road & Track                                     Index

June 2000

Dawson-Damer disappeared around the corner and into the woods toward the finish line and suddenly the red flags came out. Ambulances and wreckers raced up the hill. Then staff vehicles. The PA system was mute. A woman at the fence turned to me and said, “It must be bad, or they’d say something.” If we’d been standing down in the main paddock area, we could have seen it all on the giant closed-circuit TV screens near the grandstands, but on the hill no one knew. Suddenly the PA announced that racing was ended for the day, and then quiet, New Age music was piped in. The dark sky had a moody cast to it, with a few rays of sunlight breaking through, and I had a bad feeling as I walked down the hill back to the hotel. We later learned that Dawson-Damer had been killed after he lost control of his car turning on to the final straight and hit the left post of the finish line arch head-on. The car then swung sideways and hit two race marshals, Andrew Carpenter and Steve Tarrant. Carpenter died later that night of his injuries and Tarrant, who lost his lower right leg, was listed as “stable.”Dawson-Damer was a British expatriate living in Australia, and was the brother of the Earl of Portarlington.

The black-tie dinner that night at Goodwood House was a restrained affair, and Lord March made a short speech of condolence to the families of the accident victims, and said the dance and fireworks, normally held, would of course be canceled. The papers the next day were full of remarkably restrained reporting and only speculative comment that the Goodwood Festival might be canceled or tamed in some way as a result of the accident. My own feeling is that perhaps some of the fastest cars could be slowed a bit, but I hope the event will go on without too much change. Its very existence is such a triumph over the anti-noise, anti-risk mindset that plagues our time, and great care was taken to make the hill as safe as possible.

On Sunday, the classes all climbed the hill on schedule, the Red Arrows aerobatic team performed, the soapbox racers were run safely using half the hill, to slow them down, and a huge crowd (estimated at more than 100,000 for the weekend) watched the cars run, or wandered through the paddock and vendor stalls. It was a nice day, of mostly bright periods.

The day ended with Jenson Button in a current Williams and Johnny Herbert in the Jaguar F1 car surging up the hill in a series of stops and smoky burnouts to diffuse their impossible speed. Herbert stopped in front of Goodwood House and did a couple of complete doughnuts (it was hard to tell how many, through all the smoke). The crowd loved it. And they stayed on, long into the early evening, looking at cars and wandering the grounds. Unlike most American sports crowds, they made no mad rush to the parking lot, but lingered as if reluctant to leave. Maybe it’s that endless English summer twilight. It gives you a sense that time has slowed to a magical standstill and there’s no need to hurry off toward the future. Or even the present.

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