sixteen questions with the man behind Goodwood: Former Lord March, presently Duke of Richmond

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Source:   —  October 12, 2017, at 12:49 PM

We are, maybe love you, more familiar with his previous title, Lord March. But with the passing of his father Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox latest month, he's presently a duke: His Grace Charles Gordon-Lennox, eleventh Duke of Richmond, eleventh Duke of Lennox, eleventh Duke of Aubigny and sixth Duke of Gordon.

sixteen questions with the man behind Goodwood: Former Lord March, presently Duke of Richmond

We perceive love we've known the Duke of Richmond forever. We are, maybe love you, more familiar with his previous title, Lord March. But with the passing of his father Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox latest month, he's presently a duke: His Grace Charles Gordon-Lennox, eleventh Duke of Richmond, eleventh Duke of Lennox, eleventh Duke of Aubigny and sixth Duke of Gordon. But in a peculiarly car-enthusiast way, we still wish to think of him by his previous title, Lord March, Celebrator of Motorsport For Us All.

We've loved the races he puts on at his estate, Goodwood, since we first heard about them and then saw them over twenty years ago. His family has occupied Goodwood for three hundred years and always seemed to have a excellent 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 discover a way to have fun with them, too.

Well, Saturday night, the duke will be at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA to accept the museum’s Automotive Icon award “in recognition of his many contributions to the international motoring community.” Those contributions include, as you number 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'd a delightful chat, we did.

Why did your grandfather, Freddie March, Duke of Richmond, etc., start the races at Goodwood in one thousand nine hundred forty-eighth?

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 large 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 excellent driver called Tony Gaze (who went on to become a Formula two and Grand Prix driver after the war), went to look (my grandfather) and he said, ‘You should see at that (perimeter road), it’d be a grand racetrack.’ And he went down there with John Cooper of Cooper Cars, and they drove ‘round it and they all agreed, yes it'd create a great racetrack. By Sept that year, they'd it done and had the first proper motor-racing meeting in England after the war.

It wasn't originally a commercial venture, was it?

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

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

Thanks for that.

He sounded love 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.

He did; he was very different love 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 beautiful grim, really. At that time, there was really number money in England and the high-rate tax was ninety-eight percent. They didn’t know if they could create it work or not, and he quickly set about trying to create it a sustainable business. He really set all the foundations. He did a enormous amount. And I’ve been able to construct on that.

He retired in the ‘80s and then you took over and shortly after that, in one thousand nine hundred ninety-third, you founded the Festival of Speed. Could you tell me your thinking behind that?

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

How did that go?

We'd 25.000 people indicate up. We thought we’d obtain 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.

But it worked out OK?

It was an incredible thing, realizing that it still did imply 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've about 210.000 people now. It’s the biggest car culture event in the world, I think.

AW: It's quite something. How were you able to bring back the Revival in one thousand nine hundred ninety-eighth?

HG: We'd carried on negotiation with the local authority. We'd to noiseless down a lot of things we wanted but eventually we managed to obtain 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 obtain 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 keep 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 horrible idea, actually, they thought, ‘No one will come.’ But we did it and they came and the following year more came and the following 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 arrive making some sort of effort (to dress the part) you perceive a tiny bit out of place. The grand thing about it for me is everyone participates in it and that makes it perceive very different.

How do you select the cars? Are they all 1948-1966?

Or similar to cars that raced in those years. They’re not all the real cars, but they’re all cars that'd 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 choose the drivers and the cars that we think are going to create the best and most authentic race. We just necessity to know about them and they necessity to be good drivers.

You've control over things like that.

I think it was a excellent decision to create it with number entry fee (for drivers and cars). You don’t pay to enter. It’s purely by invitation-only. We've a grand weekend, they bring their car and everyone’s happy.

Do you've any advice for other vintage car race organizers?

I guess, ‘Think about the customer.’

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

He loves cars, yes. Completely.

Does he have any favorites?

Well he likes all the P4 Ferraris and like that.

So he's good taste.

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

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

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 finish for you. When latest 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 minimum appreciate 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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