NOV 18th 2015
Doug Nye – When Snappers Stood Firm
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.
Any motor sport meeting, from the late, lamented ‘proper’ nationwide RAC Rally, to the British Grand Prix, the Goodwood Festival of Speed and our Revival Meeting, would hardly be the same without its attendant troupe of racing photographers. In pre-digital photography days the profession was highly specialised, and its top practitioners were really very few and far between. Several of them had spent many years learning what was then an almost mystical craft, seeking to capture a range of images recording the news or in a very few cases manifesting such photography as a genuine art form.
When we first came to restore the circuit and Lord March and his full-time staff worked their hearts out to create the first Revival Meeting, the question of press requirements, track passes and photographers’ aspirations was raised. We were seeking to recreate a bygone age of racing, but there were some areas in which modern safety standards – and indeed the simple advance of civilised behaviour – meant that we could no longer accommodate track-pass photographers in the manner some of the old greybeards amongst them would remember.
The reason for this is found in their work, as preserved today in the various specialised archives, such as Haymarket Publishing’s LAT collection, the American Revs Digital Archive, and indeed the GPL Collection which I curate with owner – and former Ferrari, Porsche and Jaguar racer – Paul Vestey. Here you will see a couple of period photographs which amply demonstrate the kind of laissez faire freedom that racing photographers could enjoy during the Goodwood Motor Circuit’s 18-year frontline life, 1948-1966.
Just savour our heading photo. It’s from the 1954 Easter Monday Meeting’s Glover Trophy race. The photographer standing there with his toes just inside the Madgwick Corner apex’s white line is the late, great George Phillips of ‘Autosport’ magazine (a former MG driver with Le Mans 24-Hour race experience). The leading car is the works’ 1½-litre two-stage centrifugally-supercharged V16-cylinder BRM Mark I, driven by Ken Wharton. His pursuer is Roy Salvadori, driving Syd Greene’s Gilby Engineering-entered unsupercharged 2½-litre 6-cylinder Maserati 250F. It’s fair to say that these two great Goodwood competitors were not exactly bosom buddies…
The race was remarkable in proving that the latest Maserati, with its well-developed drum brakes and – critically – relatively light weight, was more or less the equal of the disc-braked 500-plus horsepower BRM when it came to lap times around the Motor Circuit. By lap 19 of this 21-lap Glover Trophy Salvadori was frustrated and angry at what he regarded as Wharton’s constant baulking into and through the corners – followed by artillery-shell V16 acceleration along the straights.
The Maserati’s nose had been snuffling at the BRM’s tail for lap after lap, until Roy thought he saw an opening on the entry to Lavant Corner. Wharton was monitoring his mirrors, nervous as a hare under hawk attack. He spotted Roy’s lunge, and sidestepped to cover it – but just fractionally too late. The cars touched, the BRM half-spun and was immediately rammed violently amidships. The impact knocked the V16 back straight, and while Salvadori retired on the verge with the new Maserati’s nose crushed, Ken drove on to complete the final lap with the BRM’s right-side smashed in and its chassis bent. He took the chequered flag to win by a clear 40 seconds from Ken McAlpine’s Connaught, but his BRM had actually become that rarest of rare beasts in worldwide motor racing – a write-off that had won regardless… It would be dismantled and cannibalized by the team (but not before its engine – serial ‘20/5’ if anyone’s interested – had actually snapped a con-rod due to hydraulic lock after the race had ended).
‘Who needed a long telephoto anyway? To fill the viewfinder frame just shuffle closer. You’d soon sense how close was becoming too close.’
Meanwhile, when Salvadori got back to the paddock he and his aggrieved entrant, Syd Greene, played merry hell with Wharton and the BRM brigade. They stomped into the Clerk of the Course’s office where one-armed Greene (ex-RAF) slapped his money on the desk and registered an official protest – almost unheard-of behaviour at this level in a British race meeting.
Against the BRM establishment – Raymond Mays and the religiously devout industrialist team owner, Alfred Owen – backed by the embarrassed BARC and the RAC Stewards, the south London motor trade faction of Salvadori and Greene stood no chance. Their protest was rejected, the fee was lost, the heat of the matter toned-down by the specialist sporting press, and there was still an expensive new Maserati to repair…
Roy told me once that his view of such matters was that ‘…there would always be another chance along in a minute’. The following May at Silverstone, Ken Wharton ended-up with painful burns after his Vanwall had come off second best while being passed by guess who in the Greene Maserati. Never think for one moment that old-time racing was all a matter of ‘after you Alphonse…’. The more aggressive front runners all learned early on who could be leaned upon, and who, with equal intent, would return the insult. And in those days real contact could really hurt…
Meanwhile, do think yourself into the Goodwood-era racing photographers’ mindset. There was keen rivalry between them all to secure the best, the most spectacular action photography. Long-focus telephoto lenses were quite rare and expensive then, and hefty to lug about. But since with a coveted track pass one could stand almost wherever one felt brave enough – who needed a long telephoto anyway? To fill the viewfinder frame just shuffle closer. You’d soon sense how close was becoming too close. And the best guys would know exactly how far beyond an apex could be lethal, because that’s where one could easily be collected by a spinner rotating into the infield crop.
So look at some of these images now and imagine how the likes of George Phillips and Geoff Goddard and Maurice Rowe and Louis Klemantaski and Fred Taylor would have weighed-up danger to life and limb versus ever better pictures, and how each snapper would have shuffled and craned, and sized-up and side-stepped – trouser legs flapping violently from slipstream and exhaust blast as the racers ripped by…
When we were restoring the circuit, we reproduced the old corner-apex marker signs, and of course – as already described here – rebuilt the chicane ‘brickwork’ in twit-friendly styrofoam. While discussing all this I suggested brightly that we should also make some polystyrene ‘phake photographers’ to populate the infield verges, especially at Madgwick, just beyond the apex at Fordwater, and down at Woodcote too. I thought it was a darned good idea.
But race officials and the sanctioning body disagreed. After all, they would have been responsible for justifying such fakery, should anyone be hurt by hitting one of Doug’s dummies.
In retrospect – I guess they were right. But what an evocative image it would have been.
Photography courtesy of The GP Library