Dunlop - a short Biography ...... cont'd (3)
As to actually competing, Joey himself once
told me that he began racing in 1969, at Maghaberry, riding
a Triumph Tiger Cub bought with £50 of borrowed money.
Ivan Davison, road race convener to the Ulster centre of
the MCUI, also believes Maghaberry was the place. A Maghaberry
programme certainly exists from April 1969 listing J Dunlop
amongst the entries. Yet Brendan is ‘1000 per cent
sure’ that the meeting in question was at Kirkistown
on Easter Monday 1969, and he should know because he helped
pay for the bike. He thinks Joey finished ‘about sixteenth’.
The Tiger Cub was a simple 199cc push-rod single developing
perhaps 10 horsepower. Although scarcely a device for giving
anyone a taste for genuine speed, it had enough about it
to get the young Dunlop hooked.
The Motor Cycle Road Racing Club of Ireland
ran three meetings that year at Maghaberry, a former military
airfield that would later become a prison. In the first
two meetings, the 200cc event was won by Ray McCullough,
already a star and destined to become Joey’s foremost
rival in the mid-Seventies. Joey himself failed to figure
in the top six, and it would be another two years before
he’d reach such giddy heights. In one of those races,
on board another Cub, was Davy Wood, who would later become
Joey’s unofficial manager: "It was around June.
All I can remember is that we both finished. The stars were
Merv Robinson’s own career had begun, according to
Brendan, with ‘just one or two meetings in 1967 on
a 197cc Villiers borrowed from Frank Kennedy. In 1968 he
built a 175 Bantam. He was a good engineer and it was a
really special machine, with a one-off frame made from Reynolds
531 tubing, disc-valve induction and driving through a Tiger
Cub gearbox. But he only raced it about twice that year,
and once in 1969, then swapped me for the Tiger Cub. Its
first meeting was at Temple.’
If the start of both men’s career was downbeat, the
reason was as much poor equipment as slow-burning talent.
When Robo acquired his own Tiger Cub, their budget was so
feeble and spare parts so scarce that, as Helen remembers,
‘they were struggling to qualify. Often they had to
go in different heats because they didn’t have enough
parts to make two complete bikes, so they had to swap some
bits over.’ With only one serviceable machine between
them, whichever qualified better got to race.
But though he may have lacked for parts, support was a
constant. "Joey was always very close to his dad,"
explains Linda, "and took him to the races every weekend.
His dad played a big part in his life." In those early
days, fettling the machine was initially down to Willie,
who recalls his first faltering attempts at tuning for speed.
"‘We skimmed the head to raise the compression,
and bolted on a different carb. We ended up building up
the piston crown with weld, then Robo machined it down on
his lathe. It was good for 100mph, downhill at Mid Antrim."
Jackie Graham, shortly to join the Dunlop entourage, remembers
the Triumph as "a pretty rough thing, with bits and
pieces welded to it where the frame broke, and a footrest.
It was a fairly tatty wee bike. Joey had a Mini Traveller.
To get to meetings he’d take the wheels out of the
bike and shove it in the back." But there were signs
of the loner then too. "You weren’t always sure
Joey wanted you there in those days. He didn’t want
you seeing him make a mess of it. So he and his father tended
to sneak away to the races."
Far from being the emerging road racer, "his early
races were on the shorts," says Linda, "Aghadowey,
about five miles from here, and Bishopscourt. Och it was
just a bit of fun. We didn’t take it seriously –
it was just one big friendly family having fun. But he always
put his all into it, even when we had nothing. He never
gave up, even if people were laughing at him. They were
very poor days, Minis and trailers, doing without to pay
for the bikes. There was no sponsorship."
Support was mounting, however, as more friends
and family joined in what was still as much a social as
a competitive pursuit. Sister Virginia, six years Joey’s
junior, was a fiercely loyal member of this growing army
who came close to fist-fighting rival fans at Temple one
year. Not that there was much of a reputation to defend
initially. "‘I remember early on at Kirkistown
when Brian Steenson and Cecil Crawford came first and second,"
she chuckles, "and we had to wait about 15 minutes
for Joey and Merv to appear. It seemed like forever –
like two different races. But we loved it. Until our kids
arrived, we’d go to the races every weekend."
The trade-mark yellow helmet had also yet to appear. Joey
raced initially wearing a primitive pudding-basin lid with
an ivy leaf motif on the front, in tribute to his hero,
the late Bill Ivy. Brendan McMullen remembers it well: "It
was silver grey, and we were up until about 4.00 trying
to draw that ivy. In the end we used a sycamore leaf as
a pattern. You have to remember that Merv was a big Phil
Read fan, so that made for a bit of fun between the two
of them." In the mid-Sixties, there was no greater
racing rivalry than that between Yamaha team-mates Ivy and
A bright yellow open-face ‘jet’ design helmet
followed in 1971. The first full-face was a yellow Boeri
donated by John Boyd, a Suzuki dealer from Ballymena. Although
some friends recall that this had a seam down the middle
which was covered with tape, contemporary photographs clearly
show the stripes to be factory applied. Whatever its graphics,
it was "a really sloppy fit – he had to put some
extra foam inside to stop it wobbling about". The first
of several Kangol lids seems to have appeared in 1978, initially
plain yellow but with a black stripe from 1979. In March
1982 Joey signed with Top Tek (Kangol’s successor),
before donning the familiar Arai in 1983.
Joey’s first road race, also on the Triumph, came
at the Temple 100 in 1970, riding number 32 in the 200cc
handicap event. His earliest surviving trophy, a small,
slightly battered silver metal cup, sits on a table in the
sitting room. The engraving reads: ‘Mid Antrim 5th
place 1972 200cc class.
’In the room next door in the house on Garryduff
Road, a couple of miles outside Ballymoney, are later, loftier
spoils. Five FIM plaques, awarded for Joey’s World
Formula One titles, grace the left-hand wall, along with
an Irish Post Special Millennium Award for Sport. On the
dining table is daughter Donna’s half-finished jigsaw
puzzle of the Southern 100 races, her father’s unmistakable
yellow helmet centre picture. The spiral staircase to the
upper floor was inspired by one in the hotel at Belgium’s
Zolder circuit, where dad clinched his third world title
in 1984. Between that modest battered cup and the jigsaw
lies the greatest career that motorcycle road racing has
"The rest is history",
as they say ................
Dunlop - His Authorised Biography.
Extracts of this book by Mac McDiarmid and published
by Haynes Publishing are used throughout this website.
Recommended retail price: £25.00
ISBN 978 1 84425 940 3
Many thanks to Mac & Haynes Publishing.
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