Why did we call our Neil Shanahan documentary Champion?
The reason is quite simple and it's all to do with his first name. The name 'Neil' has a number of meanings as Gaeilge. But one meaning is 'Champion' and it is why his parents gave him that name.
It was a prophetic decision as well because he would become a champion in later life. In 1997, he won the Formula Ford 1600 Championship and followed that up the following year with a Formula Ford Zetec title.
They weren't just title wins either. He dominated those championships in imperious fashion, also winning the prestigious Sexton Trophy for Driver of the Year in both of those years. The first Sexton Trophy win after 1997 saw him become the youngest winner of the prize. And to retain it was simply stunning.
Episode 2 by @Raftastico and Eoin Brennan is up next at 6pm. It's called 'Champion' and tells the story of Neil Shanahan
Here's a short excerpt from the doc... pic.twitter.com/RyCRGjH0xw
— Off The Ball (@offtheball) October 13, 2019
Sadly, Neil would pass away after a crash at Oulton Park during the fifth round of the British Formula Ford Championship, weeks shy of his 20th birthday.
Thread below with details on how we put it together https://t.co/qOWnan8es2
— Raf Diallo (@Raftastico) October 13, 2019
Champion is co-produced by 'The Classic' series producer Eoin Brennan and I, and tells the story of his life and details what happened on that fateful final day. As a motor-racing fan since chilhdood, I had initially learned about Neil's story back around 2012 or 2013 when looking at Irish connections to Formula 1. It's a story that had stayed with me since then. I began the interview and research process in late 2018 with a number of contributors.
At the heart of the documentary are Neil's parents Mary and Liam, who showed remarkable bravery and dignity in speaking about a difficult and emotive subject. I also spoke to Neil's manager Mick Merrigan, who had regarded his young protege to be like a son.
Other contributors were his PR manager Oisin O'Briain, broadcaster John Kenny, racing peer Philip Kehoe and Motorsport.ie's Leo Nulty. All knew Neil during his life and shared friendships with him.
You can listen to the full Champion documentary about Neil Shanahan's life here or on the podcast player: