FEB 10th 2016

Doug Nye – Fabulous Racing Into The Night

Moss Jaguar C-Type dusk at St Mary's...1953 Goodwood 9-Hours

Doug Nye

Doug Nye began writing about racing cars at ‘Motor Racing’ magazine in 1963-64. Today he is a multiple award-winning motor sports journalist and author of over 50 years’ experience, with some 70 books to his name. He is Goodwood Motorsport’s founding Historian and consultant and fulfils similar roles for Bonhams Auctioneers and the Collier Collection/Revs Institute in Naples, FL, USA. He is a member of the National Motor Museum Advisory Council at Beaulieu, Hants, and is a regular columnist for ‘Motor Sport’ magazine, while contributing to many other specialist periodicals worldwide.

With the March club meeting fast approaching I have just unearthed some photographs from last year’s event. All who attended will recall its brilliant sunshine, and its bitter, razor-edged cold. Goodness me, that slicing wind made my eyes water but the racing was so good it certainly served to warm the cockles… and various less vital parts too.

Group C Brands Hatch promo

As ever the most evocative photography came from the evening, the daylight into dusk sports car race, and the paddock scenes that night, running on into The Party.

I must confess that when the notion of running a second race meeting during the year was first raised I was pretty much alone on the creative committee in opposing the very idea. I did so because I didn’t like the notion of diminishing the sense of occasion which anticipates every single annual meeting if it stands alone. But even stronger opposition within my own mind comes from my inbuilt received memory of early-season Goodwood meetings during the early 1960s, when we used to stand and freeze, or dissolve, or shiver, in the lousy weather of an English late-winter/early-spring. ‘There won’t be any leaves on the trees’ I bleated. ‘There won’t be any blooms in the flower beds’ – ‘The seagulls will probably be coughing into the fog’ – ‘There’ll be no yellow-against-green harvest stooks lined-up in their rows on the infield’ – and then my killer memory: ‘I’ve been frozen with the best down there by the chicane, with the snow blowing straight across from Lavant! That’s not glorious Goodwood – it’s an empty aerodrome offering less shelter than the Retreat from Moscow!’

The '73' paddock at dusk

The ’73’ paddock at dusk

Yes indeed – you might detect that I was not a supporter.

I made my point, yet when it came to our first revived Club meeting I will cheerfully confess that I had plainly got it… completely wrong.

The lack of summer flowers was more than corrected by the planting of ten thousand or more Spring daffodils. The sun shone, it barely rained, it certainly didn’t snow and – although it was most definitely b—– cold – our competitors’ racing tyres did actually find sufficient grip to provide some breath-taking racing… which after all is (most of) the name of the game.

Group C display

Group C display at the 73rd Members’ Meeting

The event which most sticks in my mind is of course the Saturday dusk race because when I was a kid that was something we very seldom saw here in the UK. The annual Snetterton 3-Hours running into the dusk come September was the closest we came, and then I learned that there had been a Goodwood 9-Hour race run during the 1950s which actually ran far into the night, starting at 3pm and finishing at midnight, I was fascinated.

Most of us who were keen young enthusiasts through the late 1950s/early-’60s all shared experience of listening a) to Radio Luxembourg music on the transistor radio smuggled beneath the bedsheets and b) to Raymond Baxter, Robin Richards, Eric Tobitt etc commentating on progress of the annual Le Mans 24-Hour race through the long night. That was how I’d heard of the Mercedes-Benz withdrawal leaving the race to Jaguar after the catastrophe of 1955 – and of the Ecurie Ecosse charges there to win for Jaguar in 1956 and ’57. Those live reports from the front were fantastically evocative, and – so far as I am concerned – intensely formative experiences.

Pit lane illumination does the job for the Jock Lawrence/Frank Curtis Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar C-Type, 1953 Goodwood 9-Hour race.

Pit lane illumination does the job for the Jock Lawrence/Frank Curtis Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar C-Type, 1953 Goodwood 9-Hour race.

And now I was learning about the Goodwood 9-Hour race. Of how it had been run at the Motor Circuit in 1952-53, and for a third and final time in 1955, but the format simply did not find ready support from the paying spectator, and so British motor sport’s flirtation with night-time racing then spluttered to a halt.

In those days it must have taken quite an investment by the incredibly strapped standards of the time just to light the pits and paddock adequately. Providing decent lighting to achieve reasonably safe access to the grandstands and vending areas around the course would also have been a challenge and I guess that each marshals’ point would have been illuminated boy-scout style by hurricane lamps if an electric power source wasn’t properly on tap for Madgwick, Fordwater, St Mary’s, Lavant, Woodcote etc. The circuit edge was marked by temporary reflective posts, and of course the August dates of those 9-Hour races provided nice and comfy summer temperatures and quite late lighting-up times…

73' party fireworks

73rd Members’ Meeting party fireworks

A more full story of the Goodwood 9-Hour races is to be told another time, but suffice to recall here how Jaguar shone and led and dominated through most of the three editions run, only to falter, fail and flop at the last, whereupon Aston Martin flew reliably by and won for the gentry against the artisan outfit from Coventry…

In those days they had no in-car TV to bring us those fabulous live images of headlamp beam and flaring brake-lights ahead – nor jam-packed dining within the vast circuit refectory, much less the ear-splitting party and fireworks celebration to follow. But times change – as does Goodwood Motor sport – and different strokes fit different folks. I’m quite happy to confess I got it wrong – though that’s something (I claim) that doesn’t happen often. Tee-hee. See you at ‘74’.

Photography courtesy of The GP Library

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