Joey Dunlop

from the book "TT Heroes" written by Mike Savage in 1994
(published by Amulree & used with the permission of Bill Snelling)


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 Dunlop

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 on.

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 loyally.

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 race.

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 it.

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.

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