I recently attended the most exciting racing I’ve ever witnessed. It wasn’t Formula 1, or NASCAR, or IndyCar. It was an event strictly limited to cars built before 1967. And if you love motorsport, you need to get there. The Goodwood Revival, which ran this year from September 8 through 10, isn’t just a series of classic car races—it’s a fully immersive celebration of England in the early postwar era.
What makes the three-day fete so compelling, aside from the racing, of course, is that attendees dress in strenuously accurate period clothing, and every last detail is exactly as it would appear in a newsreel from when the Beatles were still playing basements. It all unfolds on the grounds of the 12,000-acre Goodwood Estate, the country seat of the Duke of Richmond, a title that’s been part of the British monarchy since the late 1600s.
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During World War II, the Royal Air Force operated a grass landing strip at Goodwood, which sits in West Sussex near England’s south coast. When the global conflict ended, the reigning Duke built a fast, flowing 2.4-mile racecourse around the airfield. Goodwood Circuit held its first competition in 1948, and hosted sports cars, motorcycles, and even a few non-championship Formula 1 races. This was an era of unbridled innovation in motorsport, and by the mid-1960s, top-tier race cars had simply gotten too fast for the track. Goodwood’s last official race was held in 1966.
When the 11th Duke of Richmond, Charles Gordon-Lennox, took charge of Goodwood Estate in the early 1990s, he restored the track and paddock without disturbing its set-in-amber appearance. The first Goodwood Revival was held in 1998, and it’s been an annual epicenter for classic-car enthusiasts ever since.
In creating the Revival, the Duke sought to celebrate the sort of sports-car racing that made Goodwood legendary, doing so by replicating it to the last fastidious detail. You can’t just pay a fee to bring your old-school car or motorcycle to race: Every machine and driver who competes is personally invited by the Duke in order to ensure top-notch competition and a period-correct field of entries.
This judicious approach extends well beyond the track itself. Cars built after 1966 are forbidden from even entering the paddock area, in order to preserve the vibe. If a race car conks out on the course, it’s retrieved by sturdy Land Rover tow trucks of the era. Goodwood’s airfield is still operational, and the infield boasts an astounding collection of military and civilian aircraft, including an impressive number of Supermarine Spitfires.
Goodwood Revival has a genteel dress code: A necktie and jacket, a suit, or a dress is required to enter the paddock. Attendees take that nudge and turn it into an all-out vintage party, showing up in entirely period-correct attire. Tweed waistcoats, felt hats, and silk stockings abound. A large number of attendees opt for British military dress uniforms, and the occasional leather-jacketed cafe racer adds the right touch of menace to the crowd. Another favorite look includes plain mechanic’s coveralls, easy to personalize with embroidery or patches from a favorite bygone team. If you show up completely unequipped, the fairgrounds include numerous vintage-clothing purveyors and even on-site barbers and beauticians to fix you up with that perfect beehive or pompadour.
Obviously, the fashion and set dressing are all peripheral. The racing is what makes the Revival. Compared to modern tracks, Goodwood Circuit feels almost cozy. Untouched by modernization, the grandstands and the pavement sit close as lovers, no chaste safety fencing between them. But make no mistake, this is a serious track. When Sir Stirling Moss crashed here in 1962, he never raced again. And Bruce McLaren, founder of his eponymous Formula 1 team, was killed here at 32 years of age.
If your car is invited to the grid, you bring it on the understanding that it might come back crumpled. That’s a big reason why the drivers are hand-selected by the Duke—a bad incident could mean the end of Revival. More importantly, the Duke knows that when you invite the world’s best living drivers to hop into old cars on slip-slidey tires, you’re going to see some phenomenal racing. This year’s entry list included Formula 1 champions Jensen Button, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Jackie Stewart; Le Mans legends Jacky Ickx, Jochen Mass, and Tom Kristensen; and NASCAR and IndyCar superstar Jimmie Johnson.
This year’s edition also featured a tribute to Carroll Shelby’s centenary, the largest motorcycle parade in the event’s history, a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Lotus, and even a vintage race solely reliant on sustainable fuels.
Then there was the St. Mary’s Trophy race, a 25-minute competition limited to sedans built between 1950 and 1959, which, on paper, seemed stodgy at best. Standing by the last corner, close enough to smell the dirt as drivers elbowed onto the grass beyond the exit curbing, it was the most thrilling race action I’ve ever witnessed. So forget everything you know about vintage racing. Next September, get yourself to the south coast of England. And make sure to pack some tweed.
Click here for more photos of the 2023 Goodwood Revival.
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