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23rd of October 2017

Automotive



16 questions with the man behind Goodwood: Former Lord March, now Duke of Richmond

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We feel like we have known the Duke of Richmond forever. We are, perhaps like you, more familiar with his previous title, Lord March. But with the passing of his father Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox last month, he is now a duke: His Grace Charles Gordon-Lennox, 11th Duke of Richmond, 11th Duke of Lennox, 11th Duke of Aubigny and 6th Duke of Gordon. But in a peculiarly car-enthusiast way, we still want to think of him by his previous title, Lord March, Celebrator of Motorsport For Us All.

We have loved the races he puts on at his estate, Goodwood, since we first heard about them and then saw them over 20 years ago. His family has occupied Goodwood for 300 years and always seemed to have a good time doing it. The estate hosted horse racing before there were cars, as well as golf and shooting. So when cars came along, it was only natural that Goodwood would find a way to have fun with them, too.

Well, Saturday night, the duke will be at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles to accept the museum’s Automotive Icon award “in recognition of his many contributions to the international motoring community.” Those contributions include, as you no doubt know, The Goodwood Festival of Speed, the Goodwood Revival and the Goodwood Member’s Meeting, all held at, you guessed it, Goodwood. A few days before coming to LA to accept this latest honor, the duke rang us up and we had a delightful chat, we did.

Ferraris at Goodwood

Ferraris at Goodwood Photo by Michael Shaffer

AW: Why did your grandfather, Freddie March, Duke of Richmond, etc., start the races at Goodwood in 1948?

His Grace: He’d been a very keen driver at Brooklands before the war and also been very successful. He raced MGs. Won the Double Twelve, which was quite a big race at Brooklands in ’31. During the war, they requisitioned the Goodwood Farm, with his blessing, and turned it into a frontline battle aerodrome. And that was called RAF Westhampnett. They built a perimeter track around the airfield. After the war, one of the pilots who flew there, an Australian, he became a good driver called Tony Gaze (who went on to become a Formula 2 and Grand Prix driver after the war), went to see (my grandfather) and he said, ‘You should look at that (perimeter road), it’d be a great racetrack.’ And he went down there with John Cooper of Cooper Cars, and they drove ‘round it and they all agreed, yes it would make a great racetrack. By September that year, they had it done and had the first proper motor-racing meeting in England after the war.

AW: It was not originally a commercial venture, was it?

HG: Well, it was never really that commercial. It was marginally commercial. I think people were charged a shilling to get in. It wasn’t all free. 

Freddie March

Freddie March, 9th Duke of Richmond, who started motor racing at Goodwood in 1948, shown here after a win at Brooklands

AW: Then after that, your father, and condolences on the passing of your father…

HG: Thanks for that.

AW: He sounded like a delightful person. He was very progressive for his day, what some would call enlightened in so many of his views, and yet he balanced that with the business sense that came with his career as a chartered accountant.

HG: He did; he was very unusual like that. He left Oxford trained to be an accountant. That gave him the business grounding. Then he took over Goodwood in ’67 when it was all pretty grim, really. At that time, there was really no money in England and the high-rate tax was 98 percent. They didn’t know if they could make it work or not, and he quickly set about trying to make it a sustainable business. He really set all the foundations. He did a huge amount. And I’ve been able to build on that.

AW: He retired in the ‘80s and then you took over and shortly after that, in 1993, you founded the Festival of Speed. Could you tell me your thinking behind that?  

Goodwood costumes

Everyone dresses up for the Goodwood Revival Photo by Michael Shaffer

HG: Well, I was keen to see if we could get motorsport going again. I missed the racetrack. My grandfather closed it in ’66, much to my horror as a small boy. I felt there was still something going there, some connection, with Goodwood and cars. We tried to get the old racetrack going, but there was a huge amount of opposition from the local authority because of noise, so that wasn’t going to work because they had a noise abatement order. That was in the ‘70s. There used to be a lot of F1 testing there. I had to get that noise abatement order removed, which was extremely, extremely difficult legally. That all looked impossible. So I said, ‘Can we do something else which they can’t really stop me doing?’ So, we had this interesting bit of road runs through the park and to the house… I took the RAC track inspector there to have a look at it, and he thought it might be possible and we worked together on it a bit. That was in October ’92 and then in June ’93, we had our first Festival of Speed.

AW: How did that go?

HG: We had 25,000 people show up. We thought we’d get two and a half thousand, if we were lucky. So we got a hell of a fright with these people that turned up and really struggled to manage with all of the cars and the tickets.

AW: But it worked out OK?

HG: It was an amazing thing, realizing that it still did mean something to people who loved cars. And then the rest was kind of history in a way. We just built on that and then we have about 210,000 people now. It’s the biggest car culture event in the world, I think. 

Goodwood Festival of Speed

Goodwood Festival of Speed

AW: It is quite something. How were you able to bring back the Revival in 1998?

HG: We had carried on negotiation with the local authority. We had to quiet down a lot of things we wanted but eventually we managed to get five days of unrestricted noise, which was the thing we needed. We gave up a lot of other activities down there. And the Revival was born in 1998.

AW: How do you get everybody to participate, to dress up in costume, to do it so period-correct in every detail?

HG: Well we started off thinking, ‘Let’s put the buildings back how they should be.’ And I thought, ‘Why don’t we go dressed appropriately?’ And a lot of people thought it was a very bad idea, actually, they thought, ‘No one will come.’ But we did it and they came and the next year more came and the next year more came and it wasn’t too long before everyone got the hang of it and before you know it if you don’t come making some sort of effort (to dress the part) you feel a little bit out of place. The great thing about it for me is everyone participates in it and that makes it feel very different. 

on track at Goodwood

On track at Goodwood Photo by Michael Shaffer

AW: How do you choose the cars? Are they all 1948-1966?

HG: Or similar to cars that raced in those years. They’re not all the actual cars, but they’re all cars that would have raced at that time. They’re racers, basically. The races, too, are the races that existed in period. And we just re-create those races. And then we pick the drivers and the cars that we think are going to make the best and most authentic race. We just need to know about them and they need to be good drivers.

AW: You have control over things like that.

HG: I think it was a good decision to make it with no entry fee (for drivers and cars). You don’t pay to enter. It’s purely by invitation-only. We have a great weekend, they bring their car and everyone’s happy.

AW: Do you have any advice for other vintage car race organizers?

HG: I guess, ‘Think about the customer.’

AW: Your son, Lord Settrington, the heir apparent, is quite interested in cars, is that so?

HG: He loves cars, yes. Completely.

AW: Does he have any favorites?

HG: Well he likes all the P4 Ferraris and like that.

AW: So he has good taste.

HG: Absolutely. He races a Mk I Jag. He’s driven that car around. He did well in it.

AW: Well thank you for your time and congratulations again on the award from the Petersen.

HG: Indeed, thank you. If you’re coming ‘round do let me know. Thanks so much, been a pleasure. All the best.

And with that, our brush with genuine aristocracy came to an end. But it doesn’t have to end for you. When last we checked on the Petersen Museum’s website, there were still some tickets left for the gala, where you may meet the duke and where you can at the very least enjoy the emcee talents of another British lad, late-night telly chat-show host James Corden. It’s the automotive social event of the year. Not counting those events held at Goodwood, that is.

Cheers!

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