Mike Lawrence 1942–2020

The Guild of Motoring Writers committee was saddened to learn of the death of Guild member Mike Lawrence, just before Christmas.

Mike was a highly respected motorsport journalist and many of his colleagues expressed sorrow at his passing.

We asked his colleague, Chris Balfe, is we could publish the warm and funny tribute he wrote for his Pitpass.com website (see below), to which Mike was a contributor.

Guild member Mark Cole has given us the image below from when he and Mike worked togther on a radio show in the 1970s.

Mark said: “I got to know him when I was press officer at Thruxton, and I would join him and Rob Widdows for Rob’s Radio Victory motorsport show at Portsmouth during the 1970s.

“I knew that he was a school teacher with a good radio voice, and later as a good motoring journalist and writer, and did a lot of work for the Goodwood Festival.”

Above: Mike Lawrence (right) with some of the high-profile guests on Rob Widdows’s Radio Victory show Track Torque.
Mike Lawrence. Photo: Chris Balfe

Long-time readers of Pitpass will be aware that Mike was with us from the very start indeed, prior to that he worked with me at that site that shall never be named.

I first met Mike unaware that I already had a couple of his books on my shelf, ‘The Story of March (Four Guys and a Telephone)’ and ‘Brabham Ralt Honda (The Ron Tauranac Story)’.

I was running a poll on an F1 site in 1998 and going through the responses I came across one that stood out from the rest, I made a note to contact the author and as a result our friendship began.

Mike was a truly genuine character, and though there are tears in my eyes as I type this, I cannot help smiling as I recall some of the things he wrote and the countless anecdotes.

Mike could (and would) talk for hours about motor sport, and whether it was drivers or machines he was a true expert, an amazingly knowledgeable man. Yet, rather than concentrate on personalities or chassis numbers (a common fault in motor racing literature), Mike preferred to weave a story around his painstakingly researched facts.

He was just as knowledgeable about William Shakespeare, while also being a keen movie fan. Being a fan myself I remember sitting in disbelief with him as he guffawed all the way through Ted, while I could barely raise a smile, and late last year, after he had watched Vincent Price’s Theatre of Blood, we had a long discussion about the many other films that used the penthouse at Alembic House, the property originally owned by legendary composer John Barry, who subsequently sold it to a certain B C Ecclestone who in-turn sold it on to Jeffrey Archer.

A former teacher, Mike’s passion was to share his knowledge with others but always in the most entertaining of ways.

His all-time racing hero was Stirling Moss – or Sir God as he called him – and it is fitting that one of the last things he wrote was a tribute to the racing legend when he passed away earlier this year.

As well as the many books, including Colin Chapman – Wayward Genius, Mike had helped Bernie Ecclestone put together his famed collection of race cars, and was a key player when the Goodwood Festival of Speed was first being put together.

Then there was Track Torque, the legendary motor sport radio show hosted by Mike and Rob Widdows, broadcast by Radio Victory in the late 70s. Though only available in the south of England the show not only attracted a sizeable audience of fans each week but some of the biggest names in the sport, names like Frank Williams, Colin Chapman, Stirling Moss, Mario Andretti, Niki Lauda, Ron Dennis, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost . . .

I am sure Mike would enjoy the fact that later today [22 December, 2020] Film 4 is showing the Peter Sellers movie, A Shot in the Dark – the second of the Pink Panther series – for it was in this film that Sellers good friend Bryan Forbes had a minor role as a guitar-playing nudist camp attendant, the character listed in the ending credits as Turk Thrust.

Turk, of course, was to achieve legendary status as advisor to FOSU, the Formula One Script Unit, the mythical organisation that Liberty Media would surely love to have back on board and at times still appears to be working in the background.

Then there was the time Mike was perceived as having gone a little too far and was threatened with legal action over something he’d written for us. Instead of a grovelling apology or a crowdfunding page, Mike proceeded to mock the lawyer’s name (Marvin) in a series of the funniest letters I have ever seen. Eventually, clearly worn down by the experience, the lawyer and litigant gave up.

“Marvin,” he wrote, “I turn the name over in my mouth and find no fault with it. Marvin is the name I would choose if writing fictional comedy about a firm of solicitors who cannot write a letter.

“Thank you, Lord Harry, for delivering a Marvin to my hands. There is much potential in ‘Marvin’, as you will discover. Marvin is not just a silly name, it is a stupendously ridiculous name. I shall have a lot of fun with ‘Marvin. I reckon that Marvin even beats Elmer.”

In the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, above the tomb of its architect, Sir Christopher Wren is the epitaph: “Reader, if you seek his memorial – look around you.”

Might I suggest that you spend some time over the coming days reading the genius that was Mike, for when all is considered, his magnificent writing is his epitaph. All his features for Pitpass can be found here.

RIP my dear friend.

Chris Balfe