Mike Smith, who has died from complications following heart surgery at the age of 59, was a driver whose talents were always overlooked as a result of his TV fame.
'Smithy', as he was often known, raced tin-tops for much of the 1980s off the back of that fame, but he was a more than competent driver who loved the sport and funded the establishment of the Trakstar team that went on to win the 1990 British Touring Car Championship with Robb Gravett.
It was with Gravett, in a two-driver mini-enduro at Brands Hatch in '90, that he notched up his lone BTCC success, but two years earlier he had been a frontrunner aboard a BMW M3.
Arguably his greatest success, however, was winning the Willhire 24 Hours at Snetterton in 1986 at the wheel of a Ford Escort RS Turbo.
Smith and Lionel Abbott took a giant-killing victory in their Class B entry thanks to a strategy of stopping for fuel just seven times over the course of the production saloon event.
Stuart McCrudden, who brought Smith back to racing in 1984 and had put together the team that ran the RS Turbo, recalls his star driver playing a major role in the victory.
"I remember him saying during the night, 'You know, I think we can get a result here'," says McCrudden.
"My reply was: 'If you continue doing what you've been doing for the past 12 hours, yes we can'.
"When he was able to concentrate and get out of broadcasting mode, he was a very good driver indeed."
Edd Abbott, who engineered Smith for fours seasons in the 1980s, makes a similar point.
"'Smithy' was actually a very talented driver, he just needed firm direction," says Abbott.
"I'd known him for a long time, so I was able to swear at him to bring him down to earth."
McCrudden, who had taken over the running of the Ford Fiesta one-make championship in the early 80s, had contacted Smith after Ford had handed him sponsorship from photographic giant Ilford.
"I realised that we needed a star driver to make the most of the sponsorship, and that's why I turned to Mike," he explains.
Smith, who won five races in his first year back racing, continued to compete with McCrudden into 1987 when they switched to the new Ford Sierra RS Cosworth with backing from Mobil.
Smith took that funding to Prodrive for an assault on the BTCC with a BMW M3 in '88 and came away with four overall podiums and third in the class championship (which gave him fifth position overall), despite missing the final two races as the result of a helicopter crash in which he broke his back and an ankle.
He was back racing at the start of the following year after setting up Trakstar, which was motivated by his childhood dreams, according to the squad's first team manager Malcolm Swetnam.
"Mike really wanted to run in the top class, but he'd also wanted to have his own race team ever since he was a little boy," says Swetnam.
"It was 'Smithy' who wrote the cheque for those two ex-Dick Johnson RS500s and the lease on the team's premises."
Smith completed a full BTCC season in 1989, taking a lone podium at Brands, after which funding issues forced Trakstar to slim down to just one full-time entry for Gravett in his championship year and eventually forced the team to close its doors in 1991.
Smith, whose father Reg was a senior Ford Motor Company sales executive, entered the world of broadcasting as the result of his interest in motor racing.
Aged 21, he took a PR and marketing role at Brands Hatch, which also involved some circuit commentary.
Brands hosted Radio 1 Fun Days at the time, which resulted in Smith meeting station boss Johnny Beerling and ultimately landing a job as researcher at Radio 1.
Smith began racing as a child in grasstrack events, before moving onto the circuits.
He bought a Sark Formula Ford 2000, which had started out as the Patrick Head-designed Starfire, for the 1976 season.
A major accident at Oulton Park curtailed his season and led to the decision to focus on his broadcasting career.
Smith is survived by his wife Sarah Greene.
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