The Goodwood Revival in the UK is the way motor racing used to be, and perhaps should still be.
SOME say – and it’s hard to disagree – that modern four-wheeled motorsport, particularly at the highest levels, has become dull. Sterile cars, sterile drivers, sterile tracks. Even hardened F1 fans are tiring of this year’s Mercedes-Hamilton-Rosberg walk in the park.
But the antidote is simple. I’ve seen it.
It all began in 1998 when the honourable Lord March invited all and sundry to his ancestral estate for a weekend of historic racing.
His home was ideally suited. During WWII it was loaned to the military to help the war effort and became RAF Wolverhampton. Facilities were constructed, including airstrip service roads that the lads would tear around in their Invictas and MG TDs. Tally ho! After the war, Freddie March, the current Earl's grandfather, turned the roads into a racing circuit that hosted top-level racing from 1948 until 1966.
For the next 28 years Goodwood Racing Circuit continued to operate as a testing facility, which kept the current Earl well connected. Once the circuit and its original grandstands, pits and support structures were magnificently restored, he gathered some of the rarest and most valuable classic race cars and the Goodwood Revival was born.
It was a hit, and now it’s the most sought-after event for owners, drivers and spectators.
The things that strike a first-time visitor as you wander wide-eyed through the facilities are the attention to detail and the sheer scale. It's massive. Easily bigger than a Grand Prix.
And it's all class, from the vintage sideshow attractions to the beautiful original buildings. Almost all the punters get into the retro spirit of the event, with outfits ranging from full vintage military regalia to oily Shell overalls and 60s vinyl hot-pants – anything from the circuit’s original era.
There are massive static displays of classic cars and aircraft, quality food and drinks, and stalls galore. Want a tweed deerstalker and matching plus twos? You can buy it here. Want a scratch-built 1932 Alfa just like Nuvolari drove? A Cuban cigar and an icy bottle of Verve Clicquot? No problem.
One aspect of the Revival I was unaware of, even though I've followed it closely since 1998, is that it's a serious piss-up. After the racing finished on Saturday, we visited the Verve tent and people were wildly drunk, dancing and yahooing to a swing band. The vibe was cheeky and very friendly, driven by people having a ball.
As darkness nears, the circuit closes, so we cross the footbridge to the after-dark area, which has a Ferris wheel and rides, more fascinating stalls and bands. We're here for the Doom Bar. It’s a large marquee. Just follow your ears; it's heaving.
The mood is contagious. Every song the band plays is a 2000-strong singalong and dance party. A bloke who has no right to even be vertical shimmies up a tent pole and swings from the roof doing gymnastic manoeuvres 10 metres above the crowd. They go wild. Two identically clad and very attractive ’60s ‘airline hosties’ do the same on the other two poles, crimpalene skirts hitched up over their hips. The crowd goes wild again.
The rest of the night is a blur. But I’m sure I had fun.
This is a motorsport event, though, and the cars and the racing are still the highlights: Four D-Type Jaguars drifting through Magwicks nose to tail in a noisy ballet; Tom Kristensen's masterful charge through the field in the beautiful silver Ferrari 250 SWB, headlights blazing at dusk on Friday night; the race-long battle between a Cobra and an E-Type at the head of the RAC TT on Sunday afternoon. That last battle culminated in the Jag tapping the Cobra off track on the penultimate lap and after the race the winner smoked a cigar while the vanquished explained there was no grip. They embraced after the interview.
My theory on how to fix modern racing gelled on Saturday morning. Three Lotus 23s, in the rain, fought the most amazing battle I've seen. Every second, even on the straights, was a battle to keep the cars on track. Nose to tail they raced, swapping the lead and sharing time on the grass. I hooted and hollered along with the rest of the crowd and laughed until it hurt.
In every race over the weekend, the drivers really drove. You could see them sawing away at the wheel as they wrestled their machines through corners. You could see the different styles of driver, even when driving the same model car. There was skill and bravado. Take away the invisible hand of downforce and modern rubber and the driver is the key element. Grip is the problem. Who is the best current F1 driver? Vettel? Alonso? Hamilton? Who knows?
F1 will never be the Revival, but I think they could learn from such a large gathering of motor racing fans loving the skill of talented drivers wrestling tail-happy machines. Even Bernie would have a great weekend. I certainly did.