As the author of MotorcycleUSA's monthly Memorable Motorcycle column, you bet Lord March invited Frank Melling out to his exclusive country estate to participate in the very posh Goodwood Festival of Speed.
I have decided on a change of career. Instead of spending my working days writing about bikes, and organizing the Thundersprint, I am going to launch my own church - with me as head prophet, preacher and accountant. Now some readers might think that this is a slightly radical shift in lifestyle but you would be wrong. Quite simply, I have one ace card which none of the other, more established, religious organizations hold. You see, I have visited heaven - and returned. Truly, I can prove that those who waste most of their income on motorcycles for 30 years, and who are fully paid up, card carrying members of the Countess of Chester's Emergency Care Unit (Hi, Frank we reserved your bed for you when we saw there was bike racing at Oulton Park on Saturday) and who genuinely can insist on sole custody of a Cheney BSA as an essential part of the divorce settlement will, for certain, enter heaven. Here's my diary of a spiritual journey which all bikers will recognize as equal to any of the more mainstream religious experiences.
Because MCUSA is now accepted world wide as the premier motorcycling website on the net I get an invitation to ride at the Goodwood Festival of Speed
. Goodwood is the Big Daddy, and Huge Momma, of classic motorsport festivals. Entry is strictly, so very, very, very strictly, by invitation only. This comes in the form of a personal letter signed by Lord March inviting the blessed recipient to participate in three days of the most cultured motorized fun in the world.
The whole Festival of Speed is located in the grounds of Lord March's Goodwood estate tucked away right on the very tip of England, just on the edge of the English Channel.
BMW MotoGP test rider Jeremy McWilliams entertains spectators in front of Lord March's estate.
Being a serious, heavy duty Lord, Charles March has his own airfield, horse racing track, motor racing circuit - and hosts the Rolls Royce car factory. He also has a golf course, farm and a big, big problem in the form of avoiding financial ruin by making sure that there is enough income to keep the whole spectacular show on the road. The Goodwood Festival of Speed is one of the key elements in ensuring that the whole estate stays solvent.
Running through the estate is a wide road. Imagine a well maintained county highway and you've more or less got the picture. The road goes past Lord March's modest little palace and climbs up to the top of the estate. It makes a superb hillclimb circuit in a spectacular setting. It's great for showing off old cars and bikes and wonderful for spectators who pay an awful lot of money for the privilege of seeing some of most exotic two and four-wheeled vehicles in the world at very close quarters.
At Goodwood, being a Grand Prix winner is no more important than holding a valid driving license. Winning a world championship does not entitle you to priority in the refreshment line, simply because almost everyone at Goodwood is either a world champion, a galactic TV star or owns some piece of four or two-wheeled racing hardware worth $5 million. Of course, there is an exception: me. Proudly carrying the MCUSA "Memorable Motorcycle" banner - and rather embarrassedly signing autographs for the less knowledgeable fans who confuse Frank Melling with someone important, I represent the: "bloke whose trailer you sit on at race meetings when you need a break".
Friday 7 July:
Casey Stoner sensibly showed the Goodwood track the respect it deserves. Running up through Lord March's estate, the circuit is a fine hillclimb to showcase the greatest riders and machines.
07.00 - Arrive Goodwood. Never realized England went so far south. Last time drove this far ended up in France. It's a long way, by limp-wristed European driving standards, from the north of England. Stop complaining to long suffering wife when she reminds me that if I still lived in California, I would consider the six hour, 300-mile trip no more than a quick trip to the local grocery store.
07.01 - Very pleasant marshal helps us unload, courteously pointing out that everyone else finished twelve hours earlier but never mind... Begin to realize that this is not a classic road race organized by the local club on some disused airfield.
07.30 - Another nice marshal comes along and points out that brewing up next to our bike is unnecessary since the nice Lord March has provided us with a free breakfast. Since the paddock is packed with car and bike racers, think that the noble Lord must be a dab hand with the camping gas stove, and have one cracker of kettle, if we are all going to get egg and bacon sandwich and a mug of tea before practice. Nice bloke though to think of us.
07.45 - Breakfast turns out to be inside a high security fortress protected by guard towers, man eating wolves and machine gun posts. Entry is by a ginormous chrome-plated medallion only. I won the 250 Class in the Jubilee Enduro in 1977 and got a smaller medal than this.
07.46 - Walk from paddock to driver's hospitality center. Arrive with severe backache because of weight of medallion round my neck.
Goodwood boasts an impressive roster of invited riders, both from days gone by - like six-time World Champion Jim Redman - and current stars like Troy Corser, James Toseland, and Ducati WSB points leader Troy Bayliss (above).
08.15 - Full of Goodwood grub we return to bike which is parked next to the Honda factory team and their $20 million of bikes and cars. Offer to share our zip ties and duct tape if any running repairs are needed but they decline frostily. With that attitude they had better not come scrounging our spanners when they get stuck.
08.20 - Walk the Goodwood track. Despite paddock horror stories the track is excellent - wide, well surfaced and fast. Okay, so it's not a modern race circuit, and the big flintstone wall looks a bit iffy, but what do the moaners expect? Silverstone with a mile of runoff? By hillclimb standards, this is a true gem.
14.00 - Practice run up track. Course needs a marked degree of thought. There are big crashes every year at Goodwood - but there's nothing really horrific in terms of the track itself. Still, a double helping of, "Engage brain before opening throttle" is clearly needed.
Saturday 8 July:
06.57 - Stuck in the mega traffic jam at Chichester four miles from Goodwood. I thought that we were keen leaving the hotel at 6am - but not nearly so enthusiastic as the Goodwoodists who have been ready for action since before dawn.
08.30 -Goodwood is packed, jammed, totally wall to wall with enthusiasts - and what nice people too. We have a string of visitors to look at our Seeley Suzuki ranging from the general public: "What kind of motorbike is that?" to the seriously, but seriously, knowledgeable: "I worked on the design of the flux used on the bronze welding rod Colin Seeley used for making that bike." Right then, best I shut up and listen. All lovely people.
12.30 - Lunch in the drivers' fortress. Pass Formula 1 and Indycar champion Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill (also F1 car World Champion) and NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Gene Felton. It seems that every top biker is here too. James Toseland, Troy Bayliss, Troy Corser and about a billion more superstars. And that's only in the line for coffee!
Frank's paddock neighbor was none other than the factory Honda team and its spendy $20 million worth of machinery.
12.35 - Fascinating lunch with Jim Redman. Jim casually assesses the galaxy of motorcycling gods munching on the good Lord March's lunch. That guy was never any good - except at negotiating contracts. The grey haired bloke in the corner was all talk - he only won a couple of GPs - and who hasn't won a Grand Prix?
Me Jim! I haven't won any GPs - or even ridden in a world championship event. Truly, I am the world's representative of ordinary man at Goodwood. It's like being on Mount Olympus with all the Greek Gods - and only being there because you are quite good at serving olives.
Yet, I am very proud to be at Goodwood not because of the hospitality, or chrome plated medallion, or VIP treatment but as a representative of you, MCUSA readers. It is you, not the hyper stars, who pay for the whole show through your cash at the ticket booths, the food you buy from the concessions and the souvenirs you take home. Thanks to you all for making this, and every other, show happen.
13.03 - Almost trampled in the stampede for Jenson Button's autograph. Jenson might have only won one Formula 1 car Grand Prix but he is so intensely, incredibly, professionally cool that the leaves drop from the trees and snow begins to fall whenever he stands still. Jenson has such utter, absolute zero coolness that he could turn Death Valley into a ski resort.
Pick up lady spectator who has fainted (really) merely at the thought of getting within six feet of Jenson.
Six-time World Champion Jim Redman made for an interesting lunch date, giving Frank his own evaluation of racers and their talent.
Wonder why I never have this effect on girls. Wife lovingly explains that I am fat, bald, ugly and don't win anything. Therefore, not strong candidate for Sex God Superstar Racer.
15.45 - Jammed in collecting box with three works Hondas, factory Ducati, Troy Bayliss' World Superbike Ducati and a load of Formula 1 cars. Is this a dream?
16.03 - Without any prior notice I have died and gone to heaven. Saint Peter has wafted me to the start line at Goodwood and given me the grid position directly behind six times World Champion Jim Redman who is riding the legendary six-cylinder Honda.
Jim blips the "6" round to 17,000 rpm and I edge ever closer to those six fabulous megaphone exhausts. I am supposed to be a safe 30 yards back but the wise and kind Goodwood start marshal can see what I want. I bring my bike right up to screaming "6" so that the noise rips through my helmet and I can feel the exhaust pulses bounce off my visor.
This is the same rider, the same bike that I had stuck on the wall in my tenement house bedroom on the wrong side of town. Now, I am on the start line with the magnificent pair! What that untidy, disorganized, dreamy 12 year old, who worshipped Redman and the Honda 6, has done to deserve this privilege I can't imagine but I do know that no amount of money would buy it from me. Thank you Jim, Honda and Goodwood.
16.03 and 10 seconds - Inspired by Jim, I fire the Seeley away from the start determined to give the Goodwood fans a decent show. My line round the triple right at Cross Roads is spot on and the bike is still accelerating hard under the pedestrian bridge. 7,500rpm in top is 120 mph which is plenty fast enough for a ride through Lord March's front garden. Then it's hard on the brakes for Molecomb and squirt it up the hill past the very solid looking flint wall. This is fun.
The track is excellent, the bike is going well and the spectators cheer and wave all along the mile climb. Never mind MotoGP or World Superbike. Motorcycle sport doesn't get any better than this.
Hobnobbing with the elite of motorcycle racing history was just part of the fun. When it came time for his moment of glory, Frank made the most of it, throwing the Seeley Suzuki around like he meant business.
16.05 - Parked in collecting box at the top of the hill. Jim lets me play on the Honda 6. I'm tucked in behind the fairing. 18,000 in top - racing Phil Read on the factory Yamaha down past Sarah's Cottage and into Cregny Baa. The crowd goes wild. Frank Melling, Honda team leader on his way to another TT win.
Do I look like an eight year old on a Disney World ride? Yes, of course. Do I care? Not one iota! In fact, and I write this in all seriousness, if someone had offered me the chance to ride directly behind the Honda 6 and then get to play on it for ten minutes - at a cost of $10,000 - I would have been down to the bank organizing a loan instantly. Nothing, but nothing, can ever be as good as this.
16.10 - Having visited heaven, I am ready to launch my new church. There will be no dogma, no liturgy, no hatred of other religions, no insistence on covering heads or faces or wearing beards or caps - or not wearing them either. No donations or collections - no holy relics to peddle. No wars because my God is better than your God, and no smug satisfaction because I'm sure that I'm going to heaven whilst your beliefs will take you to hell.
Instead, a church where smiling is compulsory, where sharing your zip ties and Doritos and last can of beer with the bloke next to you is canonical obligation and where sorting out the carburetion on your neighbor's bike is more important than your own ride. And where every service begins with two minutes of the Honda 6 at 17,000 rpm so that we remember just how lucky we are to be members of the two-wheeled fraternity.
But if my new religion takes hold there would be no reason for war or strife and how would our politicians amuse themselves then?
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