Tommy Byrne: Motorsport’s Overlooked Champion – Film now available on iTunes

Fiona McCluskey

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Crash and Burn - Film Poster
Crash and Burn – Film Poster

The film, Crash and Burn captures the highs and lows of Irish motor racing legend, Tommy Byrne’s career.

The Irish made documentary is directed by Seán Ó Cualáin and produced by David Burke. Charting Tommy Byrne’s racing career in the 1980’s and his subsequent decent into addiction, the film features many esteemed figures of the sport. Formula 1 correspondent for The Sunday Times, Mark Hughes, former Formula 1 driver, Martin Brundle, and former motorsport team boss, Eddie Jordan all provide commentary.

The documentary makers were inspired to make the film by Tommy Byrne’s autobiography Crashed and Byrned: The Greatest Driver You Never Saw. The book was co-authored by Mark Hughes and was awarded the Irish Sports Book of the Year in 2009.

 

Tommy Byrne was born in Dundalk, County Louth and worked in a petrol station after leaving school at fifteen. He began stock-car racing in a mini-cooper with some success. In 1978, Tommy travelled to the UK to pursue his dream “to race cars and get paid.” Within four years had become British Formula 3 champion.

The documentary captures how at odds Tommy Byrne felt with the affluent world of motor sports. In the lower racing divisions, drivers pay the motorsport teams to race the cars. Drivers tend to therefore come from wealthy backgrounds. Ayrton Senna, who was also racing at the time with a similar level of success to Tommy, was funded by his millionaire parents. Tommy’s talent enabled him to drive for free but unable to pay rent, he would sleep on friend’s couches and floors.

Tommy Byrne circa 1976 at Mondello
Tommy Byrne circa 1976 at Mondello

At a screening of the film in the Irish Film Institute (IFI), Tommy Byrne recounted to the audience how his “arrogant,” nature made him unpopular on the race track: “I just had a hard time listening to people. I was winning.” His prize for winning the British Formula 3 Championship was to complete a test drive with the most successful team in the next racing division, The Formula 1.

He completed a test with the McLaren motorsport team at Silverstone racecourse, achieving a lap time faster than any McLaren car had ever achieved on the course. However, Ron Dennis, President of McLaren, didn’t invite him to join the team. Tommy Byrne revealed at the screening that twenty years after the test, a McLaren mechanic informed him that they had been instructed to not give Tommy the full throttle of the engine, on the day of the test. Tommy believes that he may have achieved a new world record, if he had been given the chance.

Tommy Byrne described how his life then spiraled into addiction, doing enough drugs “to kill a buffalo.” After nearly being killed in a shooting in Mexico, he returned to the US to rebuild his life. He now resides in Florida and is an instructor to young race drivers and says he has “been happy for the last twenty four years.” Although Byrne initially felt bitterness about the missed opportunity, he now says, “It was just not to be.”

Tommy Byrne in USA
Tommy Byrne in USA

Crash and Burn is now available on iTunes.

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Fiona McCluskey