To attend the Goodwood Festival of Speed is to be part of what could be the strangest cross-section of car enthusiasm on the planet.
It’s on a sprawling 12,000-acre estate in the English countryside that a proverbial variety pack of men and machine coexist in perfect harmony. Everyone from those dressed in their Sunday best to others in aging band tees mingle with some of the most memorable — not to mention priceless — pieces of motorsports history. Some folks are here to catch a fleeting glance of their heroes for the first time in years; others for the first time ever.
The history of motorsport spans more than 100 years, and almost every one of them is represented at Goodwood each year. Famed Formula One cars driven by some of the biggest names the sport has known make up but a small portion of the wheeled machines lounging on the lawns and under the tents scattered throughout the property, a paradise for petrolheads if there ever was one.
The parking lots alone are home to an incredible array of old and new automobiles ranging from what seems like every Ford Focus ST in Britain to what could be the only road-going example of the Jaguar XKSS on the entire island. Other unicorns — a Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione II finished with Martini Racing stripes, for example, or a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren — fill in the gaps between them, making the grass outside the grounds an attraction in itself.
The hill climb plays host to a Groundhog Day-like succession of cars and motorcycles traversing the same 1.16 miles of tarmac, yet it barely feels repetitive, a beautiful byproduct of an event that has a 1,200-horsepower Porsche 917/30 Can-Am car and a rotary-powered Mazda B2000 stadium truck running in the same group. And just when you think you’ve had enough, a 1950s Ferrari or 1980s F1 car will captivate you all over again.
Parked in the paddocks amongst distinguished gentlemen in three-piece wool suits — seriously — are all kinds of impressive sports cars piloted by all kinds of infamous drivers. The cars roar to life throughout the day as each class is paged to the assembly area, a slow-moving and sporadic procession weaving through the crowds. Yet most people are impervious, or at least unaware, of what’s slowly approaching behind them, distracted instead by what’s parked on either side of them.
Separating spectators from the hill climb course is but a row of hay bales while keeping them from touching the cars in the paddocks is little more than their own self-control. And perhaps it’s that accessibility that makes the Goodwood Festival of Speed so special. There’s such a heavy corporate presence — though some will tell you it was less so this year — yet the event manages to avoid feeling like a feeding frenzy for your hard-earned dollars. Instead, it feels like a party in honor of all things fast and sacred. And everyone’s invited.