Tommy Byrne could have been the biggest name in Formula 1. There was no doubting his talent and speed as he climbed through the ranks of Irish and British racing in the early 1980’s. The only thing that rivaled his rise to fame for a Hollywood-esque storyline, was his fall from what could have been a career in motorsport equal or better to that of Senna and Schumacher.
Byrne was always an underdog in Formula 1, he arrived at a time when drivers were bringing multi-million pound sponsorships when he could only raise £300 from a gala in Co. Louth. Documentary “Crash and Burn” tells the story of Byrne’s difficult career in motor racing, from a working class upbringing in Dundalk, doing everything right, winning all the championships that mattered and getting himself the opportunity of testing a McLaren Formula 1 car -the fastest car at the time- in 1982. It also focuses in on his personality, his wild lifestyle and tone that made him stand out.
The film uses footage from old races and home videos to give a sense of place at the time. Most of these clips had been given by friends and fans of Byrne, who had recorded the footage. Speaking at the premiere, director Seán Ó Cualáin made the point that the film comes full circle, the friends who supported Tommy Byrne in his early days were the same friends who gave the footage to allow his story to be told.
Over 75 hours of filming was recorded on location in Ireland, England and even the USA, where Byrne now lives and works as a professional driver trainer.
If the first half of the film gave you chills for the sounds and video of historical and dramatic racing, the second half gives chills for the sombre personal story that unravelled as Byrne left the UK and his hopes of making it big for a chance to race in the States.
The film begins with the question often asked about Tommy Byrne, did he not get a fair shot or did he cause his own demise, and as Ó Cualáin said afterwards, it is much more complex. There were many factors that make arguments for both sides.
“Crash and Burn” is much in the same vein as Ron Howards “Rush” and Asif Kapadia’s “Senna” documentary, however the rawness of Byrne and his brutal honesty throughout the film gives an insight to the outsider that he was in the world of clean cut racers.
The popularity of sports documentaries is constantly growing and this slots in with the best of them. Telling a story contrary to the status quo, and marking the difficulties in making it to the top.