Book: Crashed & Byrned - Tommy Byrne's Autobiog.


Not my cup of cake
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I remember as a spotty youth reading an article in Grand Prix International about a driver called Tommy Byrne who was racing for Theodore in the 1982 season. Tommy had qualified for first Grand Prix in Austria and the interviewer asked him if he was looking forward to racing with Niki Lauda to which Tommy replied "Niki who?". The GPI article then went on to castigate this arrogant young upstart, insulting a great driver, not knowing his place, blah, blah, blah.

I mention this as I often wondered what happened to Tommy Byrne and this book tells you, warts an' all. The Knacker from Dundalk (as he dubs himself) was quite something at Formula Ford and then in Formula 3. The books claims Ayrton Senna deliberately went home to avoid having to drive against Tommy in the Formula Ford festival in 1981. If you read any of Senna's biographies this suggests different reasons, perhaps the truth is somewhere in-between.

After a brief flirtation with F1 at Theodore (5 races, of which he qualified for just 2) and a test drive with McLaren, reward for winning the 1982 British F3 Championship, Byrne's career slid into oblivion racing in lower formulae in the US and then in Mexico. Tommy appears to be someone who had complete faith in his abilities and perhaps this confidence (which some perceived as arrogance) was his undoing. He wasn't a man to play the "corporate" game, hence no drive with McLaren despite being very fast in the test (I won't spoil it for you if you plan to read the book as the times he set, given the circumstances, were unbelievable). He also, rather foolishly for a young racing driver, expected to get paid for doing what he was good at whilst lesser drivers could buy a seat in better cars.

This book is quite a poignant "what might have been" but, then again, there are many young drivers who shine brightly in Formula Ford and F3 who don't make it in F1. You only have to look at the list of British F3 champions to realise this (link below if you are interested). The shame for us is that Byrne was never given the chance to show what he was capable of. It would appear in machinery not up to the same standard as his competition Byrne could still win. What if he had been in equal or better cars?

Tommy now appears to be at peace with himself, after some excesses, and now is a driving coach at Mid-Ohio. Oh, and as to the opening paragraph; a nervous young driver at a press conference having qualified for his first Grand Prix makes a joke at the expense of Niki Lauda, how dare he!
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