Happy retirement, Barrie "Whizzo" Williams

09th February 2018
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

So Barrie ‘Whizzo’ Williams has announced his retirement from motor-racing in his 80th year. There will be plenty written about one of the few drivers remaining who succeeded at Goodwood in both its eras.


I’ve known Whizzo for over 20 years, ever since I started editing MotorSport back in 1996 in fact, and if you know only of the perpetually cheerful, grinning visage who was never, ever without a joke up his sleeve, then you know him as well as I. Or almost.

But today I’d like to commemorate Whizzo’s retirement not by listing his multiple championships and innumerable victories in cars both old and new, but to recall just one event of which, if you weren’t reading the Sunday Times in around 2009, you’ll know nothing. It was a silly stunt staged by me at Goodwood, nothing went wrong and I’d not be surprised if Barrie barely remembers it now. I, on the other hand, will never forget; and not so much for what he did, as the way he did it. 

The idea was actually quite interesting for one of mine: which counts for more, age or experience? To that end, I arrived at Goodwood to find not just Barrie with the experience, but a multiple carting champion who, at the age of 17 but already racing single-seaters, had age very much on his side. To even things up we had not just an old racing Mini Cooper S but a brand new Cooper S too. Both drivers would drive both cars and the stopwatch would do the rest.

Even so, we had a problem. The 17-year-old lad had never been to Goodwood before while the 70-year-old Whizzo knew it as well as his own living room and, judging by how much time he spent here, possibly better. Whizzo’s solution was not to guard his home ground advantage (which would have been understandable as he was putting his reputation on the line in front of an audience measurable in millions) but to show him round. And he did, lap after lap, starting at 20mph, showing not just every braking, entry, apex and exit point but also every bump, surface and camber change around the track. He then let the lad drive him, coaxing and teaching him to go faster and faster in the modern Mini.


And then the time came to get the stopwatch out and I’m afraid the elder statesman rather wiped the floor with the young gun, circulating fully three seconds faster, a gap I could see only extending with the old Cooper S. Original racing Minis require a certain, very particular style of driving (‘basically, don’t lift’, Barrie told the kid) but to help him on his way, the two headed out again in the old car for some more tuition. And when they returned the look on the ashen face of the multiple karting champion said most of it and his words neatly completed the picture: ‘I hope you’re not expecting me to drive like that…’ he said with lips as dry as his eyes were wide. And he didn’t. The gap went up to five seconds. 

I still think the dice were loaded in Whizzo’s favour that day, certainly, the old car and the track were to his advantage and I’m sure that somewhere else in something else it would have narrowed considerably. But I also think the essential point remained: aged 70 Barrie Williams remained one of our very finest drivers as well as, of course, one of racing’s very best blokes.

So enjoy your retirement Whizzo. It seems entirely redundant to say hope to see you around because I know you will be unable to stay away. And if this turns out to be a Frank Sinatra retirement I, for one, will not be completely surprised. So I shall live in hope that we may yet share track space again together and I can have another one of your car control demonstrations and a good laugh about I afterwards. Because without that, the world of historic motor-racing is going to be just that little bit poorer and a lot less fun from hereon in. And if this really is it, all I can say is thanks for everything, it has been a blast.

Photography courtesy of LAT Images

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