying “I love your event.” It’s really bizarre, I’m not wishing to sound like we’re famous of anything, but I’m amazed at how much good will there is, enthusiasm. I was in London last weekend, we’d been walking from Green Park to Victoria I had three people stop me in the street saying “it’s great” and people chatting to me like I’m their brother I haven’t got a clue who they are! “It’s nice to see you too!”

The best thing of all about all of it is that people are so, there’s so much good feeling about it and they want to be part of it and they love it. Of course there are things which don’t go so well, the traffic this year was horrible, we need to sort that out. What we find is you get something right and you have it right for a bit of time and something happens and it goes wrong or there’s something out of your control. But mostly we want to do it properly and people’s feedback is very positive.

RW: If you look back at the reasons why the ninth Duke shut the circuit in ’66 it was the right thing to do in the sense that the cars were becoming too quick for the circuit, and with hindsight it was a good decision because when we opened it again in ’98 it was the right time with the right cars in the right place as it were. It’s not a circuit for modern… people say “are you going to have the British Grand Prix at Goodwood?” forget it. Probably had it gone on it would have petered out, because It went out on a high was the thing.

LM: The great thing for us is it wasn’t developed, it hasn’t been changed. He didn’t try and make it fit, he decided it wasn’t going to work so he stopped it. If you tried to make it fit or we started the circuit without doing the Festival of Speed first we might not have known what we were doing, thought we were making a race track and we would have made it fit modern racing and it would be fairly uninteresting modern racing and it would have been lost forever. The interesting thing about it is it never changed so it’s exactly the same as it was the day Fangio drove it.

EF: We talked a little bit about the Revival but it must have been quite a struggle getting racing back there because you wanted to keep it original and keep it as it was in period. Give me some idea as how tough it was to get everyone to agree, the planning, and everyone say “yes, go for it.”

LM: Well Rob knows all about this too, he was very involved in this process. Naively at the start I thought it was all possible and “we didn’t get turned down, maybe it can happen” but we realised fairly quickly after that. We started the Festival of Speed in ’93, so ’92 it was pretty clear it wasn’t going to happen. We remained determined though, so the Festival of Speed was meant to be just a little stepping stone and it turned into the monster it is now, but there was a lot of resistance but we were absolutely determined that we could get past it and there must be some way through, so we just carried on and it took seven years. We eventually got it and we had to give up a lot to get it actually, so the amount of activity on the track had to reduce dramatically, no use on Sundays and all those restrictions. I remember very well the first Revival in ’98 was another big moment for us, a very exciting one.

EF: How were relationships with governing bodies in terms of safety? Is that a constant battle to keep it how it should be in period or is everyone quite understanding of what you’re trying to achieve.

LM: I don’t think it’s a battle, we’re all over it ourselves, we are trying to make it as safe as it can be all the time, so anything we think we can do we talk to the MSA about. I have a very close relationship with them, Derek Ongaro at the beginning played a huge part in enabling it in the first place. Because I was talking to Derek about the circuit, I didn’t know him well but Dennis Carter at the BARC had put me in touch with Derek. Derek was coming round to look at the circuit and look at banks, if we had to have Armco all around and what would it mean because I knew it would wreck it.

I then brought him up here and said “I’ve had this little idea about doing something in front of the house, which Ian Back suggested who was a member of the BARC, but bizarrely the funeral we were both at together he said “you ought to run a hillclimb in front of the house”.

I said “That’ll never happen. Are you serious?”

He said “yeah you could do it.” And to be fair to Ian that’s how the whole thing come about. We don’t want a sort of international hillclimb, we just want to do something a bit different. And I remember showing Derek and I was going to go from the Kennels at the beginning all the way up past the West entrance, take a left up here, and he looked at that and was sucking his teeth in quite a bit because there were quite a lot of walls and every corner was super quick, quite hairy corners…

So I was a bit disappointed and we had a dry run and he said “I think you could do it this way, down there” and then of course Derek brilliantly… we were very lucky if Derek had said “you can do it but you have to put Armco from top to bottom” we never have done it because it would have cost so much. The beauty of Goodwood and why it is fantastic is it don’t requires a lot of capital, we’ve just done it repeat it, earn the money, repeat and put all that money back into the estate. It’s had a massive impact on what we’ve been able to do here and keep the place alive and well.

Of those who were here will well remember not only was the BRM V16 which made grown men cry which Rob mentioned earlier, I realised we must be on to something when people go so emotional about it. We had a string line, it was literally a piece of string, Derek was sitting in his car I remember on the first corner and a lot of them were going “this looks quite serious.” Derek said “It’s fine, it’s a rally stage as far as I’m concerned.”

That was brilliant, and he could see exactly what we were trying to do, we weren’t trying to run an international time trial or anything it was a celebration of the motor car, and his understanding paid a massive part at the beginning, if Derek said “I’m sorry it’s not going to work” if he hadn’t slightly stepped out of line and said “this is exciting for everybody, let’s do it” it wouldn’t have happened, so I’m grateful.

EF: I’m wary that you’ve got more meetings to go to, but there’s lots of things I want to touch on. You’ve had some amazing stars from Mario Andretti to Valentino Rossi and there probably a whole podcast in some of those stories. Was there a story about Mario and a jigsaw?

LM: It was indeed. It was a very wet year, it was the Ferrari year Mario was here, ’97, and it rained and rained and all we had Rick Mears here, all the Indy drivers here as well, Danny Sullivan, Mario, Mario’s wife – all the wives were here as well and they were all staying in the house and they didn’t go out all weekend, all the did was do a jigsaw. My wife Janet loves a proper jigsaw so we always have a big jigsaw, these hand cut things, and they got to pretty much the end of the jigsaw after dinner one evening and everyone was getting quite excited and the last piece was missing! So the girls were a bit… yeah. It was a bit of a disappointment and the next morning everyone is sitting down and Mario comes bouncing in, in his overalls ready to go up the track and goes “oh gee look” and pops the last piece of the bloody jigsaw into it! He’d taken it at the beginning of the week and put it in his pocket! Poor behaviour!

RW: I liked it when Frolian Gonzalez came to drive the V16 BRM up the hill, it was a fantastic thing to get him here at all, the Pampas Bull, all the way from Argentina. He was quite an elderly man of course and the time came for his run in the BRM on the hill and we were all thinking “where is he?” and the announcement came over the PA in the paddock “Mr Gonzalez is having breakfast. His run will be postponed!”

LM: A lot of people have spent a lot of time in bed here over the years. Too many stories to tell!

RW: It is a family show but I do know that when the rooms were being cleaned the day after the Festival of Speed a few years ago, I won’t tell you which year, a thong was discovered hanging from an Orchid which had been used in a room.

LM: At the end of the bed. It took a lot of time to see it, the Orchid being what it is.

RW: We are talking a Formula One driver here!

EF: Did Emerson go around the track in a Rolls Royce?

LM: That was recently. We had the FIA conference here so they were all here, Gerhard was here as well and Emerson happened to be here as well. They had a big dinner at the motor circuit, I think it was Gerhard, predictably, “you don’t think we need to do some driving?” it was dark, pouring with rain and I had the Phantom down there and said “ok, Emerson you drive.” Emerson was driving, me in the front, Gerhard and Jean Todt in the back going flat out in the dark thinking “if anything happens now we are going to be in big trouble.” You can imagine Gerhard was pushing Emerson on.

EF: You have a race track, a hill climb course and a Rally course on your doorstep? Do you ever want to sneak out and have a blast around them in something tasty?

LM: Very rarely nowadays! Rob will remember at 17, 18 on the track we used to go and do 70 laps straight off. My son zooms, well, goes out on the rally stage a bit, we’ve got a fantastic off road Rage which he’s quite decent in. We have some fun and people have come and done that with us, that’s a bit damp and chalky, it’s difficult.

RW: I’ve got to tell you he did try the festival of Speed course downhill many, many years ago but it only lasted half way…

LM: It wasn’t a great result…

RW: He drove his mother’s Austin 1100 flat out into a very large tree and spent several months in hospital.

LM: Four months. It was not my best moment, my mother was out, I was joyriding, I was 1g and went up to the top with a friend in the car, came zooming back down, it was one of those terrible 1100s with molten suspension when one goes up the other foes down and I lost it badly on the last corner coming down and ended up absolutely stuffed into these trees. It wasn’t good, broke my legs.

RW: Every racer has to have a big shunt!

EF: A couple more questions: there’s been so many great cars and drivers in Goodwood events, is there a particular car or driver you look back on most fondly?

LM: Immediately you say that there are two moments I remember. I climbed out of the dining room window on the Friday of the Festival of Speed, I’d just stepped onto the lawn and a guy bumped into me, literally ran smack into me and almost knocked me over. He knocked himself over, he pulls himself up and says “gee I’m so sorry, I’m in such a hurry, I’ve got to go and see the Chaparrals.”

I thought “he’s American.” This guy had come all the way from Chicago to see the Chaparrals because they hadn’t been seen in America really, we’ve had them here a few times since, but that was a big moment.

Getting all those Indycars, we were trying so hard to get all these cars, to get an Auto Union at the beginning, there weren’t any in the world. There was one in East Germany. To get those blockbusters in the beginning was a real triumph. The W125 Mercedes when the rebuilt is especially and brought that was a big moment. But to have the Chaparrals here and drive one: very few people have driven one a Chaparral, so for me the bizarre thing perhaps is I used to dream about these cars as a child and I’ve driven most of them which is extraordinary. Only three people in the world have driven a Chaparral – Phil Hill, me… very few people have driven one. I’ve had some unbelievable experiences.

The other thing was seeing Dan Gurney fiddling with the Gurney-Westlake when it first came here, it wasn’t running quite right and there was Dan leaning over with his spanners rebuilding his own engine. He’s a big driver for me.

EF: What was it like having Rossi here finally?

LM: Brilliant. He was such great company, he loved it, all he could say was what a great time he was having, I got a sweet note from him afterwards asking me to go and see his garage and his family at Silverstone and I spent a little time with him before the British race. He was charming and he wouldn’t leave the party and we had such a good time. A superstar.

RW: I think he cancelled his flight home so he could drive one more car up the hill? That tells you a lot about the guy.

EF: I remember watching and kept seeing him in more and more cars, really was like a child in a playground.

RW: It was like the pope when he came on the balcony in front of the house, it was like the pope, it was bigger than the Pope. Can I… no no!

LM: it was one of our best moments him riding in the bike.

EF: We are basically out of time. Obviously not many people are listening or watching: who is the star guest for next year and what do we have to look forward to or are we too early?

LM: Lots of secrets really. The theme is all about the major moments in motorsport which have changed the sport, blockbuster developments, the high watermarks and that means we’ve got to get the most exciting cars and all the drivers that go with them. No, there’s some excitement already, it looks good.

EF: Lord March thank you so much for sparing so much time, I’m sorry we’ve run over a little bit. Rob, thank you for joining us and giving your insight. Alan thank you for recording the sound as beautifully as you always do.

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