Sunday 2nd July 2000 is one day when all road race fans, in fact many thousands more remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when the sad news of Joey Dunlop’s loss of life was released. Where has those 20-years gone since one of the saddest days in the history of road racing?
The then six-times Southern 100 Solo Champion, Joey Dunlop MBE, OBE was confirmed as an entry in the 2000 Southern 100 Road Races and was due to travel back from Estonia to the Isle of Man to defend his much coveted Solo Championship title he had gained 12-months earlier.
Regrettably, it was not to be and some 20-years on, his record of six Solo Championships, over twenty-three years remains intact.
Nearest rival is Ian Lougher with five and Guy Martin with four, both having retired from regular competition. Only current contenders, likely to get close are Michael Dunlop and Dean Harrison, who so far have three Solo Championship wins each.
Taking a look back on Joeys illustrious racing career at the ‘friendly races’ which included a total of 31 wins at the Southern 100 and 11 at the Post TT Road Races, his ix prestigious Southern 100 Solo Championship Race wins are recalled year by year.
1976: Joey winning debut
Diminutive Ulsterman Joe Dunlop, on his first visit, proved the sensation of the 1976 Southern 100 with two second places and a third in Wednesday’s qualifying race, then most important of all, a magnificent victory in the Championship race, shattering both lap and race records.
Chester veteran Bill Smith got off to a cracking start in the Championship on his 750 Yamaha with Dunlop, 350 Yamsel, and Ray McCullough, 350 Yamaha, tucked in behind. Dunlop slipped past Smith on lap three and by lap five McCullough too was past the Chester ace who was having problems with his front brake. Try as he might McCullough could make no impression on his fellow countryman as they gobbled up the miles. The six-second gap remained to the finish, Neil Tuxworth on another 750 Yamaha struggled to get the better of Trevor Steele, 350 Yamaha, in the early stages, but at the end had 10 seconds to spare.
1977: Ron Haslam rides – briefly!
Joey Dunlop returned to conquer in 1977 during a year, which may be longer remembered for events, which happened even before the racing began.
Long-time Southern ‘100’ campaigner Bill Smith arrived too late for practice and appealed to ride without doing so. The Clerk of the Course had no alternative but to reject the appeal, a decision upheld by the stewards of the meeting. Mal Carter, sponsor of British short circuit star Ron Haslam, a newcomer, threatened to pull his runner out if Smith was not allowed to ride and as this failed to sway the organisers, they all packed up and went home.
The final Championship solo qualifying race, the 1300cc, provided Dunlop with his second victory of the evening. Blackburn’s George Fogarty, Suzuki, in determined mood made the Ulsterman fight all the way and at the chequered flag the difference between the pair was less than two seconds. The lower placings were allocated by half distance with Tuxworth, Yamaha, leading Les Newman, Yamaha, and fifth finisher Marty Ames, Lockyam.
The Championship race proved almost a carbon copy of the 1300 race. Dunlop took the lead on the opening lap and maintained a four second advantage over Fogarty – once again runner-up. It took Tuxworth six laps to catch Newman who was only two seconds adrift at the end. Ames once again finished fifth but had been subjected to the continual presence of Jackson before he retired leaving Kevin Riley to claim sixth spot.
1978: Dunlop Champion again
It was very much the year of the Irish as far as the solo classes went at the 1978 meeting, with Joe Dunlop collecting three wins and rival Ray McCullough two.
After the previous excitement, the Solo Championship was a rather pedestrian affair, Dunlop retaining his titles pretty as much as he pleased, equalling his own lap record. He finished the 12 laps less than a second slower than he had 12 months before – a piece of remarkable riding.
Misfortune again hit the exciting Ames after grimly pursuing the leader for 10 laps. Engine trouble denied him of runner-up spot, and he slipped down to finish 12th. McCullough, who had settled for third, gratefully took second, albeit over a minute down on Dunlop. Trevor Steele had made rapid progress from a lowly 13th on lap one and passed both Jackson and Burrows to take third. McGinn produced another fine ride in sixth place.
1991: Six out of Six for Joey!
Ulster’s favourite son Joey Dunlop made a triumphant return to the Southern ‘100’ in 1991 with two wins in little more than an hour on the opening evening of racing.
The Ballymoney ace had to contend with the Welsh wizard Ian Lougher in the 12-lap Junior Solo Founders race but had things all his own way in the Senior race, despite a spirited charge through the pack by late starting Dave Leach. Dunlop and Lougher were rarely more than a couple of bike lengths apart in the first race. Joey grabbing the hole shot into Ballakaighan corner on lap one, on damp roads, only to relinquish the lead to the Yamaha mounted Welshman on at least two occasions over the first half of the race. At the flag, Dunlop took the nod by just eight tenths of a second, with fellow Ulsterman Steve Hazlett a steady third some 20 seconds down on Lougher. The relatively unknown Dave Milling from Cumbria eventually took fourth place, following the unfortunate retirement of Castletown’s own Richard Coates. The Manx Airlines pilot had been holding onto fourth place when first the clutch on the 250 Yamaha began to slip, further problems occurring in the shape of a broken footrest. Gary Radcliffe upheld the local honours, though, enjoying a race long scrap with Dave Leach before settling for sixth, behind the Ulster based Yorkshireman. Leading 125 was the Honda of Bob Heath, narrowly edging out former Southern ‘100’ champion Ray McCullough’s nephew Denis.
Pre-race favourite for the Senior honours, Dave Leach was last away from the start at the beginning of the 12-lap race. On the warm up lap he discovered that the headstock on the OWO1 Yamaha had come loose, and it was whilst Steve Hazlett’s mechanic was kindly tightening this on the start line that Dave was delayed. Some ten seconds down on the field at the drop of the flag, Leach came from 45th to 20th on the opening circuit, working his way through the ranks like a hot knife through butter to move up into 13th spot on lap three, tenth on lap four, and sixth at half distance, setting a new lap record for the class along the way at 100.92 mph.
Meanwhile, Joey Dunlop had led from the word go on his RC30 Honda, Steve Hazlett ousting Kenny Harrison from second place on lap two, with Gary Radcliffe, Nigel Barton, and Kevin Jones all in close company. Leach continued his incredible fight back, ousting Kevin Jones at the Ballanorris railway bridge on lap seven, Nigel Barton shortly after, and Kenny Harrison on lap eight – the latter man retiring with poor vision. Steve Hazlett was having problems with his RC30 Honda, and Brian Venables was unfortunate to go down on some oil, which had sprayed out, from the rear of the Irishman’s machine. Luckily, Brian did not suffer any injuries in this minor step off. With two laps to go and Joey Dunlop well out on his own, Dave Leach completed his amazing ride by nipping through to vacate Gary Radcliffe of second place, crossing the line less than ten seconds behind the five times Formula One world champion. Barton held onto fourth place, whilst another Senior Manx Grand Prix winner, Paul Hunt, rode well to come in fifth ahead of Davy Cowan and Kevin Jones.
Joey Dunlop, written off by many in recent years, once again socked one in the eye of the pundits when he shattered race and lap records on his way to another double success on the second evening. Hoisting the outright Billown circuit lap record to 103.79 mph in the Unlimited Solo Race, the then 39-year old “King of the Roads” had earlier come to within 0.8 of a second of the first ever 100 mph lap on a 250. But, whilst Joey, in his own familiar way, made the whole business of winning look deceptively easy, it certainly was not a one-horse race in either of the two solo qualifiers. On both occasions he was faced with stiff opposition in the shape of the two men who had dominated the same races 12 months earlier, TT favourites Ian Lougher and Dave Leach. Lougher cursed a bad start in the 250 race, which saw him losing valuable ground to Dunlop in the first ten miles as he struggled to get by Steve Hazlett. Once past, Welshman Ian set about hauling in Joey – but it was somewhat of a lost cause as the Ulster ace controlled the race beautifully from the front, never for one moment looking in any doubt as the eventual winner.
In a carbon copy repeat of the previous evenings top five in the Junior Solo Founders race, third placed Hazlett was chased home by Dave Milling, Dave Leach and Gary Radcliffe. Leach held on grimly, only to lose the tow on Dunlop when he was hindered by a back marker. When Dave’s Yamaha OWO1 began to overheat he was forced to slacken the pace, the gap growing from three seconds to more than ten in the latter half of the race. Steve Hazlett was another to suffer overheating problems, and he was very nearly caught napping for third place on the final corner when Kenny Harrison made one last ditch effort at Castletown Corner. Gary Radcliffe had another typically solid ride for fifth place in front of Nigel Barton, while Dave Madsen-Mygdal chased Irishman Davy Cowan home in eighth. Denis McCullough took the 350 award in 15th spot. The race was marred by the horrific accident involving Andy Basset on the exit from the Black Hole.
Joey Dunlop again wasted no time at all stamping his authority on the Total Oils 1000cc race, but once Dave Leach got by local ace Kenny Harrison on lap two, he immediately set about challenging the Ulsterman’s domination. And, braking into Iron gate for the third time, Leach slipped through on the inside of Dunlop to grab the reins in a determined fashion. Joey stayed with him, though, ousting the Yorkshireman on lap five with a staggering first ever 103 mph lap in a time of two minutes 27.4 seconds. Steve Hazlett was third, Kenny Harrison fourth, Gary Radcliffe fifth and Nigel Barton completed the top six.
By far the most spectacular of Dunlop’s six wins came in the main 12-lap Ronaldsway Shoe Company Solo Championship race. Trailing 1990 champion Dave Leach in the early stages, Dunlop simply bided his time before shooting up the right-hand side of his rival on the fast approach to Castletown Corner from Stadium on lap three. Credit to Leach, though, he fought back tenaciously to nail Dunlop on the brakes into Iron Gate, only for Joey to power past for a second time shortly later at Great Meadow.
Dave was then forced to hang on grimly as the five times Formula One World Champion dictated the pace superbly. Odd laps he seemed to tease Leach as he rolled back the throttle to enable the Yorkshireman to close the gap, then Joey was gone again. In short, he ‘toyed’ with Leach – the latter man’s Yamaha no match for Dunlop’s crisp sounding RC30, in the same way as Dave himself was not in the same league as the master on absolute peak form.
Just to rub salt into the wounds, Joey gave one final tweak of the twist grip to set a staggering new outright course record on the tenth lap. Circulating the 4.25-mile Billown circuit in a shade under two minutes 26 seconds, Joey’s average speed was an amazing 104.93 mph, the previous best from 1990 was only 102, and prior to that the 100 mph had been the standard for seven years! This supersonic victory brought Dunlop’s Southern ‘100’ tally to 16 wins, including a record number of four Solo Championships.
In the wake of Dunlop and Leach, local men Kenny Harrison and Gary Radcliffe came through to fill third and fourth places respectively on their near identical RC30 Hondas, following the retirement on lap nine of Ulster’s Steve Hazlett. Nigel Barton and Paul Hunt completed the top six, the latter man recording his first ever ton up lap at the Southern, while Ian Lougher rode a real stormer of a race to take seventh place on his 250 Yamaha. One final comment from veteran campaigner Selwyn Griffiths summed up the Southern ‘100’ quite adequately. “It was the best run road race in the 1960s,” he said, “and it’s still the best now in the 90s!”
1993: Dunlop hat trick
In the 600 Regal Championship race, the opening race of Championship Day, Joey Dunlop was again to stamp his superiority on the circuit, though he had first to wait an hour and a half because of the weather conditions. The original leadership battle between Derek Young and Johnny Rea was soon challenged by Tim Poole, but there was no stopping Dunlop who came through to win on the last lap. Pool had to settle for second while Ian King beat Rea for third, as Derek Young had to settle for fifth, with Jason Griffiths slipping into sixth to complete the leader board.
Joey and his Castrol Honda overcame fog and the Sports Motorcycles Ducati assault of newcomer Simon Beck – to notch his fifth Solo Championship win. Beck’s expected challenge lasted for four laps before the burly Preston, Lancs., rider ran the Italian V-twin into straw bales at Ballabeg Hairpin, who was 14 seconds down at the end of the nine-lap race. Ulsterman Derek Young, last year’s runner-up, finished third when his RC30 finally came on song after a troubled week.
1999: Joey’s sixth Solo Championship!
The last Southern ‘100’ of the millennium (1999) could not have got off to a worse start as eight riders were caught up in an accident in the opening race of the programme. Gavin Lee and Marc McDonald both lost their lives in the incident at William’s Bend.
When racing got underway 24 hours later, King of the roads, Joey Dunlop scored a first and a second on Wednesday evening. The wily Ulsterman powered to the front at the half way point in the combined Senior race, then stepped up another gear to win the ten lapper by more than nine seconds from New Zealander Blair Degerholm. Dunlop shot past Degerholm going into Ballakaighan corner at the start of the fifth lap. Early on, a battered and bruised Jason Griffiths had led the way for a lap on the O’Kane R1 Yamaha. The Ulster’s Adrian McFarland took the reins for a couple of circuits on his similar mount, before Degerholm shot to the front at the end of lap three.
But there was just no shaking Joey off, and whilst Griffiths and McFarland both slipped back on the Yamahas, the RC45 Honda of Dunlop soon upped the pace. Only Degerholm, on Des Collins’ 750 Kawasaki, was able to keep with him, and he eventually lost the fight as the 23-times TT winner disappeared off into the distance. Uel Duncan, who had gone down in the eight bike pile up at Williams’ the previous evening, rode extremely well to finish fifth, 16 seconds down on Griffiths, to take the 600 Supersport class honours. Dave Madsen-Mygdal eventually got past old campaigner Paul Cranston and new boy Ryan Farquhar to claim a solid sixth on the older of his two RC30 Hondas.
Plumping for the identical compound rear Dunlop tyre as Jim Moodie did in the Senior TT, Joey Dunlop almost suffered the same fate as his Honda Britain team-mate when rubber from the centre of the slick started to peel away in the latter stages of the Solo Championship. The tyre was in fact the very same spare Moodie had in the pits on Senior day but never used, fitted to a smaller than standard 161/2-inch wheel.
‘The tyre works superbly for about 40 miles, then it just starts to rip up,’ said Dunlop, after his sixth championship win in 23 glorious years at Billown. He had not realised the tyre had almost worn through until he stepped off the bike in the winner’s enclosure. After winning three titles in a row from 1976-1979, Dunlop only contested the Southern on a couple of occasions in the 80s during the peak of his F1 and Honda Britain career, but he bounced back with another win in 1991 and another two years later. Such is his experience and supreme confidence of the 47-year-old that he never seems to panic. Even when it appears to be out sprinted by riders almost half his age in the early stages of a race. It happened in the Senior Founders race on Wednesday evening when he appeared to be slipping off the back of the leading trio for a few laps, then suddenly there he was at the sharp end. It was much the same on Thursday in the main race of the week when Blair Degerholm made the early running, with Adrian McFarland and Jason Griffiths both elbowing for space alongside the 23-times TT winner. Two laps into the race, though, and Joey was out in front, and charging. From thereon in he was in full control. Ready to up the pace when necessary but demoralising the opposition in the meantime as he continued to steam away into the distance. McFarland broke free of the similarly R1 Yamaha mounted Griffiths after three or four laps, eventually reeling in Degerholm’s Wilson & Collins Kawasaki. He was in front of the New Zealander with four laps to go, but Blair finally got back ahead as McFarland suffered problems from of all things, tennis elbow!
Professional despatch rider Blair admitted later, he needed a few good workouts in the gym to get fitter if he were to make any serious inroads on Dunlop – Joey is definitely the boss! Behind Griffiths, fellow Ramsey man Gary Carswell gained his only finish of the week in fifth place. Sixth, and producing one of the rides of the day on a nine-year-old TC30 Honda, was Dave Madsen-Mygdal. For much of the race he had been in a five-way scrap for seventh place with young guns Ryan Farquhar and Uel Duncan, the number 17 Kawasaki of Paul Cranston, and the 250 Honda-twins of Ian Lougher and Neil Richardson. But Dave eventually wore them down, and with a final sprint he pipped Lougher for that last place on the top six leaderboard.
Photo courtesy Southern 100 Archives, shows Joey on his way to his first Solo Championship in 1976
INTERSTING NOTES ON JOEY’S SIX WINS:
Joeys, first, fifth and sixth wins were achieved on 15th July 1976, 1993 & 1999
His second on 14th, July 1977; third on 13th July 1918 and fourth on 18th July 1991.