Tommy Byrne's rags-to-riches-to-rags tale is the craziest adventure from the bottom to the top and back to the bottom that any F1 driver has experienced.
Broke and punchy during his prime,
Byrne was a terror on four wheels,
a terror on his sponsors and competitors
and a terror in the pubs.
Byrne turned his innate skill behind the steering wheel into a one-way path from poverty to near-stardom. But that trajectory to the top—to wealth and success in F1— was repeatedly sidelined by a wild streak that would not be tamed.
His youthful defiance towards convention, authority, healthy living and measured behaviour ensured most opportunities were surrendered at crucial points in his career.
Byrne's big F1 opportunity came in 1982 while chasing, and ultimately winning, the British F3 championship.
Byrne earned an invitation to test for McLaren. Byrne’s record-setting test with the McLaren team in 1982 is the stuff of legends. Despite his unholy speed at the Silverstone test, a contract to drive in 1983 did not materialize.
It also marked the start of a rapid personal decline.
Once hailed as the next super star, Ireland's Ayrton Senna, an out-of-work Byrne turned his attention to America.
Byrne picked up drives on the American open-wheel ladder including nearly winning the 1988 Indy Lights title. Three points shy of the championship, it was as close as he'd come to reaching the pinnacle of American motorsports.
In 2008, Tommy Byrne wrote "Crashed & Byrned”. Almost a decade later, the book was the basis for the documentary "Crash & Burn: The Greatest Racing Car Driver You've Never Seen.” The film rates 100 on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Greatest Racing Driver You've Never Heard Of