We might not have the Motor Circuit we have today were it not for Frederick Anthony Owen ‘Tony’ Gaze.
When war broke out in 1939, Tony Gaze, an Australian by birth, had made the journey to Europe and was a student at Queens College, Cambridge. He signed up as a pilot in 1940 and, having completed his training, was posted to RAF Westhampnett in March 1941. The 9th Duke of Richmond had loaned the land to the Ministry of Defence and what we know today as Goodwood aerodrome became part of the nearby Tangmere Wing led by Wing Commander Douglas Bader.
Gaze was straight into action, flying Spitfires with 610 Squadron, and in the summer of 1941, while on a sortie over France, shot down his first enemy aircraft. By the end of the summer, having notched up many more “kills”, he was award the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). Posted to other Spitfire squadrons around the country, he won three gallantry medals and avoided capture after a crash landing near Dieppe with help from the French resistance.
Gaze had never forgotten his time at Westhampnett, and what a fortunate posting that turned out to be. In 1946 he returned to Goodwood and, as a lifelong motor racing fan, he had a plan. Gaze and the 9th Duke, better known in racing circles as Freddie March, were kindred spirits. Both loved flying, both loved speed. The Duke was not so much concerned with airs and graces as with planes and races.
Before the war the aerodrome was farmland but now, beyond the grass runways, there were perimeter roads, a control tower and other useful buildings. Gaze suggested that Freddie could create a racing circuit around the perimeter roads and the Duke, already a Brooklands winner, needed no further persuading. Money was tight so soon after the war but, within two years, 2.4 miles of perimeter road became a fast, sweeping circuit, pits were made using scaffolding and planks, a paddock was laid out.
On September 21st 1948 the cars came out to race (the main image for this story is the start of the very first race at Goodwood), and the fans, starved of racing for years, poured in through the gates. The dream had come spectacularly true.
In 1952, having established a fine reputation as a racer in Australia, New Zealand and Europe, Gaze entered the Belgian Grand Prix, the first Australian to contest a World Championship race. The following year he joined the first Aussie crew to compete in the Monte Carlo Rally and then, in 1956, he set up the first overseas Aussie racing team, the Kangaroo Stable. One of the young drivers to join him was a lad called Jack Brabham…
Not content with flying Spitfires and racing cars, happiest in the air or at speed, or both, he represented Australia in the 1960 World Gliding Championships. No wonder he and Freddie March came together to give us the Goodwood circuit. It was the most timely meeting of minds.
Gaze died in July 2013, having lived an action-packed 93 years at full throttle. Today we celebrate him with the Tony Gaze Trophy at the Members’ Meeting, while some of us work in a building that reminds us of his legacy.
Images courtesy of Dominic James and Motorsport Images.