by Sean McGoldrick - Sunday World - 13th June 1999

I met Neil Shanahan for the first, and sadly the only time, about two months ago. The occasion was the formal launch of the next stage of his already remarkable motor racing career.

Nineteen-year-old Shanahan was heading to England to drive for the Van Diemen works team in the British Slick 50 Formula Ford Championship. Like any youngster who had a chance to follow his dream, he was full of enthusiasm as he looked forward to the challenge of being a full-time racing driver. He was doing something he loved and seemed destined for the top.

Even though we can never overlook the fact that motor racing can be dangerous, when news of Shanahan’s tragic death following a racing accident at Oulton Park circuit in Cheshire flashed up on the teletext screen, it seemed beyond belief.

It is poignantly tragic to look though the notes of my interview with Neil. He was obsessed with motor cars from the time he was a toddler. By the time he was four he could name every make of road car.

Neil’s father, who once dabbled in motor racing, was an occasional spectator at Mondello Park. His son went along on one occasion, and from the moment he saw a kart race, he was hooked. He begged his father to buy him one.

His father promised he would buy the kart if Neil saved all his pocket money and raised half the cost. For a year he saved every penny he could and ended up with £200. His father agreed to buy the kart, and Neil’s racing career was launched.

He won all the honours available to him in Ireland and was recently awarded the Barney Manley Driver of the Year trophy – he was also voted Irish Motor Sports Driver of 1998 by motoring correspondents. He had already made an impact during his short time in England.

Sadly, however, he will never have a chance to realise his ambitions, but we will remember what he achieved in his short life.

To his parents, family, and friends, we extend our deepest sympathy.


by Andrew Murphy - The Title - 6th June 1999

Neil Shanahan was doing what he most loved when he died in a racing accident at Oulton Park. Always interested in cars and things mechanical, Neil’s interest in motor sport began in earnest six years ago when he visited Mondello Park with his father Liam to watch kart races.

By the time he got home from the meeting he said he wanted to buy a kart and race. Thinking it was a passing phase, Liam agreed to buy one for him provided he contributed half the cost. Neil duly did and with his father he bought a kart and his talent with immediately obvious hen he started racing.

The first two years in karting were learning years and in ’96 he was runner-up in the national and Munster championships, finished third in the IKC club championship and was awarded the Philips trophy as the most improved kart driver.

With his parents, Liam and Mary, he decided to move on and race in Formula Ford 1600 and on the recommendation of Michael Cullen they met Michael Merrigan and decided to run with his team. His record in the class speaks for itself, winning 10 races to take the FF1600 Star of Tomorrow title as well as being awarded the RIAC Dunlop Driver of the Year award.

His performance at the Formula Ford Festival meeting confirmed his ability as a driver. The brakes failed on his car in the FF1600 race, dropping him back to 12th – but his drive up to second place after regaining the track left no doubt about his ability. A successful drive in Mark Cullen’s more powerful Zetec confirmed he could quickly adapt to any car.

He was thrilled when he was invited to join the Red Bull ‘family’ last year and would race with stars such as Jean Alesi, Eddie Irvine, and Carlos Sainz. He was looking forward to tests with the Sauber F1 team and the F3000 team that Red Bull had planned for him at the end of this season.

Last year he won six of his twelve races, three times as many as his nearest rival to take the Formula Ford Zetec title.

His achievements were widely recognised and he was awarded the RIAC Dunlop Driver of the Year title for the second year and the motor sport journalists voted him Ireland’s most outstanding driver of the year.

This year was his first year as a professional driver. “I’m very excited about the coming year and looking forward to the whole British racing scene. It will be so different from the home scene,” he said when interviewed last January. “I will be a full-time driver for the first time and based in England for the whole season. There will be no part-time jobs for me this year, so I can devote more time to my fitness programme.”

He quickly made an impact. At Brands Hatch, Neil stormed from 10th on the grid to finish a superb fourth, in a brilliant drive he maneuvered around the outside of Mark Taylor at Druids before stunning the 25,000 spectators by overtaking Tom Sisley around the outside of Paddock Bend. Representatives of Motoring News and Ford awarded him the Motoring News Race Ace for the two amazing overtaking maneuvers. He was catching up quickly and the Brands Hatch result showed just how quickly he was getting on the pace.

Neil was aiming to repeat his Brands Hatch success at Oulton Park, but it was not to be. Having qualified 10th he was storming through the field when he was involved in a three-car pile-up on the second lap and succumbed to his injuries.

Neil combined school with motor racing. Reluctantly, really, as all he ever wanted to do was race and be involved with racing cars. He loved his school, St. Mary’s College in Rathmines, but didn’t like that it kept him away from racing.

During classes he was known to have Autosport hidden in an A4 pad so he could keep up to date with the latest racing news.

Although still a teenager Neil had a charismatic personality and was an inspiration to many, young and old alike.

Racing driver Philip Kehoe says Neil was his biggest inspiration and influence on his career. Hugh Durkin of Kilkenny best sums up Neil’s influence in an e-mail letter he wrote: “I remember looking at the Driver of the Year awards for the first year you won it. You were my role model, still at school (like me), passionate about racing (like me) and hungry for success (like me). I watched TV3 this evening and saw an interview with you thinking you had won another well-deserved award. My heart sank when I heard you had passed. You were destined to make F1. You were charismatic, funny and I got this impression even though I never had the pleasure of meeting you. A very down to earth person, you now join the greats in your final resting place. You are up there because you deserve to be. You are a champion. No one will ever forget that.”

I have lost a friend and judging by the messages of sympathy so has thousands more.


by Declan Quigley - Sunday Independent - 6th June 1999

Neil Shanahan who died in a tragic accident at Oulton Park, Cheshire, last Monday, will be remembered as one of the most promising, unfulfilled talents in a long line of great Irish drivers.

Neil’s death in the British Formula Ford championship round was the first for an Irish driver in competition since 1978 and had sent shock waves through the sport in Ireland.

In just two and a half seasons racing cars the 19-year-old from Churchtown, Co. Dublin had managed to win just about every conceivable award in Irish racing.

The ex-karter burst on to the car racing scene when he dominated the Star of Tomorrow Formula Ford 1600 championship in 1997 and he followed up by winning the premier Formula Ford Zetec championship last year.

He was twice honoured as the RIAC Dunlop Driver of the Year and was awarded the Barney Manley Trophy by the motorsport press for his achievements.

Out of just 23 races in Ireland Neil came come home first an incredible 16 times in his Michael Merrigan Motorsport machines to set up his graduation to the British Formula Ford series this year.

The offers from the top British works team were numerous and he was selected for the world famous Van Diemen works team which had in the past been the springboard for the careers of Ayrton Senna and Eddie Irvine.

Improvements in the car of late meant his morale was high as the Oulton Park event approached but, sadly, freak circumstances and the unforgiving nature of the Cheshire circuit claimed his life.

This correspondent was always impressed with his composure, manners and total commitment to his chosen goal, as well as his smooth precise style on the track.

To his father Liam, his mother Mary, his sister Clare and all his friends we would like to extend our sympathies at this time.


by Neil Leslie - The Mirror - 5th June 1999

The bodies of two young Irishmen who dreamed of paths of glory far from home were brought back to their grieving families yesterday.

Neil Shanahan, 19, was on track to become a top class driver. But the promise was shattered in a high-speed crash at Britain’s Oulton Park racing circuit.

Billy Kedian’s boyhood ambition was to follow his country’s flag and wear it’s uniform with honour. He died after being stuck by a stray shell while on a peace keeping duty in Lebanon.

A cruel twist of fate meant that they died only hours apart on Monday.

Today Neil will be buried in Dublin with mourners from the world of motorsport grieving a star that never got a chance to rise.

And Billy will have a funeral with full military honours in Mayo where his friends will pay tribute to the fallen comrade.

These pictures of Neil with Grand Prix racing stars show the passion of a young man for the sport he loved. Neil lives to race.

From the tender age of 13 when he first strapped himself into a go-kart he was hooked on a dream. He dreamed of one day standing on a Formula One podium alongside his idols like Damon Hill, Eddie Irvine and Jean Alesi.

It was a dream he was close to fulfilling after rocketing up the motor sport ranks.

But on Monday the dream ended in tragedy when Neil’s car smashed into barriers at Oulton Park.

“Racing was all he ever wanted,” his father Liam said last night. “We both knew what the risks were, but there are risks in everything. If you cross the road now you take a risk. What happened was a million to one chance. We’re still waiting for the investigation but it looks like the steering wheel did not come off cleanly when Neil hit the barrier and the bar came back and hit him in the chest. What should happen is that the wheel comes right off. It was a freak accident.”

Liam witnessed the horrific accident that claimed his son’s life, as he had witnessed every single race he drove from karting level through junior and senior motor racing and on to the Formula Ford series he was driving in when the accident happened.

Next year he had his sights on Formula 3, and after that Formula 1 beckoned.

Despite his passion for the sport. Neil never travelled to see a big Grand Prix for himself. His father recalled: “We never went because I used to say to him that we would go when he was driving in one himself. We always thought he would make it. He won everything in Ireland that there was to win and he was doing well in Formula Ford this season. He was a natural in a car and Formula 1 was his goal. He went to England to get on and progress and was doing well”

“He loved the sport and he mad met the drivers, people like Damon Hill and Jean Alesi. It was so unfortunate what happened.”

Neil was buried in Dublin today. The circumstances surrounding the fatal crash are now under investigation. Officials say three cars were involved in the accident at the Clay Hill bend of Oulton Park.

Over 30,000 people at the Bank Holiday race meeting watched in horror as Neil failed to walk away from the wreckage of his car.

He was treated at the scene by three medics including Dr Paul Trafford. he said: “He was taken from there straight to hospital. He had massive injuries which weren’t compatible with survival. His injuries were too great.”

In a statement, championship sponsor Ford said: “On Monday 31st May at 13.20 hours during the Formula Ford Championship Race at Oulton Park there was an accident on track at Clay Hill, which involved Neil Shanahan. Medical officers where called immediately to the scene where it was discovered that Neil had suffered a massive trauma which resulted in a cardiac arrest. He was resuscitated at the scene and immediately airlifted to the Countess of Chester Hospital, but tragically died before arriving. The cause of the accident and subsequent injury has yet to be established. This was a deeply tragic incident and our thoughts are obviously with Neil’s family, friends and team at this moment. We would like to thank the medical staff and emergency services for all their efforts.”

The accident came just a day after a track marshall was injured when British touring car driver landed in a spectator enclosure. A spokeswoman for Brands Hatch Leisure Group which runs Oulton Park defended the venue’s safety record.

She said: “This circuit is fully compliant with all the safety criteria laid down in the terms of our license.”

But many racing drivers have been calling for improved safety measures.

Tragic Peacekeeper Brought Home

The peacekeeper whose dream of being a solider cost him his life made his way home yesterday. Private Billy Kedian died on Monday when an Israeli mortar shell slammed into a observation post in Lebanon.

The 22-year-old’s remains were flown home by the defence forces and arrived at a rain-lashed Knock airport, close to his home in Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo.

His parents Billy and Doris wept openly as they brought their son’s coffin home. They were comforted by daughters’ Ann and Mary and grieving locals who braved the downpour to welcome home a hero who paid the ultimate price for peace.

Senior army personnel, including Brigadier General John Martin, GOC of the 4th Western Brigade, met the tricolour-draped coffin off the military flight from the Middle East.

The coffin was accompanied on the five-hour journey by Defence Forces Captain Eoghan O’Neachtain.

And despite a violent hailstorm that swept across the airport tarmac, Private Kedian’s comrades stood tall to honour the fallen hero.

A priest prayed over the solider’s remains while comrades formed a guard of honour. His body was then removed to St Patrick’s Parish Church in Ballyhaunis, where thousands turned out to pay their respects.

President Mary McAleese, Defence Minister Michael Smith and Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General David Stapleton will attend Private Kedian’s funeral today.

Private Kedian was on his second tour of duty with the UN in the Middle East when his post took a direct hit.


by Marcus Pye - Autosport - June 3rd 1999

Irishman Neil Shanahan was killed in an accident during the British Championship Formula Zetec race at Oulton Park on Monday.

The 19-year-old’s works Van Diemen tangled with two other cars going up Clay Hill, and speared off into the barrier before rebounding onto the track. The Cheshire circuit’s medical team resuscitated the driver at the scene before a helicopter airlifted him to Countess of Chester Hospital. He died on the way from a cardiac arrest caused by massive trauma to the chest and upper body.

The three cars involved have been impounded by police for further investigation, and stewards are to compile an official report.

A spokesperson for Ford said: “The cause of the accident has yet to be established. This was a tragic accident and our thoughts are with Neil’s family, friends and team.”

Van Diemen boss Ralph Firman, who was not at the meeting, said: “To have a fatality happen so close to you is horrific. There is no indication in any shape or form that it was anything other than a pure racing accident. The cars been impounded, which is standard procedure, and no doubt it will be released later in the week.”

The incident occurred on the second lap as Shanahan was battling for ninth place with the Haywood Mygale of Craig Murray and Greg Caton’s Atlantic Van Diemen. The trio went up Clay hill three abreast with Shanahan sandwiched in the middle. There was contact made between him and Caton, and all three crashed into the barriers at high speed. Caton and Murray were unharmed in the accident. The race was restarted 40 minutes later and was won by Shanahan’s team mate, Dutchman Richardo van der Endre.

Carton said: “Neil and Craig ran wide on the exit of Knickerbrook and I went though (up Clay Hill). I thought I was clear, but one of them caught my rear wheel and we all spun out.”

A spokeswoman for Brand’s Hatch Leisure, which owns Oulton Park, said: This circuit is fully compliant with all the safety criteria as laid down in the terms of our Motor Sports Association licence.”

Shanahan was one of Ireland’s brightest young talents. In his first year in the British series, he had already finished fourth twice, and was lying seventh in the points.

The death of Neil Shanahan has stunned the Formula Ford Zetec fraternity and dealt an inestimable blow to Irish motorsport, for which he embodied the immediate future. In only his third season of car racing, the Dubliner was hailed as the best from the Republic since Derek Daly (who raced in Formula 1 from 1978 – 82) and Michael Roe (CanAm champion in ’84).

Shanahan started karting as a Junior in ’93, but it was not until ’96 – when he finished runner-up in the National Formula A series – that his true ability began to blossom.

His rise in Fford was meteoric. Having won every race in the ’97 ‘Star of Tomorrow’ FF1600 series, he graduated to Ford of Ireland’s Zetec class last year, and stunned rivals when he swept to the title, winning six of the 12 rounds.

Guided throughout his car career by Mick Merrigan, he had won every major accolade at home, including the premier RIAC Dunlop Driver of the Year award twice.

I met Neil in ’97, and was greatly impressed with his intelligent, articulate and focused approach, which earned him a big following. His scintillating speed I saw later at Kirkistown and Phoenix Park.

That his life should be cruelly ended, a month before his 20th birthday, has robbed him and his wonderfully supportive family of a future which promised so much.


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