The Duke of Richmond recalls the “pure raw talent” of motorsport legend Sir Stirling Moss.
Sir Stirling Moss, who died in April last year at the age of 90, was one of Britain’s best-known and best-loved racing drivers, and his life and career were inextricably linked with Goodwood. Here, the Duke of Richmond, who held a deep admiration for Sir Stirling as well as counting him as a personal friend, salutes the driver known as “Mister Goodwood” – and shares some very personal memories.
Goodwood Magazine (GM):How old were you when you first met Stirling Moss?
Duke of Richmond (DR): I’m pretty sure I met him when I was about six, and he came to every Easter Monday race meeting, which I also went to, probably from the age of about two. Stirling, of course, had his very first race here, which he won, which was also Goodwood’s very first race meeting. That was in 1948.
GM:What are your earliest memories of Stirling racing at Goodwood? Was he a childhood hero of yours?
DR: He was certainly a childhood hero. My first memory of him, bizarrely, is of his signature. I had this little red autograph book and I was so keen to get all the drivers’ autographs – I think I was more interested in getting autographs than actually speaking to them! He was certainly in that little red autograph book, which I treasured for years, although annoyingly it’s lost now. His signature had a very pronounced S – that’s the first thing I remember about him.
GM:Can you describe your sense of Stirling, not just as a driver, but as a man?
DR: He was many things – talented, fun, determined, self-assured, always professional. The thing about racing drivers in those days is that they would drive in every race – six races a day – and they got paid nothing; it was all purely for the love of the sport. Stirling very quickly became this fantastic all-rounder – I mean, you could say he’s the greatest racing driver of all time, he could drive anything. His sister was a good rally driver and a good show-jumper – they were actually a horsey family, a show-jumping family. Their father was very competitive, and I think this was instilled in both Stirling and his sister. He was very single-minded, upbeat, energetic. He wasn’t trying to elevate himself all the time, not trying to have lunch with the Queen or anything, but he was the guy who was always there and always winning. Pure talent. But interestingly, it wasn’t win-at-all-costs for him. He let Fangio beat him – because he wanted the master to win. The incredible thing is, he never won the F1 World Championship, yet he became this huge figure, the most famous racing driver England’s ever had – and he probably always will be. He summed up that era, of the 1940s/50s/60s. He wasn’t a gentleman driver like many of the drivers at that time, he was real pro, and he had time for everybody; he had time for the punters and he was there to do a job. He would do anything you asked of him. He was one of the first professional sportsmen. He never got paid much back then but the whole lifestyle was so fantastic. He was just an incredibly talented, affable guy, very British. His wife, Susie, was magnificent – she was an absolute rock and support for him, she kept him calm and grounded and was his complete partner.
GM:If you had to sum up Sir Stirling’s qualities as a driver in three words, what would they be?
DR: Just “pure raw talent”, really, but he was very quick and aggressive – he was quite a car breaker. Some drivers are famous for being incredibly gentle on the car; Jenson Button, for example, is known for being terribly smooth. Stirling, however, was very aggressive and quite hard, but this translated into some exceptionally talented driving and, of course, immense speed.
GM:You were very young when Sir Stirling had his crash at Goodwood in 1962. Do you have any memory of it?
DR: I do remember it – it was very traumatic. He was in a coma for a month at St Richards [in Chichester] and my grandfather would have been going through hell. When he eventually came out of hospital, they put him back in a car almost immediately – far too quickly – and he decided he wasn’t any good anymore and that was it. Because he was slightly off the pace, he said he would pack it in, and that was it! Nowadays they would give you a huge amount of support and you’d be brought back slowly. He would probably have been fine, but it was very different back then.
GM:Over the years, even well into his eighties, Sir Stirling remained a star of Festival of Speed and Revival. What did he mean to Goodwood?
DR: Stirling became part of Goodwood life – he was so caught up in the history of the place and significant to it. So, he had his first race at Goodwood, and he crashed at Goodwood, and then, years later, he came back and raced at every single Revival and every festival except the very first Festival of Speed (FOS), when annoyingly he couldn’t make it. But he came every single year after that.
GM:Can you describe a particularly special moment or year?
DR: A big memory was when we put Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson together in the 300 SLR Mercedes – 722 – the car in which he won the Mille Miglia in 1955. Some people would argue that it was his most important race and that was the most important car. Jenks was a renowned journalist and an extraordinary character, the editor of Motor Sport, and very much a cult figure at the time. Famously, the Mille Miglia was a non-stop race on public roads; all the best riders in the world were taking part and there are all these incredible pictures of the crowds on side of the road. Stirling’s number, 722, was his start time in the morning.
That year, ’55, was probably the most famous running of the race and Stirling won – and he won partly because of Jenks. They’d done a test run and Jenks had built this machine with a couple of loo rolls – a little box which acted as a homemade roller scroll. As Stirling drove, he drew the route on the paper – so he could see it – left turn, right turn, flat, flat, flat, etc (in fact, this was the beginning of pace notes then used in modern rallying) and once he got to the end he rolled it all back to the beginning and when it came to race day, bam, off they went and he rolled it out and they followed the route. Amazingly, they did 1,000 miles averaging 98 miles per hour! On public roads! And there are those very famous pictures of Stirling at the end when he took his goggles off with his panda eyes, where his face was covered in grime. Jenks never got back in the car after that. The biggest moment ever at FOS was in 2005. It was the 50th anniversary of that ’55 Mille Miglia race and we had them both in the very same car. Jenks was really frail – we literally had to pick him up and carry him out of the car, he was so emotional. And he still had the box! Literally, grown men were crying around the car, it was such a big day. I’ve driven that car – it’s a super-special car, just fantastic, an unbelievable bit of kit, and the car of the moment for road racing. Mercedes were at the pinnacle of it all then and I think it’s widely considered to be one of the best. It’s locked away in the Mercedes museum, I think, but it’s going to come to Westminster Abbey for Stirling’s memorial service next year.
GM:Did Sir Stirling have a very special place in the affections of the Goodwood crowd?
DR: Yes, absolutely. He was a pro: he would do anything for the crowds, and they loved him. He made so many great moments for us. I remember during one of the very early Revivals – he was in his seventies but still racing – Martin Brundle was in a very nice D-Type. Those historic races are quite full-on and hairy, and Stirling just overtook him – went around the outside on the corner and gave him a wave as he went by. Martin was like: “What is going on? You’ve got a 70-year-old guy, one hand on the wheel, waving at me as he overtakes on the outside.”
GM:What is your favourite photograph of Sir Stirling?
DR: I think the nicest picture I’ve got is one that photographer Dominic O’Neill’s father took of my dad with Stirling and they’re both about the same age – they’re both in their twenties, I think. It was before I was born. It’s charming, and I don’t think it’s really been seen before.