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Racing legend driving Nassau economy

In 1954, Bahamas Speed Week (BSW) was a premier event featuring the who’s who in motor racing.

Sir Stirling Moss, arguably the greatest race car driver of all time, remembers the endless society banquets and the cocktail parties on Montagu Beach.

But back then, as a young man at the very apex of his sport, Sir Stirling just wanted to race.

“From my point of view, it was a bit too amateur,” he told Guardian Business from his home in the UK.

“I wanted to get on with the racing. I feel quite different now that I’m older. Now I’m looking forward to seeing old friends.”

Indeed, more than a few friends will be awaiting the legend’s arrival.

Sir Stirling is without a doubt the celebrity centerpiece of an event that aims to attract thousands of tourists and a top-notch corporate presence. Of the 527 races he entered from 1948 to 1962, the charismatic athlete registered 212 wins and notched a number of speed records.

With at least $100 million worth of vintage cars arriving in Nassau, the event’s revival, more than 40 years in the making, represents more than an emotional homecoming for Sir Stirling. It’s a rekindling of an annual spectacle that could mean millions to the local tourism industry.

“I think the event will bring a lot of attention,” Sir Stirling added.

“Formula 1 certainly brings a lot of attention. With it coming back, hopefully it will revive people’s memories of what it was like. I think if it’s handled properly and with the help of tourism leaders in The Bahamas it will carry a great deal of interest around the world, actually.”

And that’s exactly what BSW organizers are banking on at this year’s revival.

Back then, from 1954 to 1966, BSW actually had a racetrack for the various time trials and competitions. Plans are already underway to possibly build a track in Oakes Field for future events.

This year, from November 30 until December 4, a temporary track is being set up at the freshly-paved Arawak Cay. More than 30 official participants are shipping in the vintage vehicles from the U.S. and the UK, and several of them are arriving at the festivities in super yachts.

David McLaughlin, a chief organizer of BSW, said Sir Stirling is without a doubt the magnet bringing the whole event together.

His presence is central to its success, he felt.

“We had the potential of having many top Formula 1 drivers at this event,” he told Guardian Business. “We absolutely decided we would concentrate solely on him. If you have Stirling, you don’t need anyone else. He is that much of an icon.”

Although celebrities and members of the race car world are expected to attend, BSW organizers are reporting that elite members of the worldwide business community will also be descending on Nassau.

Dozens of local and international businesses have signed on for a spot in the Paddock Club, considered a staple on the Formula 1 racing circuit, with spots being scooped up at a minimum of $10,000.

Royal Dutch Shell, Red Bull, Graycliff, Bahamas Waste, Carlo Milano, Callenders and Co. and the Grand Bahama Port Authority are sponsoring events and will have a major corporate presence during the week.

As patron to BSW, Sir Stirling will circulate through the events and provide some much-needed star power and punch to drive the tourism dollars. During the 1950s and 1960s, and beyond, Sir Moss told Guardian Business that Nassau held a special place in his heart.

He even owned a house in the capital, he added, and has fond memories of The Bahamas.

And as the 82-year-old legend prepares for his grand homecoming, Sir Moss is ready to make his mark on yet another page in history.

“The highlight will be seeing old friends of mine that I have not seen in a very long time,” he said.

“People are coming from all over the world and I expect there will be a lot of people. For me, it’s going to be a social event. It is social pressure rather than the pressure of racing.”

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