“Three lights, four lights, five lights… pause… GO! GO! GO!”
Is there a more iconic voice in all of sports broadcasting? I don’t think so. Murray Walker’s charismatic voice was the soundtrack to my childhood. Some of my earliest memories revolve around being sat in front of the TV on a Sunday, playing with my toy cars and watching the F1 with my dad. My first PlayStation game was Formula 1 ‘97, with Murray doing the commentary. I was obsessed with cars and obsessed with F1. Even as a young boy, hearing that calm before the storm tone as the mechanics cleared the grid and the cars set off on the warm-up lap made my hairs stand on end, you knew what was coming in the next few minutes. As soon as the revs on those piercing V10 engines climbed and the lights went out, that calming voice would come on cam and Murray’s overwhelming excitement would take over. As truly brilliant as Martin Brundle is, F1 just hasn’t been the same since.
Nobody else had been there since the very start of a sport and seen almost every race, battle, and fall-out with every racer, team or team principal before or since. He could provide first-hand, eyewitness insights on races most of us only know from the history books. When Murray spoke, people listened. What set him apart though, wasn’t just the knowledge, it was his ability to transfer that into words. He knew what to say and when to say it. Yes he made mistakes from time to time (Murrayisms) but fans embraced it, after all, James Hunt and later Martin Brundle were there to correct him! Who could forget historic moments like Nigel Mansell losing out on the world championship with a heroically saved blowout at Adelaide, Senna and Prost colliding on the first corner at Suzuka, or Damon Hill winning the world title? When you relive those moments in your head, it’s with Murray’s words - the man and the moment are forever inseparable.
His passion for the sport was truly unrivalled but what really set him apart was just how universally loved he was. I can imagine being a driver and having to talk to the media, some of them asking the same tedious questions over and over again, it would be nothing but a chore. It didn’t seem like that with Murray, the drivers were eager to chat with him and ask him questions, they respected him. Of course, the fans loved him too and not just ones from English-speaking countries, his was a truly global fanbase.
I still remember when he commentated on his final race at the 2001 US Grand Prix, I was still a young lad and I recall being rather emotional. Teams, drivers, personalities in the paddock and media had all come and gone over the years but Murray was a constant. I felt lost as to what would come next. As the years went by my thoughts never changed, I longed to hear his voice again and would be intrigued to hear his opinion on a particularly interesting race. As an adult and after serving in the British Army, I later found out Murray did too, that emotional bond became even closer, he was just an ordinary man and one of us, whose job was to talk about his passion and relay it to those of us not fortunate enough to be there.
When he died earlier this year, I’m not ashamed to say I shed a couple of tears. Even though I’d never met the man, I felt like I knew him. His voice was in my living room every race weekend for so many of my formative years. When I get asked the question, which people from history would you like to sit down and have a pint with, Murray is first on the list. I could find so many topics of conversation, even outside of motorsport. From his military service in World War Two, to his early days motorcycle racing and then his work on advertising campaigns, the man lived an incredible life. In volatile times like today, the world needs people like Murray who had such a broad perspective on life. His wise words will be sorely missed.
So here’s my little tribute to my hero, thanks for the memories. Rest in peace Murray.