ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 13 Email to Friend   Printable Version


The Bookworm Critique
The Spiritual Home of British Motor Racing
By Mike Lawrence, Simon Taylor and Doug Nye.
Published by Virgin.
by Mark Glendenning,

Click here to buy this bookLast time I visited England it was the middle of winter. Not great timing in motorsport terms, but at least I had an excuse to become acquainted with the warm interior of a lot of pubs. Next time I go there I'm going to do something other than look through the bottom of a beer glass though, and one of the things on the list will be a pilgrimage to Goodwood. Located in southern England, the circuit is a British racing institution that played a huge part in kick-starting motorsport in that country after the Second World War. Some amazing history was made during the track's formative years - Jackie Stewart, for example, went for his first run in an open-wheeler there. It also saw some of the sport's sadder moments - Bruce McLaren was killed in a testing accident at the track, and Stirling Moss suffered a crash that ended his competitive career.

Nowadays the circuit is mainly associated with events that are less about competition and more about celebrating the spirit of motorsport; namely, the Festival of Speed and the Revival meetings. 'The Glory of Goodwood' pays similar tribute to the circuit itself, and it does it in such a way that even the most hardened racing fan will have a warm fuzzy glow inside them when they turn the final page.

'The Glory of Goodwood' traces the history of the circuit right from the moment when a draftsman pencilled a perimeter road around an airfield, unwittingly creating a sensational racetrack in the process. The scope of the book is fairly broad - not only are all the major races and other significant events covered in detail, but there is also a lot of information about the broader context - social or economic, for example - in which some of these happenings took place. It's the kind of stuff that I get all excited about, yet often gets either glossed over or omitted altogether in books such as this.

Books that are created as a labour of love tend to rate highly in the enthusiasm stakes, but often fall short in terms of the quality of the actual content. With Lawrence, Taylor and Nye at the helm though, this was never going to be a problem. The authors passion for their subject is more than evident throughout the book, but it is solidly supported with good quality research that is presented to the reader in an appealing and engaging form.

Among the highlights of the book are the interview excerpts that are scattered throughout. It's always more interesting to hear a story told first-hand, and the list of those whose memory is called upon reads virtually as a Goodwood honour-roll. Significantly, it is also through these reminiscences that an outsider such as myself can get a true feel for what Goodwood means to British racing. This is more important than it may seem, because the role of Goodwood in the rebuilding of British motorsport after WW2 is one of the book's major themes, yet for someone in, say, Australia (just to pick a place completely at random), it can be difficult to fully appreciate.

A favourite quote came from 1959 when John Surtees, who was considering a move to car racing, tested a Vanwall. His recollection:

"The test was going well, when I phoned Stirling (Moss) one night to ask him how he took Fordwater. 'Flat out, boy', Stirling said. I tried it the next day and ended up spinning 500 yards down the road, the longest spin in the history of Goodwood. That night I phoned him again. 'I thought you said Fordwater was flat', I said. His response was, 'Good grief, you didn't, did you?'..." (p. 220).

Best of all, though, goes to John Cooper:

"...I was going through a corner in my Cooper-Bristol on the limit, as fast as I reckoned I could possibly go. Suddenly Mike (Hawthorn) in his Cooper-Bristol came around the outside of me, steering with one hand and giving me two fingers with the other. That's when I decided to give up racing cars and stick to building them." (p. 120).

The photos in 'The Glory of Goodwood' also give racing enthusiasts something to get excited about. Not all of them were new - even I, despite not being an expert on all things historic, had seen quite a few of them before - but they are well chosen and superbly presented. There are some brilliant full-page portraits - Moss, Stewart, Hawthorn, Graham Hill - as well as some other great photos that are not given the full-page treatment but deserved to be (the Innes Ireland shot on page 190 springs immediately to mind.)

Most of the action shots are equally worthy. One thing that struck me as particularly interesting was that, as far as I can remember, this is the only book I have seen that allows the reader to see pictures of the same drivers in the same cars a few decades apart! The whole package is completed with the inclusion of some good candid photos of both the crowd and the drivers during their more relaxes moments in the pits. As well as being appealing form a purely 'human interest' perspective, these more informal shots contribute a lot to the overall atmosphere of the book.

Final points - a big thumbs-up for the appendix, which includes the results of every race ever run at Goodwood, from the opening meeting in 1948 to the revival meeting in 1998. And thumbs-down for the lack of an index. God I hate that.

Seriously though, the only thing going against 'The Glory of Goodwood' could be that the subject matter is of relatively narrow appeal. If your interest in motorsport begins and ends with, say, Michael Schumacher, then this book will put you to sleep in about 10 seconds flat. As someone with a fairly general interest in racing history though, I found this book to be a real pleasure. I'm not sure that I'd rush back to read it again, (and that might be something you may want to consider when decided whether to buy it because it's not particularly cheap), but it was nevertheless a very pleasant way to spend a few hours.

Mark Glendenning© 2007
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