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John J Campion- Ní bheidh a Leithéad Arís Ann

Ní bheidh a leithéad arís ann- one of a kind. There won’t be another one like him. Well you can sing that. When John Campion passed away the other day, after a long and brave battle, a bright light went out. You didn’t know John, you experienced him. He was a larger than life character who made his fortune from nothing. An inspiration, a mentor, a philanthropist and a man I am proud to have called my friend.

I met John briefly at the Motorsport Awards a few years back and we kept in touch. He called to tell me he had located the iconic ex Derek Daly Guinness March F1 car and was about to purchase it. As a kid, I watched Derek demonstrate that car at Mondello Park and we chatted about that. John then decided to bring the car back to Mondello Park. Together, we hatched a plan to bring it back to the famous St James’ gate at the Guinness brewery for a photoshoot on the days leading up to the Mondello Historic Festival. When Guinness didn’t exactly jump at the idea, we decided to do it anyway- at 5am. John was tickled pink by this and unsurprisingly, the iconic Michael Chester images went viral. We then brought the car to Kylemore Karting where John and Suzanne presented a cheque for €10,000 to Crumlin’s Children’s Hospital- and most of his crew had a spin on the karts. I can still see John laughing out loud at the sight of his good friend Drac bouncing some unfortunate kids out of his way at the hairpin as he tried in vain to beat the fastest lap! The car then arrived at Mondello Park and as we know, some young Irish drivers were given a once in a lifetime opportunity to drive a Formula 1 car. Perhaps the best bit though, was John climbing aboard the car himself. Having had recent surgery, there wasn’t a dry eye in the garage as he powered out the pitlane. In typical John Campion fashion, he gave us all two fingers as he drove down the main straight. What a day. What a man.

John and his fantastic  team after his run in the March 811 at Mondello Park. Image from Michael Chester

On the Sunday, we attended a lunch at Mondello and John, courtesy of his Italian tailor, had no competition for the best dressed award. As ever, he charmed everyone he met and took the time to speak to each and every person who came into the garage. When a group of us travelled to Florida for his CJJ Trackday in February this year, we knew it would be special, and of course it didn’t disappoint. John held court at dinner each evening with some incredible stories. I remember him lambasting me for inadvertantly ordering a glass of wine in a Taco restaurant, Rocco’s Tacos. “Everyone STOP. What the f is he drinking.” (I now know that you only order beer or  margarita in a Taco joint- thanks John!) John loved that day at the track, as we all did, and it was great to see him wringing the neck of the Sasol Jordan 192 out on track- before he “came into the pits  for tea.” It was Barry’s Tea all the way for the proud Corkman and on a number of  occasions we all stopped for a cuppa, in the hot Florida sunshine.

His CJJ crew are wonderful people and days like that at Mondello and Palm Beach gave us all a bond that will last for a very long time. John had that effect on people. This brings me onto the wonderful Suzanne. Never without her trademark beautiful smile, she was quite obviously John’s rock, right to the end. If two people were ever made for each other it was John and Suzanne Campion. So much so, in fact that they were almost like a teenage couple in their affection for each other. To Suzanne, there simply are no words, but know that you are in the thoughts of many many people this side of the pond at this time.

Suzanne and John Campion at Mondello Park in 2019. Image from Michael Chester

Personally, I will miss the phone calls so much. When his name came up on the screen you knew this was going to be good. He always opened with “Hey f*kker…..” and never ever did you hang up without laughing. There was always a story, and there was always a new idea or a plan. ( I can still hear his voice now, saying “So here’s the plan..”)

Rest easy John

Leo Nulty

As ever, thanks to my friend Michael Chester for the wonderful pictures.

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