The heart of the action
In an exclusive photo story, Tempus heads to the 2021 Goodwood Members Meeting to look beneath the hood of this historic automotive event
Back in 1948 the 9th Duke of Richmond had the brilliant idea to transform the perimeter road of the airfield on his Goodwood Estate into a racetrack. 73 years later, this playful notion has led to some of the most iconic automotive events this country has ever seen. I doubt the Duke could ever have envisaged what the estate would become or how well his grandson would drive this legacy into the 21st century.
While photographer Michael Shelford and I are more used to putting a car through its paces on a road trip, we could not resist the allure of the wonderful world of Goodwood as its annual Members’ Meeting returned this year, hosting one of the most concentrated collections of priceless museum pieces of any event – anywhere. The best thing about this gathering is that, despite the cars’ prestige, their owners don’t tip toe around them with kid gloves; instead, they thrash them around the Duke’s back garden in a weekend of epic motor racing and high speed demonstrations.
Alongside the behemoth Festival of Speed and the costumed Revival, the Members’ Meeting is the third leg in Goodwood’s trilogy of annual events. With access reserved only for Goodwood Road Racing Club members, the meeting harks back to the 1950s and ‘60s when members would race around in their BRMs and Vanwalls – bygone British brands of yesteryear – as well as the odd Ferrari. After the track closed in 1966 it wasn’t until 2014 that this event was resurrected – and it’s gone from strength to strength ever since.
As with any classic car event, one must arrive in something suitably special. An understated British brand would probably be best suited to an event like this but, ever the performer, I decided that standing out from the crowd was more important. So, I opted for a bright orange Lamborghini Urus. I could sense my father rolling his eyes and calling me a showoff. It is a ridiculous car, I’ll admit – you can hear it from space and probably see it from there too. I’m a big fan.
In a shouty rumble of biturbo V8 we arrived at Goodwood House with all the subtlety of Jim Carrey’s Ace Ventura, and were swiftly transferred into a Goodwood Land Rover Discovery to be shuttled to the event. The whole ethos and energy of Goodwood Members’ Meeting is one of egalitarian, pretention-free access to all classic car lovers.
These cars and the fascinating people that own them are there to share their stories and their wonderful machines. You can walk up to a Lotus from 1958, an Alfa Romeo from 1923 or a Ferrari from 1960 and touch them, look inside them, ask the owner questions and hear its fascinating history from someone that speaks with passion and knowledge. This isn’t a museum. It’s noisy, oil-stained, living history.
In short order, we got ourselves trackside to dive headfirst into the event’s racing schedule. Watching the vintage cars and motorbikes being thrashed around this iconic racetrack with love and abandon in equal measure is quite a potent sight.
Over a soundscape of passionate racing, we chatted and ambled around the event – not as gargantuan a task as the sprawling Festival of Speed, but large enough to need a whole day to feel satiated. The pit lane and final straight of the track sits at the centre of the action, with space for people to watch without grandstand tickets. There are also a reasonable number of large screens to cover what you can’t see, but it’s a well- judged balance of enough tech to be useful but little enough to retain a timeless feel.
The open paddocks are where we spent a lot of time – this is the beating heart of the event, where the thoroughbreds are tucked up in simple garages, being fettled, cleaned and generally
adored by the many passionate petrolheads that converge here each year. It’s a bustling atmosphere but, once again, organisers have perfectly judged it so that you feel part of a crowd but never strain to see the main attractions.
Although a very carefully scheduled day of racing forms the bones of this event, there is a festival atmosphere with plenty to see and do away from the track. So, whether you’ve studied the start times or simply want to bob around soaking it up, you can do that without feeling like you’re missing out. The natural ebb and flow of cars from garage to waiting area to track and back again means the action is all around you – as a collection of 1960s sports cars are coming in, a queue of 1930s open-wheelers are going out. You’re unlikely to ever see a finer traffic jam.
Keen to retrieve our collective jaws from the floor, we head away from the track to sample some of the numerous food and beverage options. In a large agricultural-looking barn you can find a wonderful food and drink area named the ‘Members Market’, which has a level of design and style one would expect at trendy festivals like Wilderness or Secret Garden Party.
After a couple more laps of the grounds we started to wane and felt that it was time to leave and head to the cosy Park House Hotel in nearby Midhurst. To truly enjoy this kind of event, it’s best to make a weekend of it, and sourcing nearby accommodation is an important part of that – not to mention that it allows for a few extra glasses of Veuve Clicquot at one of the event’s many bars. A final deep inhale of Goodwood’s exhilarating atmosphere, a last gasp of awe at a parade of passing E-Types, and we were off.
Whether you can recognise the exhaust note of a Jaguar XK120 from a mile away or think Alfa Romeo was set up by a romantic guy called Alf, Goodwood Members’ Meeting has something for everyone. As with all Goodwood’s events, it’s a day out for families, couples, enthusiasts and novices alike, and should sit alongside Wimbledon and Royal Ascot as one of this country’s great events.
Visit goodwood.com to book your tickets for 2022
With thanks to: DRIVEN (@therealdriven); Lamborghini; Barbour; Belstaff; Park House Hotel & Spa