Ingram's Flat Spot On: Man out of time

Flat Spot On by Jonathan Ingram MAN OUT OF TIME The world is going to hell in a hand cart, as usual. The racing universe is no exception. So at times like these, I always like to turn to a good book. Crashed and Byrned more than qualified,...

Flat Spot On
by Jonathan Ingram


The world is going to hell in a hand cart, as usual. The racing universe is no exception. So at times like these, I always like to turn to a good book.

Crashed and Byrned more than qualified, although given the salty language of author Tommy Byrne the phrase "the Good Book" doesn't necessarily come to mind.

From a longer point of view, this is a biblical-like parable of how racing works, then and now. The use of emotionally charged expletives is emblematic of a no-holds-barred racing book, one of the categories where the story of Bryne's life, co-written by Mark Hughes, happens to fall. So, dear reader, prepare for a few variations on the "F" word when you read it.

Subtitled as The Greatest Racing Driver You Never Saw, the book is also a compelling view of the existential challenges of being born a "culchey" in Ireland, or redneck, one who is determined to move on, get out and, if all goes well, get up the social scale.

Ultimately, the fact the book even exists in all its point-blank honesty renders it a work of redemption.

Byrne had "the gift" and drove like a guy with nothing to lose, true to his creed. He was reminiscent of the phrase about the driver who lets the race car get out from under him ten times every race, but whom only recovers it nine times. Byrne was the one-of-a-kind magical talent who fearlessly pushed to the absolute limit all the time and made it work ten times out of ten.

It was life outside of the cockpit that created the greater profile in courage for Byrne, a mercurial personality as well as driver. Things rarely fell his way, but it didn't stop him from trying to live large, if nothing else.

With orb-like dark eyes, the diminutive Byrne has always had the self-possession and sensitivity to make friends quickly. I saw him in the St. Petersburg paddock last week at the traveling bar known as the Patron hospitality area, for instance, and Tommy responded as if we were old friends from his earliest days in Formula Ford.

In fact, I first met him only briefly during his sojourner days hauling around tube-framed man o' wars in the GTO category of the Camel GT for the sake of a paycheck. But Tommy left an impression as he so often does. The only subsequent meeting we had was in the early days of his effort to publish his book, one that would tell the whole story on how things happened in Formula One back in the day. I gave him encouragement much as I would any fellow aspiring author.

The gist of the book is the fact Byrne was one of two great young talents in F1 in the early 1980's, the other being Ayrton Senna. The central theme of how their paths differed from beginning to end is an incredible tale, brought to expert fruition by the collaboration with Hughes.

It was presumably the latter who structured the story around the incredible test day that Byrne won for himself with McLaren. Against all odds, the little Irishman proved to be fast enough to create an underground motor racing legend.

It is an alternately heart-warming and harrowing tale, a triumph and a tragedy. The ironic lynchpin to the epic is Ron Dennis, who like Senna is emblematic of how some individuals' aspirations get realized ahead of others in the cutthroat competition of professional motor racing. One driver becomes a mourned hero the world over and another ends up in a pack of naked prostitutes while dodging the bullets of a manic-depressive boss/sponsor in Mexico.

The book makes no apologies for a life of excess that perhaps was one generation behind the motor racing times. Tommy might have been the perfect racing hero for the preceding era when F1 resembled a band of gypsies, when elsewhere in the sports world Georgie Best was the darling in Europe, Joe Namath was the king of American football and Muhammed Ali ruled everywhere.

As for Tommy and I in St. Pete, we mostly traded notes about the book business, which has its peculiarities, some similar to motor racing. Wearing a stylish sports cap and now a much respected driving instructor at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Tommy slipped away after others joined the conversation. Nearly a half hour later, when the crowd had thinned out, he returned with a copy of his book and quietly offered it to me.

"There are some people I just have to give a copy of this book to," he said. It was a typically touching and generous gesture, one I'm glad he made. I just hope to have the book in hand the next time our paths cross, to get it autographed by the amazing man himself.

Jonathan Ingram can be reached at

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Series BF3 , Formula 1 , F3 , Grand-Am , IMSA Others , Indy Lights
Drivers Ayrton Senna , Mark Hughes , Tommy Byrne