Farnham Remembers Hawthorn

This Sunday, if you have a chance, please head for Farnham for a celebration of the life of Britain’s first Formula 1 world champion, Mike Hawthorn.

A free-to-attend event will be staged when the roads are closed and a vast array of racing machinery will hit the streets of the attractive market town that became home to the Hawthorn family. While the viewing opportunities will be free, please bring plenty of sending money as the event, marking the 60th anniversary of Hawthorn’s title, will be raising funds for local children’s charities via the Hedgehogs charitable organisation.

The S&G cannot attend but will try and post a report with a little help from the organisers. It should be an unmissable event – and you can even follow our guide to find the TT Garage, plus all of Hawthorn’s favoured haunts and hangouts in the town.

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A salute to the King

There is a whisper that Richard Petty has decided to call time on his popular appearances at the Goodwood Festival of Speed after one last triumphant visit this year. At 81 years of age, it’s understandable that the man who has signed more autographs than anyone else in history should decide to throttle back a bit – but by gum he’ll be missed on this side of the Pond.

His rangy figure, diamond white smile and trademark moustache have aged well beneath the ever-present STP-branded sunglasses and Charlie 1 Horse hat. Thoughts of ‘King’ Richard abdicating the throne still seem rather abstract, and in an age when certain US – ahem – dignitaries have done their worst, he is a reminder of the very best that the American Dream has ever had to offer.

“We were living in a three-room house on a dirt road with no electricity, no telephone… you know, no communications,” the King remembered recently of his childhood in New Cross, North Carolina.

“You didn’t know that there was another world out there!  So you lived in your world and you was as happy as a June bug ‘cos you had as much as the guy next door… My mother and daddy, they were very stern, they had certain rules, you knew what the rules were and if you broke ‘em you got whopped!”

That daddy was of course the first real superstar of NASCAR racing: Lee Petty.  The family may not have had much as Richard and his brother Maurice grew up in New Cross, but his father’s gift with internal combustion brought home the bacon.

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During the prohibition era, nothing could help support a living scratched from the Carolina soil quite like running moonshine – at which Lee Petty’s tuning and driving skills put him in the top rank. As a side occupation, the bootleggers would race one another to see who had the fastest car, making serious money from the bets that were placed on these events.

After World War 2 the survivors of that generation of rowdy racers and tuners congregated under the NASCAR banner. They went at it on Daytona beach and other oval tracks across the south-east USA – and Lee Petty was one of the most successful drivers of his era, who backed up raw talent with a willingness to bend the fenders of his rivals in order to get ahead.

The elder Petty was a double champion and the most successful driver of NASCAR’s first decade. Meanwhile in 1956-57, you Richard took his first steps on the circuit… while brother Maurice learnt the dark arts of race tuning.

At the 1961 Daytona 500, the third running of the race on that mighty 2.5-mile banked oval, Richard Petty went over the Turn 1 barrier – fortunately without serious injury. His father, however, was pile-driven through the metal guardrail entering Turn 4 and suffered career-ending injuries. All emphasis went on the Petty boys’ careers, with father Lee presiding over the pit lane.

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The King ascends: the 1964 Plymouth and Richard Petty

It was a partnership that flourished as the motor manufacturers began to take an interest in NASCAR to promote their products. The Pettys received support from Plymouth, and the cars painted in their unique shade of blue were absolutely dominant. Young Richard won his first NASCAR Grand National title in 1964 with 9 victories, including his first Daytona 500 win, to earn an unprecedented $114,000 in winnings alone – that’s close to a million dollars in today’s money. You could do a lot of things in New Cross with a million dollars even today.

Petty’s success was attributed to the Hemi engine, which was immediately banned. Thus Petty went to compete in drag racing for 1965 in protest at NASCAR’s decision. Unfortunately, an accident resulted in the death of a six-year-old boy and the injury of several bystanders, but his successes continued despite the tragedy.

The Hemi was reinstated for NASCAR use in 1966 and a total of six more championship titles would be added between 1967 and 1979 – in a wide variety of makes and models. Whether he was in a Plymouth, Ford, Dodge, Oldsmobile, Chevrolet, Buick or Pontiac, the King could be spotted in a heartbeat thanks to the family’s distinctive ‘Petty Blue’ paint, together (from 1971), with the fluorescent red of oil company STP.

A final total of 200 race wins was reached in a fever-pitch afternoon at Daytona in July 1984, when the delayed Ronald Reagan arrived in Air Force 1 in the middle of the race, becoming the first sitting president to attend a NASCAR event. Of course he witnessed what would turn out to be the King’s final race victory.

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The King’s 200th and final win came, fittingly, at Daytona

The King remained firmly in the driving seat of his blue number 43 car until 1992. He wasn’t competitive but he remained the fans’ favourite. The compulsion to stay was understandable although it nearly claimed him several times – not least his wild crash at the 1988 Daytona 500. When he bowed out after 35 years in the cockpit, there was a celebration like few others.

It’s unlikely that anyone in stock car racing – or anywhere else in motor sport – will have a career as gilded as that of the King. Yet there was no guile to it all, as he once said: “I just tried to win every week and if the math worked out at the end they gave me a big trophy.”

Nobody can escape the occasional controversy in a career of 60-odd years and counting. Petty was instrumental in the banishment and shameful silence that surrounded the dying days of NASCAR wild child Tim Richmond in 1987-89, when he developed full-blown AIDS. The two men were worlds apart and Richmond, the free-wheeling rich kid from Ohio who would fly to New York for a haircut, raised the King’s hackles just for existing.

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Dale Earnhardt, the King and Tim Richmond on the infield

Like all too many in the NASCAR firmament, the King wasn’t short of disparagement for Danica Patrick, either.

This latter point has some resonance at the S&G, where Danica was considered a friend during her early days in Britain and her pace, determination and willingness to bat prevailing sexism to the boundary were staggering. To the men of NASCAR, when one driver hits another on the rear quarter panel to put them in the wall, it’s considered an act of war. Fists fly and a race or two later the compliment is returned… but when it happened to Danica – and getting hit was the cause of most of her (admittedly many) NASCAR accidents – she was branded an ‘idiot’ every time.

When a woman driver eventually follows Danica’s lead and pushes on to Victory Lane, it will doubtless genuinely stun a man raised in the Bible Belt of the 1930s. Yet the King, to his enduring credit, is no caricatured Confederate. The family of NASCAR’s first black driver, Wendell Scott, remember that he would often find tyres, tools and even engines in his pit that had ‘accidentally’ been left there by the number 43 crew in what was otherwise a pretty unfriendly environment.

Today, Bubba Wallace is the first black driver with a full-time seat in NASCAR for more than a decade. He drives Richard Petty’s number 43.

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The King and Bubba Wallace have revived the number 43’s fortunes in 2018

Not since Petty’s last great run of success in the 1970s has the number 43 been such a hot property, with a hugely popular driver taking results like second place in this year’s Daytona 500. After decades in the wilderness, Petty has regrouped and his business appears to be thriving once again – thus there’s an air of contentment and completion about the King which is richly deserved.

Since 2006 he has been part of the Festival of Speed experience. Initially he was slightly taken aback by the fervour that the Brits met him with, and put his popularity down to being the only guy in a cowboy hat at Lord March’s garden party.

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Every time a different one of the treasures from his museum at The Petty Garage in New Cross has been fettled, primed and sent up the hill – although this year the King handed over driving duties, giving even more time for selfies and autographs. Goodwood will be all the poorer for his absence in future, but the S&G wishes the King many more good years, grateful that there is still a star of the 1950s who is still active in the sport to this day.

As testament to this remarkable man, here are some other lesser-known facts about Richard Petty:

  • The outfit worn by Burt Reynolds in Smokey & The Bandit was designed around the kind of off-duty threads worn by the King in the mid-Seventies – who is also namechecked in the script. He’s still not averse to busting out a red shirt, either…

 

  • Petty always refused sponsorship from alcohol brands, and never claimed cash awards that were sponsored by them, in deference to his mother’s wishes
  • He raced with a broken neck. More than once.
  • He’s signed in excess of 2 million autographs – having developed his bold, looping script for that purpose. In 2017, the King said: “Right early I looked in the deal and we had no sponsors at that time, and the purse didn’t come from the promoter; it came from the people sitting in the grandstand. So I said: OK, I’m gonna sign this, but when they get home I want them to be able to read who said ‘thank you’. Those are the people that put me in business and the reason why all (the media and sponsors) are here. If it wasn’t for the fans you’d probably have to go to work for a living!”
  • Of his 200 wins, 30 were on dirt tracks before NASCAR got all fancy and only raced on asphalt
  • He raced 307,836 laps on his way to those 200 wins, with 555 top-five finishes, 712 top-10 results and 123 pole positions
  • At Texas in 2017 a caution was thrown when a stetson blew onto the track. From the 43 car run by Richard Petty Motorsports, driver Bubba Wallace cheekily radioed his pit to ask if the King needed assistance. His spotter immediately replied that there were two things Richard Petty didn’t lose often: races and hats
  • Richard Petty and his wife Lynda provided the voices for the blue number 43 Plymouth Superbird and matching blue 1975 Chrysler Town & Country Station Wagon in the Disney/Pixar movie Cars
  • In 1967 he won 27 out of 48 races entered
  • He refuses to have any painkillers at the dentist as a reminder to take better care of his teeth
  • He is a walking quote machine, with such lines as: ‘When was the first automobile race? The day they built the second automobile,’ and ‘I don’t know how many laps I led, all I know is that I led the last one 200 times.’
  • He refers to people as ‘cats’ and habitually bids farewell with a shaka or ‘hang loose’ hand sign
  • His first top-10 finish in NASCAR was recorded on July 26, 1958 and his last was 33 years and 16 days later

Ladies and gentlemen: the King!

Wing Commander T. F. Neil, DFC & Bar, AFC, AE

The name of Tom Neil crops up in several posts dedicated to the air war in 1939-45 on this blog. Since first encountering him, his stories and his writing, the S&G has been squarely in his debt for his passion to ensure that what the airmen of Fighter Command actually saw and did might be preserved without sentiment.

A print hangs on the S&G’s wall of three Hawker Hurricanes tipping over to dive upon a formation of Italian bombers high over Malta and the brilliant blue Mediterranean beyond. It’s a masterpiece by Michael Turner, an artist with whom it was a privilege to work on the 60th anniversary of the Formula 1 World Championship some years back, and the Hurricane depicted in the foreground is that of Tom Neil.

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The S&G’s treasured print

The future Wing Commander T.F. Neil was born in Bootle in 1920. His passion for flying was inspired at the age of 12, almost immediately announcing his intention to go to Cranwell and become a career officer in the RAF. This idea did not greatly please his mother and, decades later, Neil remembered that: ‘In the First World War, she said, she’d mixed with a lot of RAF officers and RFC officers and they were all drunks. And she had no intention of allowing her only son to go down that particular path!

Undeterred, Neil was still at school when he applied to join 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force – his local unit.

‘…the bald-headed squadron leader – positively senile – who interviewed me initially, pointed out that as i was still at school, did not own a car and lived some 30 miles away, I might not be much use to them. I disagreed, of course, but my protestations cut no ice. Why didn’t I join the Manchester Auxiliary Squadron, which would be forming a year or two hence? Or the local RAFVR (Volunteer Reserve) even? After five years of waiting and longing, I was appalled – crushed – and demolished. It had never occurred to me that I might not be welcomed with open arms. Furthermore I had never heard of a Manchester Auxiliary Squadron, nor did I want to know of one. And the RAFVR? What utter nonsense!’

Neil’s remaining school days saw him take a trip to Germany, where he had heard reports of state-sanctioned violence towards the Jewish population and the ranting behaviour of its ‘Führer’ but witnessed no such barbarity on the streets of Koblenz, where the school party was to stay. Instead he was impressed by the courtesy of his hosts, albeit whilst awe-struck by the vast number of military camps and aircraft overhead and by the ‘toughness and sense of dedication’ that had been instilled in the population as a whole. An ominous interlude.

Through his father’s connections, Neil left school and went to work in a bank, whilst also swallowing his rather bruised pride and joining the RAF Volunteer Reserve. Thus he was already a trained pilot when war broke out and was commissioned in April 1940, joining 249 Squadron. So began more than two years with 249 spent in the cockpit of Hawker Hurricanes, during which time he scored 13 victories during what Neil himself described as the ‘so-called Battle of Britain’.

This relationship with the Hurricane was somewhat love-hate. It was robust and a stable gun platform, but Neil found design issues like the location of the fuel tanks, which caused many pilots to be killed or maimed by fire, largely unforgivable. By the time that he and the rest of his detachment from 249 was transferred to Malta in mid-1941, he believed that the Hurricane was dangerously obsolete and that the RAF was simply using up old stock at the expense of the men who should have been in Spitfires if they were to stand a chance.

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A 249 Squadron Hurricane at Takali airfield, Malta 1941

Fortunately, the period in which Tom Neil was stationed on the besieged Island was May to December 1941 – in between the two most catastrophic periods when the Luftwaffe held absolute air superiority. The closest encounter that they had with the Germans turned out to be the morning after they had landed, when the all-conquering Joachim Müncheberg and his Messerschmitts from 7/JG26 destroyed several of 249 Squadron’s Hurricanes in a final strafing mission before they, and the rest of the Luftwaffe in Sicily, were recalled to join Operation Barbarossa and the invasion of Russia.

As a result, Neil and his colleagues were left to face up to the forces of the Italian Regia Aeronautica – a group of pilots steeped with skill and equipped with highly effective fighters, but whose bombers were second rate and generally did not press home their attack with anything like the same vigour as the Germans.

Most of the conflict and losses amongst RAF fighters on Malta at this time was internally-driven. The commanding officer on the Island, Air Vice Marshal Hugh Pughe Lloyd, had no interest in defensive units: his only concern was to destroy Axis shipping in the Mediterranean. Meanwhile the fighter pilots were living and dying in worn-out aeroplanes, facing the perils of baling out over the sea or, worse, crash landing on Malta’s unforgiving warren of dry stone walls.

Tom Neil repeatedly badgered Lloyd about replacing the Hurricanes with Spitfires or even the Curtiss Tomahawks that were coming into RAF service from America, only to be told that the problem was ‘not the aeroplane: it was the man.’ In later years, former bomber crews would often drink a toast to ‘Hugh Pughe’ when they gathered, but to Neil he was remembered as ‘a bullshitter of the first order.’

Neil survived his tour and later wrote the remarkable book Onward to Malta based upon more than 600 letters that he wrote at the time. It remains the S&G’s favourite airman’s memoir, distinct even from Neil’s other works on the Battle of Britain (Gun Button to Fire) and his later life (The Silver Spitfire), because it is so clearly written in the voice of a witty and irascible young warrior.

After Malta, Neil was given desk jobs until becoming commanding officer of 41 Squadron, primarily escorting US Army Air Force operations over occupied France, and then became a liaison officer with the Americans for much of the duration. He remained with the RAF in peacetime, reaching the rank of Wing Commander and retiring in 1964 for a long career in commerce.

In recent years, Tom Neil became one of the most called-upon and popular veterans of both the Battle of Britain and Malta campaigns. There was never any wistfulness or whimsy about him, exemplified when he gave the keynote address at the RAF’s 70th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Britain in 2010 – opening with:

‘Well I’m almost 90 now, a couple of weeks, and I’m one of about 20 remaining veterans – I hate the word ‘veteran’ – still reasonably active. There are of course another 60 of us still alive but less able to get about and take part in such splendid occasions as this. Our average age during the Battle of Britain was 21. The age of us now remaining is 93 and we are dying off at the rate of 30 a year. Those of you with Oxford educations will realise that in three years’ time it’s more than likely that the rest of us will be up there with the fairies!’

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Prince Harry surrendered his seat in a Spitfire to Tom Neil for the 2015 Battle of Britain commemorations

Well, perhaps predictably, Tom Neil did better than that. He died late on 11 July 2018, three days short of his 98th birthday. In between times he was a regular face on TV, taking centre stage at Goodwood for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, when he almost single-handedly saved Channel 4’s coverage of the commemorations from becoming a parody of itself.

Once again, it is remarkable to think how a life of all-but 98 years was defined by barely five of them. We are all fortunate indeed that the deeply personal way in which he spoke of those days has been so well documented; never once wavering or differing in details that will continue to amaze and inspire for generations to come.

Henry Hope-Frost

Known to many as ‘Fever’ and known to millions as the ever-enthusiastic voice of Goodwood – and practically every other gathering of treasured motor cars and motorcycles – Henry Hope-Frost has died. The S&G offers its most heartfelt condolences to HHF’s young family and his many friends in our industry and beyond.

The world is a greyer place today.

In the 1990s, a generation of motor sport journalists, photographers, PR people and broadcasters all arrived together in a lump. I would say fully-formed but that’s probably stretching the truth somewhat. We were schooled together by the likes of Andrew Marriott, Jonathan Gill, Tim Collings, Steve Madincea, John Colley and Peter Foubister – all of whom saw something of value in us.

And our good fortune was most often narrated by Henry who, long before he was employed to broadcast further than the end of the bar, was telegraphing exuberantly. Nothing was ever simply ‘good’. Or ‘enjoyable’. Or ‘skilful’. One didn’t ‘look forward’ to something, or ‘look back upon’ anything. It was all simply ‘fever’.

Our paths first crossed on the British Rally Championship, which was not the first environment in which you’d naturally place the towering, public school ebullience of HHF. The S&G was there as Škoda’s media person; telling the giant-killing stories of our little 1600cc Felicia and encouraging the press to be enthusiastic about seeing it in the sublimely skilled hands of former World Rally champion, Stig Blomqvist. This was grist to Henry’s mill and no mistake – or as he put it: ‘massive fever’.

Probably the defining image of HHF at that time was at the press gathering in Douglas before the highly-charged 1997 British Rally Championship finale on the Isle of Man. As ever, a good crowd of Manx folk had come to see the cars lined up, gather autographs and get ready for the coming event. Henry was booming over the public address, utterly enraptured by the spectacle to come and the knowledgable crowd.

One of the men in the frame for the title was Volkswagen’s Alister McRae, who was in monosyllabic form as he considered the challenge ahead. Henry went at him with both barrels, eager to elicit some ‘fever’ for his audience while the rest of us in the travelling media pack tittered and laid odds on whether Alister was about to throw him in Douglas harbour.

In the end, HHF wore down the granite-hewn McRae gruffness. Job done. Although later on Alister was spotted gurning and moving his fist up and down in a well-known gesture behind Henry’s back while he grilled the eventual champion, Mark Higgins. If he’d noticed, Henry would doubtless have taken that as a considerable feather in his cap!

From that day to yesterday the patented, unyielding enthusiasm of HHF was simply part of the furniture. After writing for Motorsportretro.com together in its early days and helping out Foub at the RAC, there were too few opportunities to catch up – a cheery hello and quick word when being dragged round the Guildford shops by our respective offspring, or at the too-few events where we were both in attendance. I saw him last at Race Retro a week or so back, nattering with Jonny Gill and Paddy Hopkirk.

‘I won’t interrupt now, I’ll catch them later,’ thought I. Sadly it was not to be. We were ploughing the same furrows for much of the time; self here at the S&G and with Henry presiding over Goodwood’s prodigious online output. Different ways of approaching a deeply-held passion. We shall all be the poorer without him.

Where now for the Tourist Trophy?

The announcement that Silverstone – and therefore the UK – will be missing from the FIA World Endurance Championship calendar from now on is not a surprise. There has been much hoo-ha on social media about it from British ‘fans’ – although it’s quite likely that more people have taken the trouble to post their outrage than ever bought a ticket.

Of rather more pith and moment is the fact that at present the Royal Automobile Club’s Tourist Trophy has no home – and there is no obvious candidate to replace it. But why, after so many decades, is top flight sports car racing abandoning the UK?

In 2011, the S&G worked on behalf of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest to promote the event. A phone call in mid-July basically said that there was a budget to promote the race, which was in mid-September, and as everyone in France takes August off would we mind awfully doing what we could to sell some tickets.

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The Tourist Trophy has been awarded to the winners of the Silverstone 6 Hours in recent years

It was the dream brief: a client who gives you a budget first and asks questions later. It was quite possibly the most fun that will ever be had in this working life.

Local radio stations from the Solent to the Black Country ran adverts that used Steve McQueen’s movie Le Mans as the theme, with a heartbeat getting faster and engines bursting into life while a sonorous voice spoke in wonder about the world’s most advanced sports-prototypes and the elegant GT cars, Audis, Peugeots, Aston Martins, Porsches, Corvettes and Ferraris.

Every station that took the ads got pairs – sometimes several pairs – of VIP hospitality tickets to use as competition prizes. So did any local newspapers that we advertised in, which from memory was about a dozen from Herefordshire to Suffolk and Watford to Uttoxeter.

On the PR front, we realised that it was the 35th anniversary of the first Silverstone 6 Hours race, and got the winner of that inaugural race, John Fitzpatrick, to describe his giant-killing act alongside Tom Walkinshaw in a home-brewed BMW against the might of the BMW and Porsche works teams. We also got Desiré Wilson to talk to the press about being the first and only lady racer to win the event.

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The girls of the Silverstone 6 Hours with Dunsfold’s P-51D

There was a media day at Silverstone where home favourite Allan McNish took journalists round the track in a race-prepared Audi R8 GT car. Among the victims we sorted out for the day was BBC Radio 2 Drive Time sportscaster Matt Williams, who did a brilliant piece for roughly five million listeners which basically involved him asking questions in a panicked scream and Nishy laughing like a drain in reply.

Northampton railway station was completely wrapped to look like the grid at Le Mans (a little tribute to how our Bahraini friends promote their Grand Prix so well), and at every station between Euston and Birmingham there was advertising to be found on the platforms.

Finally, we found some of the finest-looking promo girls in Britain, dressed them in replicas of the iconic and much-lamented Hawaiian Tropic girls’ outfit and sallied forth to as many other motoring events as we could – armed with a barrel-load of flyers with unique 10% discount codes. At Dunsfold Wings & Wheels we took along one of Trackspeed’s Porsche GT3s and a Gulf Aston Martin DBR1/2, at Chelsea Autolegends we had the Aston and the Strakka Racing HRD that slotted in to the Le Mans-themed main display, and the ACO came and did a press conference.

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On the lawns of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea alongside a few billions’ worth of classics

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If in doubt, grab a Chelsea Pensioner.

Because enthusiasts of motor racing tend to like having models of the cars in some shape of form, we did a deal with the now sadly defunct Modelzone company to put posters in the windows of their 46 shops across the country and for each shop to have a prize draw for a pair of hospitality tickets. They also ran a competition on their website and to their email distribution list to win the opportunity to wave the flag that starts the race.

We had branding all over Autosport.com, a competition to do the grid walk on Pistonheads and yet more competition prizes of hospitality. As a final offer, we contacted the marque clubs of every brand with cars taking part in the event and offered them display parking on the infield with a sliding scale of up to 50% off the ticket price, the more cars (and therefore people) that came with them.

As a final treat to reward the hordes of people that we hoped would be coming, we got the distributor of SCX slot cars to set up a tent with a massive track in it and plenty of Audis and Peugeots to race. We got John Fitzpatrick and Desiré Wilson to come along and do autograph sessions. We got Porsche 956 chassis 001, the 1982 Group C class winner and founder of 12 years of success for Porsche, together with a BMW CSL representing the inaugural 6 Hours and a Porsche 935.

All of this was done in six weeks from a standing start. All of this was done on a total budget that would scarcely pay for a tatty second-hand Porsche. All of this reached an audience of millions and we sold… something like 8,000 tickets. It was raining at Silverstone and there is seldom a more desolate part of the world on a soggy September day than the old airfield, especially when one is wandering round looking at the fruits of one’s labours and seeing not one soul between Copse and Stowe other than the ever-hearty marshals.

With heavy hearts we reported in to the ACO folks, expecting to be informed that we’d never work in this town again. They were… coq-au-hoop! Refreshed from their month in Provence, they couldn’t believe that they’d sold around 15% more tickets than the previous year with a campaign that lasted six weeks instead of three months.

It’s Silverstone, they said, with suitably Gallic shrugs. Everything costs too much because they have to fund the Grand Prix. The Wing stood empty above the paddock because it was too big and infeasibly priced, so all the hospitality had to be done in the old units on the old start/finish straight and guests had to be bussed the mile in between lunch and the working area.

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We even had a page in The Sun – although the cars were notably absent…

The only location that could be found for the marque clubs, slot car track and historic racing cars display was exactly half-way between the two paddocks, meaning that few people bothered to get off their buses and brave the rain to come and have a look. As it was, neither the tent for the historic cars or the security person to look after them had shown up, so we had to send the Porsche 956 back to its owner and keep the BMW and 935 outside while a short-notice tent was found to house them.

When the S&G returned to the event in 2014, it was the first round of the new season and there had been much excitement on social media about the return of Porsche and all the rest of the pre-season chatter. There had been a photo call with the cars in central London but very little in the press had resulted from it, there were no adverts to speak of and no campaign of the sort that we’d done but the weather was uncommonly pleasant on the Saturday.

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Le Mans brings fans together from around the world – especially the UK

There was still barely a soul in the public areas around much of the circuit. If more tickets were sold the difference was marginal. Yet at Le Mans one can barely walk a step without falling over roaming families, all eagerly discussing the race in every accent and dialect of the British Isles. Chuck a rock into the crowd at Le Mans and you’re far more likely to be told to ‘eff off’ than you are to ‘va te faire foutre’.

So now the ACO has decided to abandon its crusade to give British fans a treat on home soil. It’s not possible (as so many of them have wished) to return to Brands Hatch because the circuit isn’t to modern endurance standards – and anyway the 1000km races there in their 1980s heyday were fairly processional because there’s no room for overtaking.

People remember those races so fondly because there were big crowds, in part due to the presence of Jaguar and Porsche’s great ace Derek Bell as national heroes… and also in part because everyone buying a ticket to the Grand Prix at Brands got a free ticket to the 1000km. Sometimes, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

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Brands Hatch had a packed house for Group C sports cars in the 1980s

So, a chapter closes and all that remains to be said is what the future holds for the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy, the world’s longest-serving motor sport prize? It’s only warranted a small mention in the World Endurance Championship arena, but this grand old prize was awarded to the winner of the Silverstone 6 Hours.

In 112 years it’s been awarded at a sports car race 29 times, GT races 11 times, to races for Grand Prix cars three times and for touring cars 25 times. Perhaps Alan Gow and TOCA might like to use it for a non-championship touring car all-comers race as they did 20 years ago? Or maybe the thriving British GT series should take it on? Undoubtedly there will be a lobby for reinstating Britain’s round of Formula E and using it for this purpose… it’s the in thing to do these days, after all.

Perhaps the most pragmatic suggestion is to permanently base the TT at Goodwood, where the current tribute race for 1960s GT cars can be restored to full glory. After all, there are few events in Britain that attract a similar size of crowd, and the prestige of winning it is enormous amongst a group of drivers and owners who actually care about its heritage and history.

At present, the longest-standing prize in motor racing history, a trophy that unites C.S. Rolls, Tazio Nuvolari, Sir Stirling Moss and Alain Menu is rootless. Steps must be taken fast to ensure that this grand old prize remains fixed to the greatest motor sport occasion on the calendar, the most stylish, the most glamorous and the most relevant – because if we lose our sense of identity at this moment of crisis for motor sport in Britain then we might as well all pack up and go home.

Classic buildings in miniature

After cornering the market in ultra-refined models of classic GT racers to go on your 1/32 slot racing track, Graham Poulton has done it again with a collection of iconic trackside buildings.

There are many schools of thought when it comes to decorating a slot car track, from minimalist to full-on scale model venue. It’s always nice to have something dressed to fit the era or type of cars that you particularly like to run – and for historic fans, Graham has produced just the sort of set dressing that is going to go down a storm.

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Scenic slot tracks can vary in scale of ambition

Reims, Goodwood and the earliest post-war Silverstone buildings feature large in the collection, which come as flat pack assembly kits with all the hard work of decorating them done for you.

Compared to the price of cars these days, the buildings look extraordinary value and can be ordered direct from Graham or via Pendle Slot Racing. Here’s some of the loveliness that Pendle has on sale:

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Reims pit boxes (could double for Brooklands)

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Bumper box set of Goodwood timing tower and pit boxes plus the grandstand

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Another Goodwood icon: the SuperShell building

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Typical of the wartime buildings at Silverstone for its first 40 years: the original timekeepers’ hut

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The original press box from Silverstone faithfully recreated…

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…along with the press box from Reims

We’re sure that there will be many similar additions – Le Mans is always a favourite, maybe some pit scenery from Monza or Spa would be fun too. Well done, Graham – keep up the good work.

That time at Sandown…

Here’s a little something that pops up every so often – the racy demonstration of Sir Jack Brabham in his Brabham-Repco and Juan Manuel Fangio in his 1955 Mercedes-Benz W196. Both cars had been recently restored by their owners in Australia, and as a support to the 1978 Australian Grand Prix at Sundown they were to be reunited with their original drivers.

All the hype and Fangio’s own insistence was that this was not a demonstration by two champions but a race. Perhaps it was, but it’s worth remembering that, in their heydays, there was a full minute’s difference between the two cars over a lap of Spa-Francorchamps and 13 seconds at Monaco.

Nevertheless, while Black Jack is the perfect gentleman and makes a show of it, it’s clear that Fangio is properly ‘on it’ for a recently-restored car that was worth a major sum of money even 40 years ago. And both men clearly wanted to be first past the chequered flag.

Incidentally, the Australian Grand Prix was a Formula 5000 race, won by Graham McRae in his self-built Chevrolet-engined car in a highly attritional race that saw two drivers hospitalised.

It’s thanks to this sort of enthusiasm for old cars, so clearly on show at Sandown that day, that the Silverstone Classic, the Goodwood Revival and the Nürburgring Old-timer exist as some of the best-attended motor sport events in the world. This is why…