One sunny day at a sports car race on the old public road course at Bridgehampton, NY, a very young boy who at that time had no interest in automobiles was invited to step into the cockpit of a tiny Cooper-Norton F3 race car. “This one fits me!” he remembers exclaiming in his mind. Today, Pete Lyons looks back on that as a life-changing moment.
Cars that seem to fit are larger now, but the excitement that springs from them is just as fresh. And to his delight, he has been able to devote the intervening decades to happily wandering the raceways of the world, writing about, photographing, and very occasionally being allowed to drive some of the most beautiful and thrilling machines ever created by human genius. Even better, he’s been privileged to know some of the geniuses.
It’s all thanks to his father, Ozzie Lyons, an engineer, photographer and lifelong automobile enthusiast who put Pete's feet on this road. Ozzie was long the USA correspondent for Autosport magazine, and helped his youngster begin shooting and writing for that British bible too. Gradually, but inevitably, covering motorsports became a career.
For several years Pete reported on the North American scene for Autosport, regularly attending great events like the Daytona 24-hour and 500-mile races, the Sebring 12-hour, the Indy 500, and the annual Formula One Grands Prix in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. A special favorite was the Can-Am, the Canadian-American Challenge Cup series for essentially unlimited big sports racing cars. Those glorious years from 1966 to 1974 are the basis for three of Pete’s books: CAN-AM and CAN-AM PHOTO HISTORY, both from MBI Publishing, and CAN-AM CARS IN DETAIL from David Bull Publishing (see BOOKS page at the author’s website, www.petelyons.com).
Pete then went international, and spent four fulfilling seasons as the F1 correspondent for both Autosport and and the American publication AutoWeek. From January 1973 through October 1976, at a time before live television or the Internet, when fans had to wait for their magazine to arrive to learn the results of a race weekend, Pete tried to put the reader into his shoes at such exotic spots as Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Japan and all the great circuits of Europe.
After retiring from life on the road Pete spent several years on-staff as editor of a US racing monthly, which at first was called Formula and later renamed Racecar. As a freelancer he has contributed to a wide variety of other automotive publications, including AutoWeek, Car and Driver, Car Graphic, Corvette Quarterly, Cycle, Cycle World, EAA Sport Aviation, Motorsport, On Track, Private Pilot, Racer, Road & Track, Sports Car, Vintage Racecar and Vintage Motorsport — the last of which now carries his regular column, "Fast Lines." Also, for 12 years he was editor and primary writer and photographer for MilePost, the monthly organ of the Motor Press Guild (MPG), the largest such organization of professional automotive journalists, analysts and PR people. In addition to Octane Press (which also publishes his annual racing calendars), Pete Lyons has had his words and/or photos in books published by Robert Bentley, David Bull, Rod Campbell, Haynes, Mecum Auctions, Motorbooks (MBI), Osprey, Paul Oxman, Publications International, etc.
To date Pete Lyons is the author of 12 published books, with two more underway. Twice his work has been honored with MPG’s Dean Batchelor Award for Excellence in Journalism; he also received an Award for Journalism (Best Feature Article) given by the Road Racing Driver's Club and the International Motor Press Association's Ken Purdy Award. In 2011 he was honored with the International Automotive Media Award for Lifetime Achievement.
To scratch that old F3 racing itch, Pete has attended several competition driving schools, including the Bob Bondurant School, Skip Barber School, British School of Motor Racing, Jim Russell School and Jim Hall II Kart Racing School. He has test-driven many high performance cars, including several Ford GT40s, Lola and Shadow Can-Am machines, a Porsche 935 Turbo, a March-BMW GTP, and a Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa. He has competed in Formula Ford open-wheel racing, on go karts, and as a navigator in rallies (class winner with World Champion driver Denny Hulme in Tour of Britain, 1976).
No Cooper-Norton has come his way, but Pete has owned a Norton motorcycle and several other bikes, including Honda, Suzuki, Triumph, Triton (Triumph-Norton special) and Vincent, and has ridden all across the United States, deep into Mexico, and throughout much of Europe. His most exciting personal car was a 1973 Corvette Stingray, a bright red coupe which he drove fast from race to race in Europe during his F1 years.
When the flying bug bit, he earned his private pilot's license, added an Instrument Rating, and has owned Cessna, Mooney and Piper aircraft. At the extremes of the flight envelope, he has proudly logged pilot time in the Goodyear Blimp and at the (back seat) stick of a Navy Blue Angels jet.
Today Pete, his wife Lorna Fitts Lyons (former editor of SCCA’s Sports Car magazine), and their kittie Mira are at home today in a small mountain community in Southern California.