John Michael “Mike” Lawrence passed away on 22nd August, at the age of 85, after a fall and a short illness.
I met Mike Lawrence when I was marshalling in the top paddock at Loton Park. A historic 500 pulled in, the driver wearing a black and yellow helmet cover. I remarked that it looked like a speedway cover, to which the driver replied positively; after years of following speedway, I had met Mike Lawrence. A friendship was born that lasted almost 30 years, with Monday nights at Monmore Green in Wolverhampton being the regular meeting place.
Best known to hillclimb spectators as the driver of one of the Historic 500s, Mike competed on hills throughout the Midlands with considerable success in several cars from his own stable, including a Starride, CBS (Cooper Based Special), Barry Oddie Special and Cooper Mk8, all powered by JAP engines, plus a Vixen-Imp. A distinguishing feature of his competition cars used to be vinyls on the sides of Tina Turner, the pop singer, who he greatly admired.
The JAP connection was not a coincidence. As a teenager, Mike began riding cycle speedway, and became interested in the sport of (powered) speedway. Indeed, as a teenager, it was nothing to him to cycle (yes, cycle) with friends from Birmingham to London, watch a match, and then return home. In time, he graduated from cycle speedway to speedway, and rode for several teams until the death on track of a good friend led to his retirement from the sport. He continued to spectate at, and support, his local track of Birmingham, and subsequently Wolverhampton, where it was always a pleasure to spectate in his company, and exchange views on speedway and life in general. This was to continue until shortly before his passing.
In his personal life, as a young man Mike married Barbara, and they had two sons, Steve and Andrew. Once Mike started hillclimbing, Steve soon joined in, and it was a common sight at Midland hillclimbs to see Mike competing in the Starride or CBS, and Steve in the Cooper. Andrew’s son Jonathan has recently begun to follow in the family tradition and hillclimb in the Cooper, and seeing a third generation carry on the tradition was a source of great pride for Mike.
In terms of cars, Mike was a Jaguar man, working for them most of his working life, although he owned and ran his own garage, Bodyline, for a time. This Jaguar connection was reflected in the cars he drove; he owned an E-type at one time, and since I’ve known him owned at least 2 XJSs. He also spent time in The Forces, recalling being flown back from Egypt in an Avro York that “stank of fuel”.
The love of transport continued outside of cars and motorcycles; Mike was a shareholder in the Severn Valley Railway, and owned a canal boat for a time.
You may think that the above was enough, but no; Mike became a member of The Men in Black, travelling the country and demonstrating (his own) vintage speedway bikes at many different venues, and continued to compete in vintage grasstrack speedway until he had turned 80. At one point, Mike remarked that Barbara had told him off for competing in a vintage grasstrack meeting; he replied that he had been riding speedway when he started going out with her. Yes, came the reply, but I didn’t expect you to still be doing it approaching 80....
Enthusiast, character – there are various words to describe Mike.
Personally, I would like to add another – friend.
I probably first met Mike Lawrence in the early ‘90s when I was Secretary of the Meeting for the July events at Loton Park. The HDLCC Chairman at that time was another 500 competitor, Barry Brant. Mike was one of hillclimb’s great characters; always ready to take the “mickey” out of anyone or to be the butt of the banter. He will be greatly missed by all.
Our thoughts are with his family and friends.
Martyn Silcox, HDLCC Chairman