It’s 28 years ago but the weekend of 19th and 20th June 1993 is still vividly ingrained in my memory. And I am sure this remains true for the whole team that worked so hard to create the first Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard.
The story of the first Festival of Speed
It was such a special weekend, the dream of bringing motorsport back to Goodwood now a reality, and the first step on a journey that would take us to the revival of the circuit and a Festival that would later become the biggest gathering of historic cars and bikes on earth.
Preparing the park for that first Festival was not the huge task that we see today. Once Nick the shepherd had rounded up his sheep, and taken them to a quieter place, we set about making the park ready for Goodwood’s first motorsport event since 1966.
Using our own people from the racecourse, farm, forestry and our ‘repairs & maintenance’ crew, we built a rudimentary startline gantry, lined the track with rope and straw bales, and brought in some marquees in case of bad weather. I’d been to the Indy 500 in May, seen how black, white and silver was used to express the heritage of the Speedway, and returned with a mission to design a similar theme for the graphics and overall ‘look and feel’ of the Festival. So, all our tents were white, all the signage black and white, and swing badges black, white and silver. As far as possible, the branding remains the same today.
Local contractors built a bridge over the track by the paddock (the staff car park) which I was still painting – in the rain – on the Friday night. There were loos and catering, of course, but not enough of either as it turned out. A little wooden pavilion, with a garden bordered by white picket fencing, served as the Press Office with a commentary tower alongside. Our first ‘central display’ outside the front of the House was simply an Aston Martin DB7 mounted on a plinth, in deference to Aston, one of our original sponsors. Local production company Sonoptics provided trackside camera crews, the ‘live’ footage going to a ‘giant’ screen provided by Citroën, enabling the crowd to see the cars on most of the Hill. Highlights would be broadcast locally on ITV.
Saturday morning. 19th June. Still so much to do, but we had a paddock full of stunning cars and, when I looked out of my bedroom window first thing that morning, I saw people literally pouring in. This was really happening, the fans had responded. And it was only practice day…
While Dennis Carter and his BARC marshals readied the track for the practice runs I ran through a huge check list from the night before, all the little details that needed to be in place for this, our first day in the spotlight.
We had always wanted the fans to have as much access to the cars, drivers, bikes and riders as possible and the paddock began to come alive with cameras, autograph books and excited chatter. There was plenty to be excited about. A pair of V16 BRMs, an exquisite Alfa Romeo Alfetta, Maseratis, Ferraris, six D-Type Jaguars, Aston Martins and Formula 1 McLaren and Surtees, and ‘Big John’ himself with his 1952 Vincent (pictured top). It wasn’t just the machinery, it was also the people, like Ron Dennis, Damon Hill, Gordon Murray, Roy Salvadori, Tony Brooks, John Cooper, Mike Salmon, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, and serial hitmaker Matt Aitken with his ex-Johansson F1 Ferrari to name just a few. It was thrilling.
That opening day passed in a blur, marred only by a tragic accident when Chas Guy was fatally injured falling from his 1948 Vincent motorcycle after the finishing line. A chilling reminder of the other side of motorsport.
Sunday 20th June dawned dry and bright. The one thing we didn’t want was rain. What I saw from my bedroom window was a great start to the day. There were queues of people coming in through the gates, more than I could ever have imagined, and soon I was hearing of traffic backing up as far as Midhurst – just like the old days at the circuit on Easter Monday. Later that day we would run out of tickets, handing out cloakroom tickets instead by mid-morning. Advance booking had not been part of our plans. Staff and volunteers were collecting cash in carrier bags and handbags hastily borrowed from wives and girlfriends. The BARC had told me to expect around 2,000 people but by the end of the weekend we’d welcomed nearer 25,000 to our first event.
There was another surprise in store. We did not allow modern road cars into the park, to preserve the historic feel of the event. Walking past the Stables I came across a Rocket, the Light Car Company’s new car designed by Gordon Murray and Chris Craft. It was parked randomly without its owner. I was about to have it moved when… along comes George Harrison. He later drove it up the Hill and became a regular visitor over the years.
There is not enough space here to tell the full story of the day that started the phenomenon that is now the Festival of Speed. Suffice to say, it was beyond my wildest dreams. At the prizegiving in the House that evening the fastest time of the day, at 56.34 seconds, went to Willie Green in a Surtees TS20. In a portent of things to come Jonathan Palmer, in the new McLaren F1 supercar, was just 0.001 of a second slower and, I am delighted to say, it’s just as competitive 28 years later.
I look forward to seeing you all back at the Festival next summer.
Read part two: Creating the very first Festival of Speed
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