The most successful drivers ever from the Republic of Ireland were Derek Daly and David Kennedy (pictured above, with 2017 Young Driver of The Year Jordan Dempsey), both of whom shot to fame in 1976 and progressed to Formula One and Le Mans success, before establishing themselves in very separate motorsport management roles on either side of the Atlantic.
It was fitting that the Royal Irish Automobile Club (R.I.A.C.) acknowledged their success – and the inspiration effect of it – by hosting a trip down memory lane, compèred by Michael O’Carroll, just before Christmas, as Derek was on a visit home from Indianapolis to be with his mother Nellie.
Two days later, Mondello Park followed up with a gathering of the early Irish Formula Ford greats as the Kildare race track closed out its 50th year – a year greatly saddened by the death of long term owner Martin Birrane, only months after the passing of founder Stuart Cosgrave.
Eddie, Derek and David all lived in Dundrum and were all inspired by the spread of Formula Ford – real, but affordable single seater racing cars – to Ireland in 1973/74. Jordan was exceptionally ambitious and used his weekends away from Bank of Ireland in Camden St. to dip his toe in the water of white -hot Formula Ford scene in England – with Aintree being the closest and most accessible. By 1975 Eddie, with his engineer James Woods, was getting his Crossle 30 F to the front and starting to make his mark when the trackside railway sleepers at Mallory Park ended his year in plaster.
Derek explained what happened next: “David and I knew if we wanted to win we had to have new equipment so we headed off to the mines in Australia where we both made enough money to buy new Formula Fords and a bus each that we lived in and kept our cars”. 1976 was a golden year – where the duo did every FF1600 event possible in England and while Kennedy won the RAC championship, Daly won the coveted Formula Ford Festival – the trophy for which was presented by the new F1 world champion – James Hunt.
As the duo sought to step up the ladder, they attracted a backer each who helped make the huge step to Formula 3. Kennedy was backed by John Hynes and his Group Waterworks concern while Donegalman Derek McMahon, proprietor of Donegal Oil, backed Daly. There are lessons in this for young drivers today. “Sponsorship in the junior levels is often difficult to commercially rationalise. I would say to young drivers, if you can show that your have the obsession to compete and work incredibly hard at it – and show some talent – people will be anxious to help. In some cases, help an awful lot”
Derek had the quickest rise ever into Formula One – competing in the non-championship F1 event in Easter 1978 – just 13 months after leaving Formula Ford.
He went on the compete in 49 Grand Prix, finished fourth twice before moving to America in 1983. David Kennedy took the route of the non championship Aurora F1 series before getting a Grand Prix opportunity with the Shadow team in early 1980 but the cars were hopeless and did not qualify. He went on to race successfully in Sportscars – most notably in the works Mazda at Le Mans.
Daly and Kennedy were the closest of friends in the early 1970s so it was marvellous to see the respect and friendship blooming at the both the R.I.A.C. and Mondello Park over the winter.
Images from Michael Chester