Golf, Tennis and Formula One motor racing tend to be eyed as being the richest of individual sports. The glamour that follows being at the top of these games is immense. What is always neglected is the picture of the rear of the fields – the group teeing off first, the match on outside court 42, and of course for motor racing the back of the grid. This is a story of that rear grid position.
Supposedly Tommy Byrne of Ireland was the greatest driver that the world never saw. A man blessed with natural talent yet not with the opportunities. Byrne isn't shy of telling his story, but true to his story other motor racing figures of note have indicated their appreciation of his talent. Ayrton Senna is accused of actively avoiding racing against him, and the F1 establishment of taking steps to prevent the Irish Catholic boy from the wrong side of the tracks achieving anything.
Having never heard of Tommy Byrne, nor knowing much of the racing categories below the premier class in F1 it was interesting to read cold what racing for him and at this level looked like. Even in this time when it can be argued F1 was in its heyday racing from the back of the grid was not all that attractive. Byrne got five F1 starts with a little known team, 'Theodore', but that was the extent of his career at the top.
Fans of Senna or of the McLaren team will probably not be all that thrilled at the criticism that Byrne levels at them. He was (and admits to still being) an abrupt personality who lost more friends in the sport than he made. Post his brief F1 career his life became simply a hedonistic pursuit and ultimately led him to the world of drug lords and crime – not that his early life was all that far from such matters.
The book is told in the first person, keeping the story flowing. It's like a man narrating an autobiographical film, or sitting in a drinking establishment regaling all who would listen to the story of his ‘could have been’ life. There is even no editing of punctuation and extensive use of colloquialism to further increase the feeling of his raw Irish roots.
Though admittedly Byrne can see some error in his ways, enhanced by the colloquial speech is a feeling that he wouldn’t have had it any other way. To refer to a sexual liaison with a prostitute as ‘giving her a seeing to’ indicates some element of masculine pride at the incident and a lack of repentance for infidelity (he was married at the time). Life is supposed to teach you things and change you – it isn’t particularly evident here. Maybe Byrne is proud of how his life finally may make him a fortune he desperately wanted, albeit from book sales rather than a motor racing career.
This is Angela’s Ashes meeting Days of Thunder meeting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Its nothing special, and needs reading with a grain of salt given some of the claims, but it will keep you entertained for the couple of hours reading it. Tennis Balls.