History of Racing Circuits

Written in 1966 at the closure of Goodwood Race Track:
WRITERS are privileged, and almost always hate the task, to prepare obituary columns; in a life-time - spent very close to motor-sport I have been obliged to write too many; about motor-racing friends, well-known men in the industry, famous marques and the end of a motor-course. Now, sadly, r have to record as best I can, the story of the exciting birth and, after 19 years, the doleful end of yet another motor-race circuit. I was born in the year of Brooklands and saw its demise; then there was Donington Park, a spectacular falling star, and the failure of Aintree. Abroad we had seen the high hopes of Miramas, in the sun-scorched south of France, dashed, and then, short-lived again, the German track at Schottenring. Motor racing tracks, experience seems to show, are tricky affairs to keep going.
Let us start the Goodwood story at its happy beginning.
Soon after the Second World War an Australian fighter pilot, Squadron Leader Tony Gaze, keen on fast cars, who had operated from Westhampnett, a grass-field satellite to the famous Sussex fighter station of Tangmere, met the owner of the ground-Squadron Leader the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, and tax-payer of the enormous Goodwood Estates on the South Downs near Chichester. "Freddy the Duke" had long been a dyed-in-the-wool racing enthusiast. In 1930, with veteran" Sammy" Davis, in a two-seater supercharged Austin Seven, he had won the 500 miles race at Brooklands, as well as driving in many other top events. Gaze had been" having a go" round the deserted perimeter track at Westhampnett. Typically " Aussie" he asked, "Duke, when are we going to have a race here?"
Relates the Duke: "The suggestion caught me of balance. I had lived with motor-racing all my life and mourned the war-time loss of the Brooklands and Donington tracks. But a track on my own doorstep! Bless my soul, what would the family say? "
The Duke had more to say when the proposition was seriously broached. It was then, making motor history in a minor way, that I became involved,
One dull November day I was summoned by the Duke to attend Goodwood. To my pleasant surprise the task was to drive round the perimeter track to assess the possibilities of Westhampnett; my host remarked that we should have to ignore the tenant farmer who was making haste at his swords-into-ploughshares efforts to bring back under, cultivation the grasslands, from which so many Spitfires had sped into battle.
So it happened. Almost a year after that early morning reconnaissance of the Westhampnett grass-grown perimeter track, we finally held our first meeting, at the end of 1948. .
"A field of ghost cars from the pre-war circuits; of Europe; their be-goggled drivers looking just a little more mature after service in various. branches of the Forces; there was the acrid aroma of racing dope and burnt oil to sharpen the senses and revive countless memories. Such was the beginning of motor racing at Goodwood." The Duke added, "I went quite, cold at the thought of the manner in which, quite unthinkingly, we cocked a snookat Providence. If we had looked into the crystal ball Goodwood would surely have remaiped a place-name familiar only to the followers of the Turf.
After all, the other Goodwood, that of thoroughbred horses, jockeys and punters, two miles away on Trundle Hill, offered little in the way of a yardstick. Its century-and-a-half of "know-how" was derived from the well. oiled administration of the Jockey Club; on the motor track we had to learn the hard way.
I remember so well on that cold November day in 1947 we decided, after our test of the grass-grown concrete circuit, that racing should be anti-clockwise; we were so wrong-no race was ever run that way round in the history of Goodwood.
The Duke gave the "go-ahead"; but who was to run it? There was one organizing club eminently suitable-the Junior Car Club, our oldest motor sport club, soon after to become the British Automobile Racing Club notably, and proudly, the initials are the same as the pioneer Brooklands Club.
Johnny Morgan, who had run immediate pre-war meetings at Brooklands and Donington, was the secretary of the J.C.C. and an experienced organizer. He was, and is still, completely unflappable. I once likened him to a duck " serene on the surface, pedalling like hell underneath"; that really does describe John in those early, pioneer days of Goodwood.
Motor-racing history was made on the Sussex track below those glorious South Downs.
Our first meeting was held on 18 September, 1948, and rather naturally it was organized in classic Brooklands style even down to the old-fashioned programme. The winner of the first race was P. de F. C. Pyecroft, driving a Jaguar of his own modification; the winner of the 500 c.c. race was a pleasant" hairy" young man who appeared in the entry list as S. Moss.
A Brooklands veteran who drove a Fiat in our first Goodwood meeting was C. Ie Strange Metcalfe, who also competed in the last meeting in 1966. Other Brooklands "boys", driving at that first unforgettable meeting were " Reg" Parnell, "B. Bira," Sir Francis Samuelson, Philip Fotheringham-Parker, Lord Strathcarron, Bob Gerard and John Bolster. /
And it was all a great success-Brooklands is here again, we gaily said. It was, of course, not quite the slick, split second " right crowd and no crowding" we had experienced between the wars but were to have later on; the timekeepers, for instance, tottered warily on the straw-covered boards' of a farm lorry; and the sole barrier between cars and spectators was rope! The chief time-keeper and handicapper was the corpulent, cheerful, efficient L. A. Ebblewhite, just as his father, the illustrious" A. V.," had been Brooklands' starter and handicapper from start to finish.
The first Goodwood International meeting was held on Easter Monday, 1949. It was such an overwhelming success that the enthusiastic, crowd got a little out of hand.
It was at this meeting that the Duke, disliking badges which we others perforce had to flash, was refused entry to the track. He explained, patiently, who he was only to receive the reply from the gate-keepr, "Oh, yeah-that's what they all say" a member came to the assistance of an embarrassed Duke (and President).
This was also the exciting occasion, reported in some what exaggerated manner, when the, Duke, alarmed at the success of his experiment, was alleged by a reporter to have fought back thousands of enthusiasts ducking under the ropes to invade the Lavant straight; he was reported to be armed with a shooting-stick! '
This more than highly successful meeting-to many of us it was Brooklands all over again-led, naturally, to a deal of new thinking. The J.C.C.-now the B.A.R.C.- called its council together and, in consort with the track owners, planned and carried out improvements, both for spectator safety and, important, though no less so, for the drivers.
The next Goodwood, meeting was held at Easter-the first of motor race meetings to become internationally famous. And to many of us it was really Brooklands reborn; one might be accused of snobbism of the 1930’s by describing this Goodwood meeting as "the right crowd and no crowding "-the Brooklands' slogan. In point of fact, that was exactly as it was.
Once the farmer had given up the unequal stuggle-he like myself, was Sussex-born and our saying is, "We'll be led, but we won't be druv"- we had at our disposal the infield. An aerodrome was envisaged, and as controller was appointed an unusual, and extremely brave, character in Group Captain C. S. (" Tim") Morice, D.S.O., D.F.C. There is little that Tim has not done-decorated in both WorId Wars for flying fighters and ending up by leading a low-flying" straffing " wing over France. Before he "fiddled" his way, well over age, into air fighting in 1941 he had been, with me, a Press, Censor at Rheims. And what a nice, friendly chap with the blue pencil he was too! ,
" Tim'" controlled our new airfield at Goodwood and it was an immediate success. Motor-racers flew in galore; we had 30 private aircraft on one day (we had over 70 the first Easter Monday). As well, the more expensive characters who operated on Trundle Hill used, the airfield. They deplored, naturally, the smell of burned fuel and oil.
We forbore to remind them of the aroma of frightened horses! But it was" Tim" who reminded me, only the other day, that on the occasion of the very first landing he had fired, a red Verey rocket. "The landing fee was Is 6d and the rocket cost 4s 6d," he complained.
One of the first to fly into Goodwood Airfield was Wing Commander Maurice Smith, D.F.C., then Editor of Flight as well as of Autocar, in his Gemini, with His Grace the Duke of Richnmond and Gordon as co-pilot. To our consternation he made a down-wind approach. We recovered, our breath when it was appreciated he was just having a look-see!
It was obvious; as South Coast motor-racing gained popularity, that Goodwood had to have a road tunnel, together with other amenities-the days of rope barriers for spectators and straw bales to protect young, over-confident drivers, were past. The tunnel was built and then some cynical character pointed out that, should it ever be blocked, the car occupants would probably all be asphyxiated-by carbon monoxide fumes! Which is why we fixed those two ventilator shafts which made the ride through that tunnel a real driving test; more than one or two proud Bentleys still bear scars; the rule of the road, too, was driving on the right. Some blithe spirits outward bound and on the public roads again still thought they were abroad!
When Goodwood was finally established, "Tony" Gaze, whose original idea it was, presented a trophy in memory of his brother, also a fighter pilot and killed in action; it was awarded for the lap record and, at the end was presented to New Zealander Denny Hulme who had circulated our lovely airfield circuit in 1 min 22.2 sec-a speed of 105.11 m.p.h.; he was at the wheel of a formula 2 BrabhamHonda.
We had nearly all the "firsts" at the south-coast track - the first night-racing in Britain; our premier race, the classic R.A.C. Tourist Trophy,' was rescued from near demise; We. had record attempts, including a seven-day-and-night affair with three Anglias, which was chiefly remarkable for the speed of the little family saloons - St. Mary's just before a misty dawn was really something and the fact that Roy Salvadori managed to invert one of the machines; we. had parachutists and the fabulous flying of "Treble One" R.A.F.fighter squadron, the Black Arrows.
The Guild of Motoring Writers moved their headquarters there-to a chalet where drivers and manufacturers were entertained and from which was directed the annual Motor Show Test Day, an event extremely popular with visiting motoring journalists from all over the world. The Duke, once a successful Motoring Correspondent, was the first President of the Guild.
We remember the famous men who were to add to their reputations or to make them at Goodwood-Fangio, Moss, Parnell, Taruffi, Gonzalez, Schell, Farina, Rolt,de Graffenreid, Collins; Etancelin, Levegh,and so many others in a long and illustrious list.
It was Farina, first of all World Champions, who made necessary the famous Goodwood "chicane." His attractive high-speed drifts brought his car so close to the pits that the timekeepers - though now in a slightly safer position (the hay dray had been dragged away)-were among those who strongly backed the idea of an artificial corner. In point of fact, despite objections from the purists, it made the racing more attractive. Many good men-including Jean Behra-clouted the famous Goodwood chicane.
One Saturday before the Easter Monday meeting of 1952, a blond, smiling young man, his white overalls topped by, of all things; a bow tie, came for practice; he was practically unnoticed.
But on Monday he was famous; Mike Hawthorn had beaten World Champion Juan Manual Fangio. He was naturally besieged by reporters eager to meet a new, good looking motor-racing star; the young driver, from that moment never looked back and went from victory to victory. Until his retirement in his World Championship year, due to an unknown kidney disease. Mike was, soon after the death of his greatest friend, "mon ami mate" Peter Collins, to be killed in a road accident; just as happened to his father.
It was at Goodwood, too, that Reg Parnell" discovered" John Surtees, the most brilliant-in the majority opinion of all motor-cycle racers. He had bad luck with Geoff Duke, whose real forte, like the late, great Walter Handley, was on two wheels, not four. But at Goodwood "Reg' launched yet another World Champion.
I remember well the day when the Duke summoned certain team managers and drivers to Goodwood during a horse-racing meeting; this caused some consternation but, after a ducal lunch and a quick look at a horse race, the secret was out. We went down the winding hill from the downs to the motor-course on the plain and warmed-up our variegated Le Mans machinery Astons and Bristols, Allards and Jags and the rest-for the Duke of Edinburgh to criticize and drive. It was on this day that the Duke did much good for one marque. Looking at the Bristol, he commented: "Bit of a glass-house, isn't it?" We had a brand new model next season.

In the season which followed Goodwood took on, more and more, the patina of our lost Brooklands; "Sammy" Davis, not quite the last of the fabulous “Bendey Boys" who had first brought fame to British cars and drivers, and one of the few journalists who. proved that he could drive as well as write-presented us with a great slab of concrete from Brooklands to be installed in a special garden. genourously provided by Dunlop; nostalgia again-that slice of history, still bearing the great black tyre mark made. by
the illustrious Parry Thomas, was joined by a gas-lamp that lighted the 'way of early Brooklands pioneers, who on foot crossed the bridge over Byfleet Banking to the tuning sheds.
We, erected too, the same spiked iron gates which had graced the Brooklands Paddock. The plate bears the words" Every driver who raced at Brooklands, from its opening in 1907 to the close in 1939, passed through I these gates from the Paddock to the Track."
It was at Goodwood, too, that a charming but gushing "sob-sister," looking for a story, asked Lord Essendonthe Brian Lewis of Brooklands and Isle of Man fame and a member of the B.A.R.C. Council-why he took up motor racing. His considered reply was, " Well you see, it was the only open-air sport I could do sitting down."

There were crashes, accidents, a few dolefully fatal, two fires in the pits. Moss ended his racing career at Goodwood when his car went out of control at the entrance to St. Mary's. We had our moments of sadness at Goodwood, as well as much happiness and glory too.
Goodwood, when. it all began, was a safe track; little recognized, the club meetings played a very great part in fostering the modem British racing driver, today well to the fore in all forms of modern formulae racing. Some of the old men of motor-racing, the amateurs "gendemen-drivers" the Germans and Italians contemptuously termed them 30 years ago-and the latter-day
"shamateurs" like the new trend not at all. At the end of Goodwood there were men-professionals-tough, hard training, serious men, whose one objective is motor-racing -motor-racing at a price.
And it is a fact that the first man ever to be paid the sum of £1,000 for starting in a motor race was Stirling Moss, O.B.E., and at Goodwooq, of course. In practice for what was, though none of us even gave the possibility a thought, the last international meeting at Goodwood, the Duke was seen to be busy with his stopwatch. "These new cars are going to be too fast for safety - spectator safety," he confided to me. His forebodings were borne out; in, a few' weeks following the Duke's decision not to admit the 1966 formula 1 3-litte cars, or the "big banger" sports-racing cars to Goodwood the B.A.R.C. announced that their Easter Monday meeting would be transferred to Silverstone. Dire news followed shortly after motor-racing was to cease entirely at Goodwood.
Let "Freddy the Duke," founder of the motor-racing course which drivers and spectators liked most of all, have the final word.
In a letter to me when at last the hard decision had been made (and which he has given me permission to quote) he says: "This is a sad thing, but Goodwood has been sacrificed on the marble slab of spectator safety. . . .Do you realize that if horses had got two m.p.h. quicker each year since it started we would now have Piggott coming past the post at 325 m.p.h.! If only we had had another couple of hundred yards on the outside edge all round we could have had a proper safety or recovery area and gone to town for another 18 years. But we hadn't and thats the bones of that. We say goodbye to Goodwood, but it was, of course, well worth while; it marks the end of an era which produced so many outstanding drivers.

Goodwood 1964 TT

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Author: ArchitectPage

The first woman, Bill Wisdom, to win a long-distance International race drove her husband Tommy and The Duke of Richmond on the original exploratory lap of Westhampnett Airfield
Jean Behra, BRM, hits the Chicane
Moss the day he crashed