The greatest racing car driver you NEVER heard of!

tommy byrneA documentary run on Irish National Television last week told the story of Tommy Byrne, one of the greatest racing car drivers ever. From Dundalk, Ireland he was without fear as he climbed the echelons of motor racing in the 1980s – topping greats such as Senna, Boutsen and Jordan. His talent was undeniable and he was fearless – finding space on the track where others found none. He drove Formula 1 and Formula 3 in the same year which had never been done by any driver before.

So how come we never heard of him? Well the documentary suggests several reasons. In those days drivers had to pay the teams for the opportunity to drive. Thus, it was a rich people’s sport and drivers like Senna came from privileged backgrounds where money was no object. Byrne, on the other hand came from a working class family where his mother borrowed money for his first car. It was critical for him to find sponsors or teams who would let him drive for free.

And both were available to him because of his incredible talent. Eddie Jordan suggests in the documentary that Byrne could have gone all the way, except for his attitude.

He was a cocky hothead who at age 20 felt he knew it all. He admits, “The problem is that I never really listened to anybody because I always thought: ‘hey, what do they know? I’m faster than them’.

He had a say-it-like-you-see-it approach, which did not go down well in the racing community. Sponsors never knew what he would say or who it would say it to. He was unpredictable. He partied hard, hung around with shady characters and lived a playboy lifestyle off the track. He consistently blamed his cars, his team and anyone in his line of fire if he didn’t win. It all came to a head after the Grand Prix in Las Vegas when he had a blazing row with the team manager. Byrne admits he considered having him shot by some of his less respectable friends.

Word of his antics spread and no one would touch him despite his on-the-track genius. No team needed his kind of publicity and no sponsor would trust him to watch what he said. He came within a hair’s breath of Formula 1 greatness, but missed. While the documentary has elements of regret, Byrne has found some kind of peace with his life.

But I noticed that he never really admitted his own part in his failure to fulfil his potential. While money, snobbery and politics all played a part, Byrne’s inability to adapt to his environment did not gain him supporters. His insistence that “they take me as they find me” was not realistic and while one has to be true to oneself, one also needs to flex to the people and circumstances at play.

Over the years I have met and observed many people like this. People who think their talent excuses them from basic manners, civility and treating others with respect. They are often so wrapped up in their own abilities they don’t even realise the impact of their behaviour on others, and they may not even care.

Such a lack of Emotional Intelligence costs – and it cost Byrne a lifetime of greatness doing what he was exceptional at. In business, it costs customers, employee engagement, loyalty and ultimately financial results. It costs time – sorting out problems caused by lack of Emotional Intelligence. It costs money – revenue failure and costs of resolving problems arising as a result.

You cannot afford to ignore the impact of Emotional Intelligence on your business, your professional life and your personal life. Quite often in my Executive Coaching programme, clients will report improvements in their personal relationships quite aside from their professional ones.

Start now to develop your own Emotional Intelligence. Don’t wait until it starts to cost.

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