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The many sufferings of Lance Macklin

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Jack Barlow’s book ‘A Race with Infamy – The Lance Macklin Story’ brings up one very persistent question; how come it has taken this long before a book was written on Macklin?

Jack Barlow lives and works in the USA as a writer, but he was born in New Zealand. Herein lies the root of a non-motorsport writer writing a book which should have been written a long time ago. After the disaster at Le Mans took place in 1955, Macklin’s life unravelled and he ended up living as far away from Europe as he possibly could; in New Zealand.

The start of the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1955. Macklin’s Healey (#26) and Levegh’s Mercedes (#20) are in close company. Note the narrowness of the straight. Photo Mercedes

The worst crash ever

The drama at the Le Mans 24 Hours has three key players: Pierre ‘Levegh’ Bouillin, Mike Hawthorn and Lance Macklin. In short; Mike Hawthorn slammed on the brakes on his Jaguar D-Type. He had just overtaken Lance Macklin in an Austin Healey, who had nowhere to go. Macklin pulled to the left, which brought him straight in the path of Levegh in his Mercedes 300 SLR. The Mercedes launched itself on the back of the Healey and ended up in the crowd. Over 80 people died, it was the biggest disaster in motor racing ever.

Levegh had died in the accident, Hawthorn was dead not even four years later, the victim of a road crash. This left Macklin the sole survivor of the Le Mans tragedy, which must have been a near-impossible burden to carry. Just months later, Macklin had another close encounter with death at the RAC TT at Dundrod in Northern Ireland. Early in 1956, Macklin decided he’d had enough and quit racing for good.

Photo JoD


With that, a remarkable career in motor sports came to an end. Barlow’s book brings a fascinating insight in the world of an overlooked talent. By the time of the Le Mans drama, however, Macklin’s career was already going downhill. As the son of Invicta-founder Noel Macklin, Lance had a privileged upbringing, even if his parents were distant and did not approve of him racing.

Playboy lifestyle

Early fifties, Lance Macklin had made a name for himself and he was an Aston Martin works driver, and he had high hopes of making it in Formula 1, together with Stirling Moss in the HWMs. Whereas Barlow’s book brings a well-documented insight in Macklin’s early career, little mistakes (DB1 was not an official name, the DB2 is a six-cylinder model, not a four) notwithstanding. But it really is the post-Le Mans ’55 part that makes this book worth reading. Barlow paints a clear picture of a man who had suffered from growing up in a cold family environment, never managing to settle, the playboy lifestyle hiding his incapability to live a life that could be considered normal by any standard. The age of glitter, casino, booze and women comes with a cost. Add to this the burden of the Le Mans crash, and you can’t help but feel for this man.

Photo JoD

After the many books on Mike Hawthorn and the Le Mans drama, it comes as a surprise that no one before Barlow came up with a book on Macklin. In fact, it deserves better than a pocket-sized book with very little regard for photography. In combination with the small mistakes, I guess it is fair to say Veloce Publishing could have done a better job in the presentation, even if the size makes this book a welcome travel companion. At 29 euros, it really is a no-brainer; go get it.

Author: Jack Barlow

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ISBN: 978-1-787117-87-7

Publisher: Veloce Publishing

Pages: 218

Price: 29 Euro

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  • An entertaining and intelligent biography of a fascinating and talented man. Lance had his faults and failings and would have tested the patience of most of us, but Jack Barlow’s charming book makes you understand why people were so willing to be forgiving. A gentle and thoughtful man and never one to dream of a dull life.

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