from the book "TT Heroes"
written by Mike Savage in 1994
(published by Amulree
& used with the permission of Bill
William Joseph 'Joey' Dunlop was born
in 1952. He describes himself these days as the part-time
publican of the Railway Tavern in Ballymoney, Northern
Ireland. But to most TT fans he's the 'King of the Roads'
or, more commonly, simply 'Yer Maun'.
Joey was encouraged into
motorcycle racing by his brother in law Mervyn Robinson
and had his first race when he was nineteen. Ironically
the seventeen times TT winner almost retired after just
one win when Robinson was killed racing in the North
West 200. Joey seriously thought of giving up racing.
He cancelled all his entries except the TT. But after
winning the Classic TT that year he decided to carry
His 'King of the Roads'
title came after he won five consecutive TT Formula
1 World Championships from 1982 to 1986 inclusive. For
his achievements he was awarded the MBE. He's been Irish
Sports Personality of the Year. He's taken van loads
of food and medical supplies to children in Rumania,
Albania and Bosnia. But essentially he's a motorcycle
racer - and a TT fan.
He loves the TT and freely
admits that, even when he's satisfied with the set-up
of a bike, he'll still go out for another practice lap,
just for the fun of it. He likes the odd Guinness or
Vodka and his first desire when finishing a race is
for a cigarette. He likes the atmosphere of a pub and
a game of darts with the regulars. He dislikes the occasional
razzamatazz and the media coverage that goes with success,
though he does what he has to for the sake of the sponsors
and fans. He's the fans' favourite; he's one of them.
He's a rider who likes
to get his hands dirty and help with the preparation
of the bikes himself. Most of his wins have come on
Hondas. They've looked after him well and he's responded
Like many riders, Joey
is superstitious and follows the same ritual before
a race meeting. This nearly led to disaster in 1985
when, following his routine of travelling to the Isle
of Man by fishing boat, the boat sank in Strangford
Lough in the early hours of the morning. Luckily all
the passengers and crew were rescued. Joey is a bundle
of nervous tension before a race. Unlike his brother
Robert, who likes to arrive well before the start, Joey
likes to turn up at the last possible moment, have a
last cigarette, get on the bike and get on with the
Joey made his TT debut
in 1976 on a 250 Yamaha. He arrived on a fishing boat,
signed on and was out in practice that evening. He'd
never seen the course before, never even driven round
By the following year,
however, he'd learnt the circuit pretty well. He finished
tenth in the Junior on a Yamsel, fourth on the same
make of bike in the Senior and seventh in the Classic
on a Yamaha. The TT programme that year contained a
special four-lap race to commemorate the Queen's Silver
Jubilee. Joey, riding the Rea 750 Yamaha, won the race
easily setting a race speed of 108.86 mph and a fastest
lap of 110.93 mph. Obviously, he was a quick learner.
In the 1978 Junior he finished
eleventh on a Yamaha, just ahead of Mike Hailwood, and
rode a Benelli in the Formula 2 race to finish fifth.
For the Formula One race, he rode a fearsome six-cylinder
Benelli, but retired on the second lap. In the Classic
he was lying fifth at the end of lap one on the Johnny
Rea Yamaha but the exhaust split on the next lap and
forced him to retire. He managed sixth in the same event
the following year, his only result of note that TT.
It had been a promising
start, but, after that first win, an unspectacular one.
1980 was to change all that.
Joey came to the 1980 TT
unsure about his racing future. His brother in law and
mentor, Mervyn Robinson, had been killed at the North
West 200 a couple of weeks before. Joey had just about
decided to give up racing. He had cancelled all his
other entries but decided to compete in a last TT.
To begin with things went
to their accustomed pattern. Joey was sixth fastest
in practice on the big Yamaha at 108.54 mph but there
was no sign he could give the works stars anything to
worry about. In the four lap 250 Junior TT he was off
the leader board for the first three laps but crept
up to twelfth on the final lap.
His TZ500 Yamaha had given
gearbox problems in practice, so Joey elected to ride
his 350 Yamaha in the Senior TT After lying in twelfth
place for most of the race, he pulled up to ninth by
the end, about twenty seconds behind Charles Mortimer
[Suzuki]. Things didn't look any more promising for
the final race of the week, the six lap Classic.
The Classic, richest race
of the week, was expected to be a Honda benefit, with
outright lap record holder Mick Grant [114.33 mph in
1978 on a Kawasaki], Ron Haslam and Graeme McGregor
all riding factory supported bikes. Charlie Williams
on the Mitsui Yamaha, Graeme Crosby on the Yoshimura
Suzuki and Jeff Sayle on the George Beale Yamaha were
expected to provide the main opposition. Joey had fitted
an eight gallon tank on the Yamaha so he only had to
stop once during the race but the bike had given trouble
in last minute testing and he'd been up until 2.30 in
the morning rebuilding the machine.
Joey started at his lucky
No. 3. He astonished everyone with a first lap at 112.25
mph to lead Jeff Sayle by six point four seconds. Crosby
and Williams were out, McGregor was in third place and
Grant was fourth, struggling with a bike that was wrongly
geared and would only rev to 8,000 instead of 9,000
rpm. But Joey had his problems too. The tank straps
for the big fuel tank had broken and he was having to
hold the tank in position with his knees and elbows.