On its face, the Goodwood Revival is a classic auto race meeting with a couple of motorcycle events thrown in. In reality, it's the world's largest fancy dress party.
And what a dress party it is, a vintage fashion event where everyone is encouraged to recreate the golden era of 1948 to 1966, when the Goodwood circuit in southern England, along with Silverstone to the north, was England’s leading racetrack.
Aug. 31-Sept. 2, 2007, witnessed the 10th year of the Revival, and the crowd’s participation has grown with its numbers. The participation is encouraged by the organizers, led by the Earl of March, Goodwood’s owner.
"There isn’t a specific dress code, but dressing appropriately is almost an expected part of the experience, and adds to the sense of occasion. To me, the Revival is pure theater," says his Lordship (as the Earl is referred to), a car and bike fan who also hosts the highly successful Festival of Speed (an annual hill-climb for exotic vehicles of all ages) on the grounds of his nearby mansion.
I’d have to say my choice for motorcycling moment of the day was the comical sight of a group of rockers jumping on their Triumph and Norton twins to chase a bunch of scooter-riding mods in a staged display, followed in vain by a whistle-blowing copper. More than anything, though, the Revival’s thrill is the constant feeling, in which ever direction one looks, of having been magically transported back in time by half a century.
Making history all over again
Lord March and his team certainly make a huge effort to generate the period atmosphere. No modern vehicles are allowed within the circuit perimeter throughout the weekend. Instead, more than 250 old vehicles provided all services. The Revival’s own Transport Corps supplies a taxi service for competitors, and classic tractors tow spectator-carrying trailers around the perimeter road between viewing spots.
Spectators driving pre-1967 vehicles are directed to special parking zones, and the ice-cream vans inside the circuit are pre-1967 originals, too. Other food is equally authentic, from the bangers-and-mash in the catering tent to the fish and chips, which is sold wrapped in reprints of 1950s newspapers, in the traditional style.
Dressing the part
Most of all, it is the tens of thousands of spectators who make the Revival show special. Then again, if you want to enter the paddock there’s no choice but to enter into the spirit of the occasion, as modern T-shirts and jeans are not allowed. "For gentlemen a jacket and tie is a requirement and for ladies a smart suit, floral dress, twinset and pearls or skirt and blouse would be appropriate," read the instruction to anyone applying for a paddock pass. Spectators are steered in the right direction by a useful section on the Goodwood web site devoted to the subject (www.goodwood.co.uk/revival/gettingthelook).
The clothing theme extends to the entire Goodwood staff, who, from circuit marshals to program sellers, all wear appropriate attire. Dozens of actors from the specially commissioned Goodwood Actors Guild mingle with the crowd, playing roles from period policemen to "spivs" selling stolen wrist-watches from under their coats. George Formby was there with the Shuttleworth Snap, a fictional racing motorcycle from the film No Limits, a 1935 movie about the Isle of Man TT, and Laurel and Hardy cruised around in an old jalopy.
Up above, down below
Aircraft are prominent in the Revival, too. Two Spitfires, a Hurricane and a Mustang were among the old planes that performed aerobatic displays during the weekend. The track below saw tire-squealing battles between cars including exotic Ferraris and Aston Martins, AC Cobras and E-Type Jaguars, Ford Mustangs and Mini Coopers.
Motorcycles were not a big part of Goodwood’s history, as the circuit only ever staged one race during its heyday: the Lennox Cup of 1951. But bikes have always been included in the Revival, with races that were initially also called the Lennox Cup and were won on several occasions by Barry Sheene, notably the 2002 event that would prove to be the two-time 500cc world champion’s final race before his death from cancer the following year. The Revival bike race was renamed the Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy, and has since been contested by riders including Niall Mackenzie, Dave Aldana, Gary Nixon, Mick Grant and Jamie Whitham.
Sitting aboard his race-winning bike on the pit straight at Goodwood, a huge cigar in his mouth and the applause of a packed grandstand ringing in his ears, Wayne Gardner looked every bit the hero of the day — especially when a stunningly convincing Marilyn Monroe look-alike, complete with trademark white dress, stepped forward to give him a kiss and plant the victor’s laurels over the Aussie’s shoulders.
Gardner, who was also last year’s Trophy winner, had lined up aboard a Matchless G50 against other well-known names including Jeremy McWilliams and Michael Rutter, both riding Manx Nortons, and Trevor Nation on a Norton Domiracer. Having won Saturday’s race ahead of a hard-fought duel between McWilliams and Rutter, Gardner was the hot favorite for another victory the following day. So it proved, but not before the slow-starting Australian had come through the pack of booming singles, setting the day’s fastest lap at an average of almost 100mph as he carved through the field in forceful style, if not with the ferocity of his 1987 heroics aboard a factory Honda NSR500 V4 two-stroke. Rutter, McWilliams and second place finisher Duncan Fitchett were left in his wake.
The post-race scene was distinctly different to those following Gardner’s steely-eyed, sometimes pain-racked and always deadly serious Eighties confrontations with the likes of Eddie Lawson and Freddie Spencer. "My bad start was probably due to the hangover from last night’s party, but it came right in the end and was a lot of fun," he told the pretty, polka-dot skirted TV interviewer, between drags on that giant cigar, after stopping his G50 on the start line. I’ve a feeling that Gardner, like most of his co-stars in the Goodwood grandstand, will be back at the Revival for its 11th run, Sept. 19-21, 2008.