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With great regret we have to inform Members that Rex Woodgate, one of the BRDC’s oldest Members, died on Tuesday 15 June at the age of 94 after a short illness. 

After service as a Bevin boy in the coalfields of South Wales during World War 2, Rex obtained an apprenticeship with Thomson & Taylor at Brooklands before being taken on in 1948 by Alfred Moss as mechanic for his young son Stirling’s first racing season with the versatile Cooper T2 which could be raced with either a 500 cc or 1000 cc JAP engine. Much of Rex’s time was spent preparing and/or swapping engines but when JAP took over responsibility for engine preparation itself, Rex secured employment with the John Heath/George Abecassis HWM team in 1950 which had just signed up Stirling as its number one driver. Travelling from road circuit to road circuit around Europe, with the team’s continued existence dependent on its ability to earn start and prize money as frequently as possible, Rex with Alf Francis and others worked tirelessly and to the limits of endurance to keep the show on the road. At the Bari Grand Prix Rex suffered some serious burns to his hands and arms when the car on which he was working caught fire. After a quick visit to a local hospital, he reported for work the following morning, his upper limbs swathed in bandages but ‘I could still do things and there were things to do’.  It was race day after all! A few weeks later at Naples Stirling, leading the race, was forced off the road into a head-on collision with a tree by a backmarker, fracturing a knee and knocking out his front teeth. Rex was dispatched by Alf to walk round the circuit to find where Stirling was. Eventually finding a bloodstained, badly shocked Stirling at the scene of the accident, unable to stand, Rex scooped him up in his arms and ran back to what passed for a medical tent through the local streets and municipal gardens.

The relationship with Alf was tricky and eventually led to a parting of the ways with HWM in early 1952, Rex being taken on by Gordon Watson of Leacroft Engineering who was running a Formula 2 Alta. When Gordon was unavailable, he allowed Rex to race the Alta with which he claimed fifth and sixth places at Ibsley.  However, Rex realised that he did not have a future as a front-line single-seater driver and decided that his skills were better deployed in race car engineering and preparation. After a short spell as chief mechanic with the Connaught team, Rex worked for Leslie Hawthorn, Mike’s father, at his Tourist Trophy garage in Farnham where his responsibilities included the race preparation of Reg Parnell’s Scuderia Ambrosiana Formula 1 Ferrari 500/625. Tragically Leslie was killed in a road accident on the way home from Goodwood on Whit Monday 1954 and, although Rex continued for a time working for Mike Hawthorn, he moved on to Vanwall. 

Impressed by Rex’s abilities, Reg Parnell recommended him to John Wyer at Aston Martin, where Reg had been a mainstay of the sports car team for several years and would become team manager in succession to John Wyer. Initially Rex was involved in the construction of the customer DB3Ss which soon led him back into racing since most of these cars were raced by their owners. Next came the 3.7 litre DBR2 and 3-litre DBR3, Rex being involved in the construction of both these models. In late 1957 he accompanied Stirling Moss with a DBR2 to the Bahamas Speed Week in Nassau where he met wealthy American Aston enthusiast Elisha Walker Jr which led to Rex spending the next two years running the DBR2 in the major US sports car races for Elisha Walker’s team with George Constantine as driver. So successful was the project that Rex was awarded the New York Times trophy as the mechanic of the year, the first time the accolade had not been won by someone from Indycar racing. It was one of the achievements of which he was proudest.

When Elisha Walker closed down his team at the end of 1959, Rex was asked by John Wyer to become Aston Martin’s representative in North America, a role for which he was ideally suited as someone who could talk about the cars’ technicalities rather than just delivering a smooth sales pitch. Rex then set up and ran for Aston Martin a dedicated import and distribution operation in Pennsylvania which flourished through the DB5, DB6 and DBS models, overcoming some serious obstacles created by increasingly stringent emission laws. In 1972 Sir David Brown sold Aston Martin Lagonda, which he had originally acquired in 1947, and three years later its new owners were faced with the company going into administration. Rex saved the situation by encouraging two wealthy North American Aston Martin enthusiasts to fund a rescue operation.

Rex returned to the UK in 1980, spending a further four years with Aston Martin at Newport Pagnell before departing to set up his own company specialising in Aston Martins in which he was joined by his son Chris in 1988. He raced regularly and successfully in AMOC events in a DB4GT and later a DBS V8. He retired from an active role in the business in 1991. Having been elected as a BRDC Associate Member in 1987, he was able to continue an involvement in motor racing as joint South Region Co-ordinator with Brian Heath, enthusiastically and conscientiously fulfilling the role well past his 90th birthday.

In 1990 Rex joined the Royal Southampton Yacht Club, organising many cruises and other events for its members and receiving the club’s lifetime achievement award from HRH Princess Anne in 2017.

To his wife Joyce, whom he married in 1954, and to their sons Neil and Chris and their families, the BRDC offers its most sincere condolences. 

The Club regrets to report on the death of Ray Thackwell who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1957
The Club regrets to report on the death of Ron Bennett, who was elected as a BRDC Associate Member in 1963
The Club regrets to report on the death of Denys Rohan who was elected as an Honorary BRDC Member in 2000.
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