Crashed and Byrned – The Greatest Racing Driver You Never Saw by Tommy Byrne with Mark Hughes

I just finished reading this great autobiography by former Irish racing driver Tommy Byrne. He is someone who I had heard a little bit about, mostly through reading about his incredible Formula Ford and Formula 3 results in the early 80s, but I never had any idea of who he was. I remember telling myself quite often when I flicked through my tome of Motor Racing Results, whatever happened to that Tommy Byrne guy and why didn’t he ever make it in Formula 1. The answer to that question is in this book.

Upon reading the first half of the book I came to the conclusion that Byrne was one of the most arrogant pricks on the planet. Racing drivers are supposed to be self-confident and even quite narcissistic, yet Byrne seemed to take this to another level. He would talk about how he thought that at the time he was the best racing driver in the world and whilst I agree that he probably had more natural talent and ability than any other Formula 1 driver at that time, ultimately it all ended up as wasted potential. Hearing him talk about getting angry when Jackie Stewart came up to give him some advice, when he was started out in F1 with the Theodore team. In the early 80s Jackie was still the F1 wins record holder and someone who had a reputation as being one of the best communicators on the art of driving a racing car ever, yet Byrne fobbed him off with an attitude that he didn’t need anyone to tell him how to drive. This is the ultimate in arrogance.

Byrne also seemed to have a giant-sized chip on his shoulders. He always seemed to bring up his working class, poverty-stricken, Irish background as a reason why he did not make it in F1, yet I believe that his arrogance and ultimate lack of desire (I suppose) to be a F1 driver at all costs, is what did him in. After just one test with McLaren, where he blew away Thierry Boutsen, Byrne gave up his F1 quest, believing that because Ron Dennis did not like him he would never have a chance in F1. (He put all of his eggs in the one McLaren basket!)

The second half of the book, where Tommy realises that his F1 dream has vanished, he is transformed into a different guy. He still has some arrogance about him, yet seems much more humble. It is in the second half of the book where he talks about his time in America and Mexico, where he becomes a lot more likable. Some of the stories here he tells are quite amusing. He also gives little insights into the personalities of other racing drivers such as Gerhard Berger, Raul Boesel, Roberto Moreno, Ayrton Senna and Giovanna Amati.

Overall it is a great book that gives a bit of insight into the world of F1 in the early 80s, as motor racing in general, especially the American scene. Byrne’s transformation is interesting but one wonders what would have happened if he ever got behind the wheel of a competitive F1 car.

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