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Senna rivalry and getting shot at in Mexico | Tommy Byrne's life less ordinary

Tommy Byrne wasn't your average race-car driver - the Dundalk man has certainly had a life less o...

Senna rivalry and getting shot...
Other Sports

Senna rivalry and getting shot at in Mexico | Tommy Byrne's life less ordinary

Tommy Byrne wasn't your average race-car driver - the Dundalk man has certainly had a life less ordinary with one story as crazy as the next.

Byrne is his his early sixties now, having lived in America for decades working as a driving instructor in mid-Ohio, splitting his time between there and Florida.

This is a man who took the racing world by storm in his early years, picking up countless trophies and podium wins, on his way to a short-lived stint in Formula 1.

Eddie Jordan puts Byrne in the same bracket as Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher for talent, but Tommy says those comparisons are for others to make.

"Very uncomfortable, for sure. I didnt say that. But all I know is at that time, back in the day, I wasn't afraid of Ayrton Senna."

Tommy spoke with Shane Hannon for an extensive interview from his home in the U.S., a country that was fixed in his mind from a young age as where he needed to be.

America on my mind

"Watching all the John Wayne movies at Christmas time, I just loved America, and that's where I wanted to go. I was a welder and mechanic at 15 or 16 years of age, that's where I went after school.

"I had a friend who went over there and he told me about all the gold running down the road and everything, so I figured, better again!

"I was heading for America, I would have went at 16, 17 years of age, [but] that's when I went to Mondello Park and drove the school car for 15 laps and that changed my whole life.

"All of a sudden I wanted to be a race-car driver. I did get to go to America in 1985 so I was about 10 years late when I came over."

Byrne had great success in the Irish Formula Ford Championship here at home, and went on to win a British Formula 3 title - helping cement his name in the industry as one to watch out for.

Ultimately, when he reached the pinnacle of his sport in 1982 with a handful of races in Formula 1, it was an anticlimax. He wasn't in the fastest car, he wasn't enjoying it, and he wasn't his usual self.

Formula 1 foray

He was viewed by many as an outsider - an unknown entity from Ireland, rough around the edges and not from the same rich background as many of the other drivers. In fact, only a couple of his driving colleagues made the effort to speak to him.

"Maybe I didn't make that much effort to talk to them either when I got to Formula 1, but I was only in it briefly for like five races, and most of the time I was depressed because I knew my career was over - I was struggling to just get along with the team.

"I just think it was bad timing for me - the whole thing. Wrong place, wrong time. The partying and stuff really didn't happen until after the Formula 1 - that's when I just didn't give a fuck and just went for it, you know?

11 December 2008; Crashed and Byrned by former motorsport driver Tommy Byrne with Mark Hughes was named the William Hill Irish Sports Book of the Year for 2008. Pictured is Tommy Byrne with Mark Hughes, Author and model Julie Devine following the presentation. William Hill Bookmakers, Dame Street, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

"Before that I was doing just as good as anyone else, I was just happy. I could go into a car at the last minute and strap in and go out and beat everybody, and they'd be already sitting meditating for 10 minutes beforehand.

"I knew what I was doing when I did that, I was screwing with them a little bit. It looked like I was enjoying it, like I was having too much fun, but deep down I still knew I had to win, win, win. It was very important, maybe I gave out the wrong impression sometimes."

Tommy mentions the partying himself, and he certainly lived the life of drink and drugs for a time in his younger years. The 2016 film 'Crash and Burn', which tells the story of his life and career, includes the story of the night he took enough speed to down a buffalo.

But a near-death experience in Mexico really stands out in his memory, and ultimately led to his return to the U.S. permanently.

'I'm going to be shot in the middle of Mexico'

"I went down to Mexico, I had no money, I was married at this stage with kids, I went down there to sell a helmet, the last helmet I got from Bell, it was all painted up and worth like five hundred bucks.

"I was introduced to Orcho, just a weird millionaire guy... He wasn't quite right in the head.

"The very first day I met him he had a gun out and I was sitting in the back of the car, I thought he was going to shoot me. I didn't speak Spanish at the time and he was talking to his buddy, looking at me with his stupid eyes laughing at me and pointing the gun, just driving down the road.

"It turns out all he wanted to do was, after half an hour of terror [thinking] 'I'm going to be shot in the middle of Mexico and nobody knows where I am'...

"... He put the gun out the window as we're passing some cars and I thought 'Shit, he's going to shoot the family of people, it's not going to be me that's going to be shot.'

"It turns out all he was doing was shooting the signposts when he was going by. But not speaking the language I thought they were going to shoot me on the side of the road.

"A year or so later he became a sponsor, he had the team out because he liked me a lot, there were orgies and stuff sometimes. There was a big orgy going on one day and the girls came around downstairs looking for help from me.

"He ran out with his gun, naked, I just said 'Qué pasa, amigo?' and he just took the gun and shot at me twice. He missed obviously, he's a very bad shot. I think that was 1994, I locked myself in the room with all the girls... I got up the next morning and just got out of there.

"That's when I got a job in mid-Ohio, that's like 25 years ago."

Tommy also spoke about learning the ropes at Mondello Park, the home of Irish racing - their website is and you can book individual or group driving experiences. 

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Ayrton Senna Formula 1 Motor Racing Shane Hannon Tommy Byrne