I am sure a sizeable constituency of us will be spending all or some of the weekend camped out in the grounds of a West Sussex stately home. I can’t quite believe this is the 20th Goodwood Festival of Speed, and the 20th I have attended. But it is.
It may seem odd to those of us for whom racing cars are our first love, but I’m told that in terms of popularity among visitors, the supercar paddock is second only to the F1 team shelters. But the Festival has always cast its net wide and, unlike the Revival which really is a refuge for die-hard old race car fans, it is the Festival’s ability to pull in enthusiasts for cars and bikes, old and new, road or racing, that has made it such a stellar success over the years.
I’ve always managed to beg, borrow and just occasionally steal a drive up the hill in something. It sounds an odd thing to say when talking about a strip of tarmac that usually takes less than a minute to put under the wheels of what you’re driving, but it is an incredibly difficult stretch or road, made all the more tricky when there’s upwards of 50,000 people watching. You know the only run that’ll ever be remembered is the one in which you go off.
Yet year on year, off they go. Stars from all walks of motor sport fire their machines into Goodwood’s unfailingly merciless straw bales, sometimes even on the way to the start line. These drivers are not idiots, but even superstars can be caught out by the unique character of the hill. What chance have the rest of us got?
It depends how seriously you take it. The temptation is to not take it seriously at all, in which case you’ll have an embarrassing and expensive encounter with some dried grass at your first lapse of concentration. You may have noticed there are very few near misses at the Festival: you’re either on the track and under control, or you’ve crashed. The middle ground enjoyed elsewhere where you might merely compromise a lap time or have a harmless spin simply doesn’t exist here.
Taking it too seriously is a fraught process too: someone, I think Barrie Williams, once told me “trying to go quick here always puts you on the wrong side of the risk to reward ratio”, words I’ve taken very much to heart over the years and probably the biggest reason why, as I approach my 20th FoS, my copybook remains unblotted. For now at least.
If you’re going I’ll be there for the duration and look forward to meeting anyone who wants to say hello. But the person you should really seek out is one Steve Tarrant. You’ll spot him because he’s likely to be the only one-legged marshal at the event. He got that way as a result of a tragic accident at the Festival a dozen years back but this and the many other injuries he suffered that day have never stopped him working. He still marshals at around 40 events per year, including both Goodwoods.
I mention him now because last week he got on his mobility scooter and started driving it around a Speedway track in Peterborough. And apart from breaks to answer calls of nature and change the scooter’s batteries, he didn’t stop for 24 hours. At the end he’d covered 173 miles, adding almost 20 miles to the previous record, despite having to drive through terrible wind and rain and getting plastered with mud. His average speed of 7.2mph is unlikely to trouble the record books, but as personal achievements on four wheels go, I think it worthy of a mention here. If you see him, please offer him your congratulations.