Back in the late nineties and early noughties, I spent a fascinating and rewarding few years editing the McLaren Group’s in-house corporate glossy. We had unrivalled access to the inner workings of this most historic and successful of Grand Prix teams and I routinely pored over its staggering collection of F1, Indy and Can-Am cars as though in some sort of surreal Gulliver’s Travels-style toy shop.
The role required that I get to know and work closely with plenty of trusted McLaren allies, be they drivers, engineers, journalists or broadcasters. Our brief was to tell the McLaren story – from its humble beginnings when Kiwi engineer and ace pedaller Bruce McLaren first set up the team in the early 1960s, through to the multi-million-pound operation that was the then-current world-beating antics of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard.
One man who found his name very close to the top of that list of allies was veteran scribe Alan Henry. So respected and loved by the McLaren family was Alan in fact, that team principal Ron Dennis would often ring and suggest that I commission him to pen certain features. And I never had to question Ron’s thinking. The two knew each other well and had a friendship and mutual trust of each other’s position that had been nurtured over many decades.
Alan, a former editor of weekly title Motoring News, a veteran correspondent for Autocar and The Guardian, as well as long-standing editor of the renowned Autocourse annual, died on Saturday, aged 68. Too young, of course, but his professional career as a writer, journalist, editor and confidant to the best in the business, was packed with great moments – for him and his readers. His friendly, approachable demeanour among anyone at a race circuit, inside or outside the paddock, was his greatest skill. In fact, as a lad who’d sneaked into the paddock to experience a bit of the life I craved, getting his autograph and asking a question or two of this man in the know, was as much a treat as doing the same with a Prost, a Piquet or a Patrese.
It was a pleasure and a vital vocation, once my dream had come true, to work with ‘AH’ – a nickname he acquired thanks to abbreviated bylines on stories in Motoring News. Back in my youth, I had saved up for, bought and devoured the numerous motorsport books he had written and can still see them, their contents well-thumbed and absorbed, on my shelves as I type this. His easy-going, endearing and jargon-free accounts of the great moments in our sport’s history, and his warm, personal appraisals of its stars, many of whom became his friends, inspired me to learn more and aspire to be like him: on the inner-sanctum and privileged enough to earn a living from one’s hobby.
Thanks, AH, for spoiling my proper education and contributing to its replacement with a far more enjoyable and rewarding one. I hope you’re now up there somewhere catching up with lost friends and fallen heroes.