Andy Hallbery, former editor of RACER magazine, as well as the UK-based Autosport, has died after a short illness. He was 56.
You’ll hopefully know the name. But if you don’t and you’re a long-time RACER reader, you’ll definitely know his work. Andy crossed The Pond to edit RACER in 2001, going on to helm some of its most memorable issues and building it into a cultural touchpoint for the U.S. racing scene.
He returned to the UK in 2008, but his ability not just to present racing’s “what” and “why,” but to celebrate and elevate the sport visually through a potent blend of enthusiasm, sense of style and can-do spirit is something that those who worked with him or followed in his footsteps — this writer included — still try to emulate.
Andy never lost his fascination and enthusiasm for racing in all its forms; his body of work is a three decade-plus love letter to a sport whose flaws and foibles resonated with him just as much as the heroic and the epic. For him, racing was first and foremost about people, and that human connection — people like you and me, just doing extraordinary things — runs through pretty much everything he produced. The cars and technology, and all that? Yeah, pretty cool, too, but as a platform for people to transcend the ordinary and Andy to tell their stories.
I first met Andy long before either of us earned our living from writing about racing. He was the livewire kid from Cobra, the unofficial fan club and irreverent fanzine for the Brabham Formula 1 team and his enduring hero, Nelson Piquet. For both of us, sneaking into F1 paddocks was to enter an elevated, exhilarating world, but Andy did it with so much more aplomb, aided by the occasional loaned pass or back-of-the-van smuggle job from the Brabham crew, who admired his tenacity and desire to experience racing from the inside (OK, maybe not big boss Bernie Ecclestone, but the laidback likes of designer Gordon Murray down…).
From there, and after a year spent at the London College of Printing that provided him with just enough knowledge of publishing to be dangerous, it was almost inevitable that Andy would head to Autosport, the UK’s motorsports bible. Aged 19, but looking more like 14, Andy joined the staff in 1986. Not just an excellent writer, he proved pretty tasty behind the wheel, too, with his Citroen 2CV racing exploits (yes, they actually raced those things) proving particularly legendary, scrapes and all.
In 1992, he became Autosport’s youngest ever editor, and a little more than a year after that changed my life by giving an enthusiastic, but rough around the edges freelancer a full-time gig on the club racing desk. That was a recurring theme, Andy seeing something in somebody and giving them the chance and the space to prove it.
Andy’s role in Haymarket Publishing grew beyond just the weekly churn of Autosport, and a move to head up a new Special Projects department saw him redefining what racing magazines could be. Working on titles such as Class 1, Stars & Cars and even Formula 1’s official race programs, his imagination and aesthetic showcased the color, the excitement and the personalities of motorsports in a whole new way — one that provides a template and an attitude that guides us to this day.
Those magazines allowed him to be a recurring presence during the glory days of DTM and ITC touring car racing in the mid-1990s. That’s where he struck up a firm friendship with Dario Franchitti that only grew stronger as Dario headed to the U.S. in 1997 for what would prove to be a stellar career in CART and IndyCar, three Indianapolis 500 wins included. Andy began to spend more time in the U.S. racing scene, too, as Haymarket contemplated an American expansion.
Ultimately, it was Haymarket partnering with RACER magazine that sealed Andy’s full-time move to Southern California. RACER founder Paul Pfanner had built a magazine that celebrated global motorsports with a uniquely American perspective, but archetypal Brit Hallbery relished the challenge of taking it to the next level and building on Pfanner’s vision.
Take a look at some of the Hallbery-helmed issues of RACER and you’ll appreciate how far he moved the needle on the way print media reflected something as dynamic and fast-changing as motorsports. Aided by partner-in-crime and art editor Alan Muir, Andy always found a way of realizing his ideas, and the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., John Force and CART’s “Brat Pack” looked and sounded like rock stars through the prism of Andy’s game-changing approach. Being key to Bryan Herta getting a Formula 1 test with Minardi in 2002 was another coup, and yet another memorable cover and lead story.
Heck, the bloke even convinced Franchitti to pose with a “got milk?” mustache after winning his first Indy 500 in 2007. Oh, and Andy also got the Scot to recreate the cover of Oasis’s “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” album in a deserted, early-morning Soho street back in his DTM days. “Only for Andy,” as Dario recalls…
Dario and his milk ’tache graced the cover of IndyCar magazine, a sister publication to RACER and one of the reasons I joined Andy Stateside in 2004. I’d already followed in his footsteps by editing Autosport for a couple of tours of duty between 1996 and 2003, and same thing when I took over RACER as Andy headed back to the UK to pursue some of his own projects. Getting to edit the two best racing magazines in the world, and all thanks to Andy taking that chance on me.
Back in the UK, he built a wide-ranging freelance career, including co-authoring the fascinating “Romance of Racing” book with that man Dario, and the Dan Wheldon tribute, “Lionheart,” with Jeff Olson. As a guy with the contacts, he also enjoyed helping several young drivers get the message out there and kickstart their careers.
Of course, making rock stars out of race car drivers and spoofing Oasis covers seems only natural when you know how passionate Andy was about music. From Bowie in his glam phase, through punk and new wave, to Britpop (Oasis of course, but Blur, too), to discovering new bands right up to the present, he was as eclectic as he was knowledgeable. But it was synth-based music that truly floated his boat.
Electronic heavyweight Depeche Mode was his all-time favorite band, no argument (and I have to admit he convinced me of their merits when he dragged me to a packed and bouncing Staples Center for the full-on live experience). In a parallel universe he might have given them a run for their money with his own synth band, Varied Conscripts. If I’m remembering this right, a demo tape containing the very prescient and somewhat Kraftwerk-sounding “Someone’s Melted the North Pole” even got a mention in one of the UK’s leading music weeklies in the early 1980s.
OK, Andy didn’t become a synth-pop superstar, but I know that the path he did go down was one that he enjoyed every minute of.
Just a couple of weeks ago, we caught up on the phone and Andy was his usual whirlwind of ideas and future projects. He was already making plans to head over for the Grand Prix of Long Beach in April…and maybe arrive early enough to take in Depeche Mode at the Los Angeles Forum.
It’s a hard one to take, knowing we won’t be seeing him then, but I’ll console myself knowing that his was a life well lived, and one that made a difference. Thanks, Andy. For everything.
This story has been updated to correct the name of Andy’s college: London College of Printing. -Ed.