Like all sports, Motorsport can be cruel. Most of us who have competed, at any level, are acutely aware of this. I am old enough to remember watching Tommy Byrne blitzing the opposition at Mondello Park back in 1981 at the wheel of the OLA/Navan Shopping Centre works Van Diemen and I can still remember the hype surrounding him and the win at the time.
Tommy Byrne was a genuine world class talent, of that there is little doubt. He had ultimate faith in his own ability and generally proved himself right, blitzing any drivers he came up against during his meteoric rise towards the heady heights of F1. If you are reading this, it is probably reasonable to assume that you have read Crashed And Byrned, the award winning book chartering the incredible story of the Dundalk man’s trip to the top and subsequent fall afterwards. At the time of the book launch, a film had been mentioned and I was subsequently contacted by David Burke who was producing the pilot in order to raise funds for the film itself. At the time, I was working in Mondello Park and was happy to allow the team, and Tommy, access to the circuit to help with this.
Time passed and the film was completed, on location in Ireland, the UK and the US- and last week I travelled to the press preview at the Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin. The film encapsulates everything that the book did, and more. That, as a huge fan of the book, is a strong statement- but one I stand by. From the start, when we venture back to Tommy’s family home, now abandoned and decrepit, you feel as if you are part of his journey. Interspersed with clips of cine film taken in the house back in the day. it gives you a genuine feeling of a “local boy made good” and shows the pride of the family as they peruse the scrapbooks of Tommy’s many successes. Maurice Roddy was a huge supporter of Tommy’s back in the day and he provides a unique insight into the early days, the lack of money, the fund raising attempts, whilst simultaneously retrieving some of Tommy’s trophies from the loft in his garage…..
Tommy blitzed UK FF1600, a hugely competitive formula back then, before moving on to FF2000 and doing the same, still driving for Ralph Firman’s Van Diemen equipe and still pulverising the opposition. Towards the end of the season, Ayrton Senna, who was driving in FF1600 for the same team, gave up on motor racing and went home to Brazil. The film suggests that Byrne’s free drive frustrated him, as he was paying for his ride- and an ex Van Diemen mechanic explains that it might be going to far to say that Senna feared Byrne, but he definitely wanted to achieve everything Byrne had the previous year for the same team. Firman famously slotted the Dundalk driver into Senna’s car for the ultra important Formula Ford Festival and despite having spent the year racing with slicks and wings, Byrne, of course, won the event- assuring Firman of a host of winter orders for his latest design.
The film then goes on to charter Tommy’s career progressing to F3, winning the championship and the McLaren test, despite having missed 4 races whilst making his F1 debut for Theodore. There is wonderful footage of the final round of the series, where Tommy had to win to take the title and if the hair does not stand up on the back of your neck watching it, you are no motor racing fan.
The F1 test is the stuff of legends and most of it is true. Tommy eclipsed the times of both John Watson and Niki Lauda (from memory, and I might be mistaken, it was also the fastest non turbo time lap time ever at Silverstone at the time.) The infamous “Niki who” comment to Ron Dennis never happened, but the fact that the rough edged Irishman did not fit the McLaren plan is absolutely true- had they signed him there and then, who knows what would have happened….. After that, Tommy’s career went into freefall and this is all included in the film. For motor racing fans, it can be hard to watch- but is utterly compelling. Forget Senna and RUSH, this is the must see motor racing film of recent years.
The film was attended by some mainstream media representatives who gathered outside when it was over. David Hall, Greg Murphy and I were semi depressed as we left- even though we loved the film- as it showed just how tough this sport can be, regardess of talent. As we passed the assembled group the leader said loudly “I think they missed a trick there by not asking Byrne how he felt when Senna was killed.”
Greg looked at us and said, “Yeah right. He would have wondered was the drive available, like all racing drivers….”
Crashed and Byrne- in Irish Cinemas from December 2nd- don’t miss it…….