Watch Car Collector John Campion, Fighting Leukemia, Use an F1 Car As Medicine

“You can’t do this” isn’t a phrase in John Campion’s mind.

John Campion

Some of you will recognize the name John Campion. The 56-year-old, Irish-American car collector has made waves in enthusiast circles for his collection, which includes several original rally cars. Facing his own mortality after a leukemia diagnosis and bone marrow transplant, and not adhering to traditional treatments, Campion took his Guinness-liveried 1981 March 811 F1 car to the only FIA-sanctioned track in Ireland: Mondello Park.

When Campion found out about his illness, he says, he and his wife had a good cry and then, in true Irish fashion, said, “We’ll get through this.” Campion says he was in the hospital on and off during the three and a half months before his bone marrow transplant. Three weeks after, Campion told his friends he was going to Ireland, to Mondello Park, where he'd drive his 1981 March 811 F1 car on track. Few argued.

When the idea solidified in Campion’s mind, he rang up Leo Nulty, the man in charge of Mondello Park’s annual historic races. "I called up and said, ‘Leo, you got the historics going?’" Campion recalls in a recent mini-documentary, "and he says, ‘I do,’ so I says, ‘Let’s go.’” That, apparently, was that. 

Campion, still recovering after his bone marrow transplant, got his race team together to prep the car. With Derek Daly, the original F1 driver of Campion’s March, tagging along, the team decamped to Mondello’s flowing tarmac. With a push from his mechanics, Campion left pit lane and let the March’s Cosworth DFV V-8 roar down the front straight. With a catch in his voice, Campion recalls that moment. “I’m on the track, I’m coming down the front straight, and I was absolutely crying. My wife was there. My stepdaughter was there. And I was really, really emotional, but I knew there and then that I was going to be ok.”

The five-minute documentary is worth your time, not only to listen to the savagery of that Cosworth V-8, but to hear John’s words and those of his friends and family, and experience John's life-affirming drive. The message is an important one: Life is meant for doing things you love. No one is going to look back at their life and wish they’d made or hoarded more money. They’ll look back and wish they had done something like what John did here.