I was in Mondello when Tommy Byrne blitzed that FF2000 race in the Ola/Navan Shopping Centre Van Diemen. I have said it before, but I think there was far more of a buzz around Tommy’s win than there was around Senna’s famous race at the same venue a year later. You couldn’t see Tommy, or the car in the paddock when he came back in, the crowd gathered around them was that big!
As with many of the best drivers who didn’t make it to F1 for whatever reason, there was little or no news of Tommy for many years. Just over ten years ago though “the book” was published. It told Tommy’s incredible story, warts and all and was an incredible read (it still is, and the extended version is available HERE) Like all Irish race fans, I ran out and bought it and barely put it down, reading it from cover to cover in two sittings. There are great stories of various Motorsport characters grabbing the book and scanning it in silence as fast as possible, terrified that they might feature in some of the barely believable stories! Unsurprisingly, it won the William Hill Irish Sports Book of The Year and was quickly out of print. A second and subsequent third run, also sold out and you would be lucky to find one of the original books on sale now. Thankfully, Tom Heavey of Irish Vintage Scene has printed the updated version and these are readily available now.
Fast forward a few years (a phrase I am using increasingly in my writings lately, I must be getting old) and I am in my office in Mondello Park and the phone rings. The caller asks me if I had ever heard of Tommy Byrne- I said I had and then he explained that he was from a production company and they had got the nod to make a pilot of a potential film on Tommy Byrne. I was understandably excited and invited them down for a chat. A few weeks later, they were joined at Mondello by Tommy and did some filming around the cars and in the suites, before heading to the UK to do some more. I kept in touch and was delighted when I heard the film was going ahead- although I did think the book was a hard act to follow. I needn’t have worried. I got a call from Tommy before the film’s release, inviting me to a private showing in The Blue Anchor pub near Dundalk and I was honoured to be asked to perform MC and interview Tommy and of course his long time supporter and subsequent co star Maurice Roddy in front of a wildly enthusiastic “small” crowd- what a great night!
I was also asked to perform MC at various showings, both in Dublin and Dundalk. Dundalk, unsurprisingly, was so popular that we had two showings, just an hour apart. In the audience at one of these were a few who had attended the famous McLaren test- and told me when I interviewed them that they had brought their own stopwatches and pitboards on the day! By the way, one thing that is never really mentioned is that this was the beginning of the turbo era and Tommy’s time not only eclipsed Lauda and Watson’s qualifying times in the same car, it was the fastest ever by a normally aspirated F1 car around Silverstone at the time.
Anyway, as I am sure you are aware, because almost everyone has seen the film at this stage, Seán Ó Cualáin, David Burke and their team produced an incredible film, one that shows the highest highs and lowest lows of Tommy’s career- and also captures how philosophical he is about it all now. When I heard that the film had been nominated for an IFTA award, I was delighted, but fully aware that Motorsport is a minority sport in Ireland, was not convinced that it could win. I was never so happy to be wrong when Michael Chester called me from the awards in the right to tell me the news- he also sent me the images immediately, as ever, and we ran them on social media- within ten minutes of the announcement (Thanks Chester)
“Throughout the film we get an insight into the highs and lows of his career as he was beaten by the system despite being the “best in the world at what he did”. Byrne’s personality on screen makes for an enjoyable and captivating documentary, ironic as it is the same personality blamed for his career downfall. A documentary cleverly crafted for both an outside viewer and an avid fan of racing. Through interviews we are given a fascinating and unique insight into low-level racing. These interviews explain the sport and race system, ensuring the documentary doesn’t fall into niche markets.” FilmIreland.net
“A great yarn. A great education.” The Irish Times
“There’s a fascination and poignancy to this gripping sports documentary, about someone who deserves a kind of legendary status for the way he didn’t become a legend.” The Guardian
“Whether you have an interest in Formula One or not, Crash and Burn is an engaging, and at times moving account of an extraordinary life.” Sean Crosson. Film Ireland Magazine.