Thank Frankel it's Friday: Remembering the first ever Revival
Can it really be 20 years? Twenty years since I stood on that little white circle and wished I was Stirling Moss, not even for his speed around a track, but across it. No-one was better at Le Mans starts than Moss.
I’d never raced at Goodwood because, before that very day, no one had for over 32 years. When the track shut its gates in 1966 I’d not yet reached my first birthday.
Did we really do a Le Mans start? It seems we did. I’d read all about them and the tricks the drivers used to pull, like rotating the ignition key barrel so ‘on’ looked like ‘off’ and removing the little telltale bulb. Or starter motors that engaged as the door closed. I settled for just leaving the car in gear.
Ah yes, the car. Well I have Frank Sytner to thank for that. To thank for it all, really. He just rang up and said he always wanted to read a story about what it was like to drive to Goodwood in your racing car and then race, in the way that people had back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. So keen was he to read this story that he wondered if I might want to write it, if he put the means at my disposal. By which he meant his ex-Dickie Stoop Frazer-Nash Sebring, one of only three such cars ever built and a three-time veteran of Le Mans.
So I pootled down the A3 from London and then through Milford, Chiddingfold and Petworth, stopping for a pint outside a pub because, well, you would, and loving the performance and handling of this gorgeous car with its 2-litre twin-cam, straight six motor.
But now it’s race day and strange as it may seem to you, my overarching concern about this bloody Le Mans start is leaping aboard, thrusting my legs forward and seeing at least one of them go through rather than around the enormous Bakelite-rimming steering wheel. Don’t laugh, it has happened before. Frankly, I’m scared. Scared of falling flat on my face and getting mown down, scared of making a complete mess of it and being laughed at by 50,000 people and frankly bloody terrified of getting it all perfectly right, blasting off into the fray and then clouting Sytner’s car against something worth a million pounds.
The flag fell, a bunch of men (and one woman) of mixed ages, abilities and waistlines sprinted, trotted and waddled their way towards their cars, no-one got in the wrong one by mistake (that’s happened too) and then the air was suddenly, shockingly full of sound. To my surprise, the Nash was contributing to it: I’d got in, my feet had found the pedals while my fingers flicked on the ignition and pressed the starter, the Nash burst into life as I lifted the clutch and the C-type next to me appeared to go backwards. Then there was Maserati on the grass and, in the middle somewhere, was me.
Bizarrely, having done a full-blooded Le Mans start with all the dangers it involved, some rule said we then had to do a lap and a conventional start to begin the race. But that time the Nash wouldn’t fire up so I had to wait for a push from the marshals. It took a couple of laps before I caught the back of the field and a couple more of joyously making my way through the pack before the Nash’s head gasket failed and it was all over.
As a memory it doesn’t feel like last week, last month or even last year. But it certainly doesn’t feel like 20 years ago at all. Five or six at most. As a memory it remains crystal clear in my mind and I guess always will do now. My first race at Goodwood, in the very first Revival. What a lucky boy I was to be there and how lucky I have been to have raced there so many times since. Thank you Goodwood, and thank you Frank…