Goodwood, West Sussex, Sept 7-9th , Words & Photography: Steve Havelock
Back in the Sixties and early Seventies, American cars were considered a bit of an oddity and sneered at by the British flat cap, tweed jacket and brogue brigade. “They don’t handle, they are cheap, brash and not very tastelful. Not like a Jag old boy!” That is until the likes of Jack Sears, Frank Gardner, Brian Muir, Roy Pierpoint and Stuart Graham started dominating saloon car motor races and winning Championships. Then the motor racing’s establishment’s answer was to ban them.
However, the massive popularity of historic motor racing has meant that there are probably more American cars out there racing now than there were in period. They are large, loud and lairy and are big bangs for the buck. Goodwood, regarded as somewhat elitist by some, has actually embraced American cars. The Duke of Richmond (previously Lord March) loves them and the Revival Meeting is generally awash with them, not only on the race track, but also as theatrical props in Gasoline Alley, at the Saturday night ball and at the open air cinema. World War Two Jeeps are used to ferry drivers and guests around the place and there are Army trucks and even the odd gun defending the airfield from Jerry.
There were plenty of American racers in the thick of the action at this year’s 20th Anniversary meeting, pedalled by more champions than you could shake a stick at. The St. Mary’s Trophy for pre-’66 saloons is a crowd favourite and is run in two parts. The first race is for the star drivers, and the second for the cars’ owners. Triple British Touring Car Champion Matt Neal was out to play in Nick Whale’s 1963 Studebaker Lark Daytona 500 and he stuck it on the front row of the grid in second position having recorded 141.5 mph through the speed trap, which was faster than anyone else.
Another triple BTCC Champ, Gordon Shedden was the next best American car setting sixth fastest time before his Mercury Comet Cyclone, owned by Roger Wills, demolished the Duke’s flower beds on the exit to the chicane. Still, a couple of belts with a big hammer and some sticky tape soon sorted the car out. Lining up in seventh was Frenchman Romain Dumas in Bill Shepherd’s Ford Galaxie. He’s no slouch having won the 2016 World Endurance Championship, Le Mans twice and the Pikes Peak Hillclimb four times.
BTCC ace Mat Jackson was 9th in Duncan Pittaway’s Plymouth Barracuda, double BTCC Champ Jason Plato was 10th in Michael Steele’s Galaxie and yet another BTCC star, Sam Tordoff was thirteenth in Ian Dalglish’s Galaxie. They were mixing it with pole sitter, 2017 BTCC Champ Ashley Sutton in a hot Lotus Cortina and a host of Le Mans, F1 and Touring car aces including Andrew Jordan, Mark Blundell, Rob Huff, Andy Priaulx, Emanuele Pirro, Gabriele Tarquini, Andre Lotterer, Darren Turner, Tiff Needell, Stuart Graham, Jochen Mass and Nicolas Minassian. This was brewing up to be fun, and so it was.
The Lotus Cortina of 2012 World Touring Car Champion Rob Huff rocketed off the line, maybe a bit too fast, from third place to take the lead. Neal took the lead in his Studebaker and a great dice developed between him, Huff and the Lotus Cortinas of three time World Touring Car Champion, Andy Priaulx and 2013 BTCC Champ, Andrew Jordan. After plenty of sliding and slithering, side by side action, late braking manoeuvres and brave outside passes, Huff took the chequered flag first with Priaulx second, Neal third and Jordan, who had worked his way through the field from the back of the grid, in fourth.
However, Huff was given a ten second penalty for a jump start which shoved him down the order and promoted the others up a notch. Neal was delighted with second and said “We do it for the fun and we do it for the hard racing. It was good to get some heavy metal up there. It was lovely. I was enjoying every minute of it and I tried my hardest. The Studebaker is lairy. It’s got the straight line speed but the Cortinas are so nimble. They are like bees and I was trying to swat them away.” Mat Jackson was 5th in the Barracuda with Shedden’s Mercury 6th and Plato’s Galaxie 7th. Now that’s what I call entertainment.
As the cars came out for part two, unfortunately there was no Studebaker. Matt Neal explained “There was a discrepancy over the paperwork which has come to light with us finishing on the podium. It’s an embarrassing situation for everybody all round. So poor old Nick (Whale) is not going to get a run today.” As race two got underway, Roger Wills used the sheer power of his Mercury to challenge for the lead but ran wide onto the slippery grass and had quite a wild ride before rejoining.
The race was then red flagged when Duncan Pittaway’s Barracuda demolished the polystyrene chicane. Lucky it wasn’t brick like it was in Goodwood’s early days. Soon after the re-start, a Lotus Cortina spectacularly barrel rolled bringing out the safety car. In the short dash to the flag, Olivier Hart’s tiny 1600cc Alfa came out best with Wills second and Steve Soper, partner to Andy Priaulx third, which was enough to give that pair the overall victory on aggregate. Wills and Shedden were best of the American cars in fourth.
The two driver RAC TT for mega-fast pre-’64 closed cockpit GTs is always exciting. This year the thirty strong field included eleven AC Cobras, four Corvettes, seven E Type Jags, three Porsche 904 Carrera GTs, a couple of Tigers, a TVR, an Aston, and an Iso Grifo driven by some PDQ drivers. The star of the show was undoubtedly 19-year-old Dutch lad Olivier Hart who had already beaten the big boys to win his St. Mary’s Trophy race. His dad David started the race from pole position in their Cobra and took an early narrow lead but was given a five second penalty for clipping the chicane. Olivier took over and in a display of superb car control, stormed off to win convincingly from an E Type and a TVR. Craig Davies and Jason Plato were the best of the Vettes in sixth.
The Whitsun Trophy for largely American V8 powered sportscars included the unique 1961 Fred Davies Special. Fred was an English engineer who worked for race car manufacturer, Bill Sadler in Canada before setting up on his own in California where he built this tubular spaceframed, aluminium bodied Chevy V8 powered sportscar. He never got around to racing it but did use it on the road before selling it in 1975. It was hoofed around Goodwood by Matt Manderson but alas retired. The “not without incident” race was won by Mike Whitaker’s Lola-Chevy T70 from Darren Turner’s Hamill-Chevrolet SR3 and Rob Huff’s Lotus-Oldsmobile 19.
Sky Cinema were one of the major sponsors and they staged an evocative display of Steve McQueen film cars including the Mustang and Charger from “Bullitt”, the Porsche and Ferrari sports racers from “Le Mans” and his “Great Escape” Triumph Trophy. Also his own personal 1936 Indian Chief, his 1964 International Six Days Trial Triumph 650 and his 1967 George Barris modified Mini Cooper S. Throw into the mix a couple of fantastic motorbike races, demos of Dan Gurney’s Eagle Grand Prix car and his newly restored Chevy Impala race car, parades of Goodwood past winners, which included a few American cars, aircraft displays, an auction, fun fair, live music, dancing, a huge retail area, fashion shows and cameos. Is this the greatest show on earth? Quite possibly.