Goodwood, the spiritual home of British motor racing since 1936, is steeped in nostalgia. And three hugely successful years of the Goodwood Revival Meeting, an event which relives the glorious racing days of the 1950s, have already created a wealth of vivid new memories - so much so that Autocar magazine has described it as "a day in heaven". It has certainly been colourful.
As the first Revival Meeting opened in 1998, a Spitfire tore down the main straight of the modern-day racetrack at a heart-stopping height of 20 feet - a grand gesture appropriate to a spot on the Sussex Downs that was once part of Tangmere, the renowned Battle of Britain fighter base.
Come the second yearís event, the saloon-car race was run in rain so heavy that it was almost impossible to get traction, and drivers were forced to clean the insides of their windscreens constantly with one hand, while attempting to control their cars with the other.
The third yearís Revival Meeting lined up 50 years of motor-racing legends on the prize-giving platform. By now, The Daily Telegraph was convinced that the meeting was "just the best historic motor racing event in the calendar".
The first thing that newcomers to Goodwood are invariably struck by - apart from the outstanding beauty of the Downs setting and the opulence of historic Goodwood House - is the friendly atmosphere. Complete strangers, some world-famous, others less so, meet and talk animatedly about anything and everything thatís rare, expensive, noisy and fast.
Legends of the track talk to you while they lie under their cars checking the suspension. And we are talking real legends, racing immortals of the calibre of Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Sir Jack
Brabham and Derek Bell.
Where else in motor racing, or any other major sporting event these days, can you get within half a mile of your heroes - let alone stand and chat to them beside their equally legendary vehicles?
Here is an entire aristocratic estate on the grandest scale imaginable, given over to the pursuit of speed for speedís sake. Car fanatic Rowan Atkinson has described the Goodwood Revival Meeting as "a movie set with events driving the script". Its amazing attention to detail could be attributed to the first job that the estateís owner Lord March had, working on the set of the film Barry Lyndon with director Stanley Kubrick Ė a man infamous for an almost demented attention to detail.
However, the producers, meticulous as they are, merely set the scene. The sense of style and enthusiasm that is pervasive at the Goodwood Revival Meeting really comes from its participants. You can sit under a tree in a deckchair sipping tea and eating cakes, watching two teams compete at cricket - a scene that is only interrupted by Spitfires and Hurricanes skimming the treetops. Itís dťjŗ vu for some, nostalgia for most, and sublime unreality for all.
Itís a wonderfully good-humoured event. The sight each year of Barry Sheene, the Motor Cycle World champion, racing around Goodwood on his beloved Manx Norton - torn between flattening himself on the tank to gain more speed and waving to the crowd - is difficult to describe. Barry now lives in Australia because the climate is better for his multiple bone fractures (he may have a few less than Evil Knievel but not many) but he comes back for the thrill of racing at Goodwood every year.
I originally thought all this emotion for the fabulous machines of yesterday was, perhaps, a sign of middle age. But the increasing numbers of young people and families attending the event have led me to conclude that what is often said is true - there is no nostalgia stronger than that we feel for events we never actually experienced.
In his book The Glory of Goodwood, Lord March recalled that after the first Revival Meeting he was particularly struck by a letter he received from a 17-year-old saying it was the best weekend of his life. Goodwood inspires many responses like that.
But perhaps some words from famous drivers who have participated in the Revival Meeting will provide further evidence that this nostalgia is not just a sign of my creeping senility.
"Iíve always had a special affection for Goodwood," says Phil Hill, "because it was the first place I ever saw Grand Prix cars in action. By the time I was racing big cars like the Daytona Cobra there in the 1960s, other tracks had got bigger, but Goodwood never lost its appeal.
"It always had a certain charm, but I thought the Revival was absolutely fabulous, probably the most wonderful event Iíve been to - and my wife and kids felt the same way."
Damon Hill agrees. "Iíve never experienced anything like the atmosphere, with everybody in period costume. It was just great. I had licence to behave like a lunatic on a motorbike, the first time in a long time for me - and I came away in one piece."
Sir Jack Brabham is equally enthusiastic. "It was fantastic to be able to go back and race at Goodwood again. The circuit felt the same - all the corners were the same, all the bumps were in the same places. At the Revival I drove an E-Type and a 1960 Cooper like the one I won my second World Championship title in, and that hadnít changed much either. I had a good go - and thatís what I normally tend to do."
"When I arrived at the Revival," recalls Derek Bell, "I walked out onto the track and I saw the flowers all the way down the main straight. That really got to me: I understood the quality of the detail. It took me back 30 years, and nothing has ever done that to me in my life. You couldnít do it anywhere else, on any other circuit in the world, because theyíve all changed. Goodwood didnít change. It just shut, and stayed the same, sleeping."
Dan Gurney has a special fondness for Goodwood. "Sitting on the Dream Grid, at the wheel of a Daytona Cobra like the one I ran in the 1964 Tourist Trophy," he says, "I was so overloaded with memories it was difficult to put them into words. I was thinking of Goodwood as the place where John Surtees started his four-wheel career, and where Jimmy Clark had some of his first single-seater races; the place where my hero Stirling Moss ended his career, and where my friend Bruce McClaren ended his life. I found it all very moving."
If you think that this is quite enough hopeless sentimentality, I have only one thing to add. Experience it yourself at the Festival of Speed in July, or at the Revival Meeting in September. I defy you to be immune.