Sir Stirling Moss: The man they called 'Mr Goodwood'

The word legend is over-used these days, but in the case of Sir Stirling Craufurd Moss, it is entirely apt.

Sir Stirling Moss at the Goodwood Revival meeting in 2011 / Picture: Malcolm Wells
Sir Stirling Moss at the Goodwood Revival meeting in 2011 / Picture: Malcolm Wells

He transcended the world of motorsport and became so famous that police officers addressing speeding motorists would say for many years after he stopped racing: 'Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?'

Sir Stirling, who has died after a long illness at the age of 90, came to be known as Mr Goodwood - and with very good reason.

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For he was on the grid as a teenager at the inaugural meeting held at the former wartime airfield RAF Westhampnett back in 1948 - his first single-seater race.

Sir Stirling at FoS in 2013 / Picture: Malcolm Wells

In a three-lap race lasting just over six minutes, he won by nearly 30 seconds. A star was born.

Incredibly, the hugely popular Sir Stirling was still getting behind the wheel and entertaining the crowds at the Goodwood Revival 62 years later.

He had some famous wins at the track and was a regular visitor in period until that fateful Easter Monday in 1962 when his stellar career was cut short by a very bad crash - and he so very nearly lost his life.

As his Lotus came up behind Graham Hill's BRM, he went on to the grass during the Glover Trophy and hit a bank head-on at high speed.

Where he belonged ... Sir Stirling Moss in the cockpit / Picture: Malcolm Wells

He suffered serious brain injuries, had a number of broken bones and was paralysed down one side. Taken to St Richard's Hospital in Chichester, he was to spend a month in a coma. The world anxiously followed every bulletin.

Sir Stirling was only 32 and at the top of his game. But although he made a good recovery, he would never be quite the same driver again.

Instead he successfully set about building the Stirling Moss brand while travelling the world and remaining closely involved in the sport that he loved.

He could have been forgiven for not wanting to revisit the scene of the crash that changed his life (although he always said he couldn't remember anything about it). But in fact the opposite was true.

In the 1990s Sir Stirling became an enthusiastic supporter of both the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival. He was a regular visitor and patron and his backing and involvement played a very important role in helping the Duke of Richmond (then Lord March) get them off the ground and make them the world-renowned events they are today.

My father and uncle were there at Aintree in 1955 to see Sir Stirling beat his team-mate, the great Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio, over the line to become the first Brit to win the British Grand Prix.

He went on to become one of the dominant figures in the sport, a versatile master who won in a variety of machinery with his distinctive straight-arm driving style.

Goodwood pays tribute to Sir Stirling MossSir Stirling never became the world champion that his talents merited, but that was because he was fervently patriotic and wanted to drive British cars at a time when other nations were dominant.

I was fortunate enough to interview him at Goodwood on several occasions and, when I wrote a feature about his career-ending crash, I sent him a copy and he wrote me a lovely letter back that I still have. It's now a treasured possession.

He was always generous with his time and happy to reminisce about the old days when he was king of the track.

This was typified when an Australian journalist friend David Williamson, who travelled over to report on the Goodwood Revival each year and stayed with us, painstakingly created an exact replica of Moss's Maserati 250F steering wheel.

He brought it with him and Sir Stirling happily sat down with him and chatted about the memories it brought back, then posed for a picture and signed the wheel.

Many motorsports fans must have treasured memories of the day Sir Stirling gave them an autograph or smiled for their camera at Goodwood, resting on his trusty shooting stick with wife Susie always by his side.

In his later years, whenever he came to the Revival or Festival of Speed, he would be surrounded by admirers and invariably need security to get him through the throng.

But once away from the crowds and reunited with old friends, he was in his element. Back among the action, watching the cars speed past and soaking up the atmosphere. Once a racer, always a racer.