As crowds flock to West Sussex for the famous Goodwood Revival, the mere mention of Goodwood can be relied upon to stir mixed emotions among McLaren fans.
Like Silverstone, another wartime airfield whose perimeter roads were put to good use by local racing clubs keen to press on with the action, the famous Goodwood circuit came into being during the years of austerity that immediately followed World War Two.
In 1951, the Goodwood crowds at last got a taste of Formula 1. Reigning world champion Giuseppe Farina contested the September Goodwood Trophy at the wheel of a super-charged Alfa Romeo 159. The Italian won all three races for which he was entered.
The following year, Goodwood gained the distinction of hosting Britain’s first ever-ever race during darkness. It ran from three o’clock in the afternoon until midnight and was won by the Aston Martin driven by Peter Collins and Pat Griffith. The event was judged a great success, even though mention of the fact that one of the other Aston Martins was completely burnt out after a fire in the pits went modestly reported in the pages of Autosport was a timely reminder that a less-sensational style of media reporting existed in those now-distant days.
In the years that followed there would be plenty of action. On a cool November afternoon in 1963, Timmy Mayer, Teddy’s brother, had his first run at the wheel of the new ‘Bruce McLaren Motor Racing’ McLaren Tasman special.
Indeed, the 2.4-mile track was a challenging test venue where most of the Formula 1 teams retreated in order to complete their development work in relative privacy. However, it was also the track that left many fans fumbling with conflicting emotions after team founder Bruce McLaren was killed in a testing crash on the circuit’s high-speed Lavant Straight in the early summer of 1970.
I had watched testing at Goodwood on several occasions, including a visit only a fortnight before Bruce’s brand new McLaren M8D CanAm car slammed into a disused marshals’ post when an unfixed engine cover broke loose and pitched the car out of control.
The accident came with an awful suddenness soon after 12.20pm on Tuesday June 2, 1970, and left an impact that was felt across the motor racing world.
RUSH – behind the scenes set report
His loyal team were stunned, but determined to do their bit for their boss’s memory. Much of that motivation came from McLaren director Teddy Mayer, whom I had only recently watched bustling around an M8D in the modest pitlane at the Sussex venue. Teddy wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but he instinctively read the feelings of the workforce: everybody rallied round ‘for Bruce’. There were races to be won.
"It was a test day like any other," reflected Teddy later. "Nothing special. Bruce was just checking out the new CanAm car, Denny [Hulme] had just suffered from burns at Indianapolis, and Peter Gethin was due to try an F1 car to deputise for him in the Belgian GP. I was in my office at our Colnbrook base when my phone rang and they told me that Bruce had been killed."
Sixty five miles away from Goodwood, this writer was just leaving the front door of Barclays Bank international in London’s Old Broad Street to buy a sandwich at lunchtime. My then-girfriend was in tears as I met her.
Some 13 days later I would leave Barclays’ employ for good. I went off to join the editorial staff of the weekly motor racing magazine Motoring News. Another corner turned.
By then, of course, Goodwood had long ceased to be a venue for racing. While it still existed as a home away from home for teams wishing to go testing, the track was closed for racing in 1966, on safety grounds.
For 30 years, it lay dormant, seemingly never destined for a comeback. Yet the venue was brilliantly revived by Charles March, whose singular ambition and determination gave rise to the contemporary Festival of Speed, held at nearby Goodwood House, and this weekend’s Revival meeting.
That brilliantly sensitive touch ensured that, for two weekends at least, Goodwood would be more like Goodwood than Goodwood. If you catch my drift!