Fast, but not so furious

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Local Fireball Tim Lawrence uses his vast knowledge of the automotive world to create children’s books, web content and television. As a car designer for more than 20 years, he is regularly consulted by major automotive manufacturers, such as Porsche and GM, for design improvements. 

If you were a 12-year-old boy enamored of hot rods, robots, impossible gadgets and anything that flies or goes really fast, you might want to grow up to be Fireball Tim Lawrence. 

The longtime Malibu resident has conceptualized the automotive world as a designer of cars for more than 20 years. He is regularly consulted by the major automotive manufacturers—Porsche, GM, Hyundai—for design improvements and, in fact, is delivered new cars every week to test drive and analyze. And when Hollywood needs to invent new vehicles to feature in the testosterone-driven blockbusters whose car chases are so prized by young men, Lawrence is the go-to-guy. 

“Southern California is an exciting place to work on cars,” Lawrence said. “Santa Monica and Malibu are the core center of America’s car culture, so I write a lot about car news and Hollywood for the ‘Fast and Furious’ crowd.” 

Lawrence’s auto expertise informs his two blogs, The Fireball Tim Wackadoodle, which aggregates all news automotive, and one titled simply Fireball Tim (Fireball is his legal name, shown on his driver’s license and passport), wherein you can keep up with his YouTube Channel featuring such adventures as his “Wacky Rides” series sketching new kinds of vehicles that might vaguely resemble cars. It’s part of maintaining his brand. 

Lawrence’s dad is the television writer Anthony Lawrence. He wrote for many of the major television series of the ’60s and ’70s. His brother taught him to drive at age 14. But after ruining the gears of his brother’s car, Fireball was told he was on his own. 

After graduating from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Lawrence went to work for Disney’s Imaginarium, where he met his wife, costume designer and sculptor Kathy Lawrence (“She designs in 3D, I design in 2D,” he said). Although Lawrence appreciated his creative freedom to work on whatever project he thought might be cool while at Disney, he wanted to expand some horizons. 

They were laid off together in 1992 and decided to go freelance. 

“It was the best thing to ever happen to us,” Lawrence said. “Kathy has been designing for H.R. Pufnstuf, movie characters and Ellen DeGeneres’ Christmas show. I just expanded my brand to pop culture.” 

Earlier this year, Lawrence published his first children’s book, “Fireball Tim’s Big Book of Wacky Rides.” In it, he basically takes inanimate objects, like a mountain or a bowl of macaroni and cheese, and automates them. 

“Images from childhood books really stick,” Lawrence said. “I grew up reading Richard Scarry books and I realized there were no kids’ car books around. So I decided to illustrate fantasy vehicles that would make kids think outside of the box.” 

He tried out his idea through a seminar he held at Webster Elementary, encouraging the students to envision cars made of completely off-kilter subjects, like turning a cruise ship into a hot rod. The children obliged with drawings automating everyday objects and, as Lawrence emphasized, thinking of applying electrical engineering in completely innovative ways. 

But what fires Lawrence’s pistons most right now is the first annual World Class Automotive Film & Arts Festival that he is hosting this week, taking place at the Pebble Beach concourse and Golden State Theatre in Monterey. 

“It’s the first Hollywood event staged at Pebble Beach,” Lawrence said. “We’re premiering three new films centered on automobiles: a documentary on Formula One racing, another about two drag racers in the ’60s called ‘Snake and Mongoose,’ and a Ken Burns documentary about a 1906 cross-country car trip. This was at a time when there were no highways and no gas stations. Imagine what they had to do to accomplish that.” 

These days, Lawrence himself drives “the perfect Malibu car,” a ’97 custom-built Chevy Tahoe. Although it is powerful at 500 horsepower, he said his racing days are over. 

“I’m not allowed any more,” he said. “Besides, I see too many accidents in front of my house on PCH.” 

Check out Fireball Tim’s blog at http://fireballtim.com