Gary Dunlop, son of the legendary TT star Joey, is set to make his debut at the Ulster Grand Prix this weekend, racing in the Ultra Lightweight class on a Honda RS125.
The newest member of the Dunlop racing dynasty is a latecomer to the roads, having made his debut as a 33-year-old at the Mid Antrim 150 in April.
Gary was just 16 when his father passed away in 2000 following a crash in Estonia and at age 17, he began competing at Irish short circuit level before deciding two years later to give it up to help run the family pub in Ballymoney, ‘Joey’s Bar’. His return to competitive racing comes a year after becoming involved in running the Joey’s Bar Motorcycle Club team, which aims to improve the grids in the 125cc and 250cc classes, which have dwindled over the years.
Talking about his decision to start racing again, Gary said: “It all started off as a bit of fun. William (Dunlop) was going to ride my 125 at the Sunflower to help boost the grids, but the week before he was meant to go testing at Kirkistown he phoned me to say he couldn’t make it. He suggested that I jump on it and ride it round to see if the bike was set up right.
“That was alright, it took me a day or two to think about it but I did it and I actually went pretty well. William then pulled out on the Wednesday night before the Sunflower and he said ‘why don’t you do it, get a bike out on the grid, scoot around and have a bit of fun.’ I decided the next morning that I would. I did a medical that same day and got a licence that night from the MCUI.
“That was only a short circuit though. Another rider, Melissa Kennedy, was carrying on with me and said that I was maybe scared to do the roads and it sort of burnt into me a bit and got me really considering it. That’s when I decided to go for it and I think I would always have regretted it if I didn’t.
“I’m really happy with how I started out with a fifth place at the Mid Antrim. I think that because I went so well earlier on in the year, I’m nearly disappointed now as my expectations shot up but the results just haven’t been there for me. It’s probably because I’ve been so busy running these other bikes, plus a bit of bad luck with the bike that I’m riding myself.”
Dunlop is especially looking forward to racing at the Dundrod circuit, where his father won a record 48 times, adding: “It’s the only race that I’ve actually been looking forward to all year. There’s others that I’ve sort of been interested in but none compare to this one. Dundrod has been the one that I’ve looked forward to from the very first race.
“I have so many childhood memories running about Dundrod; I grew up there. Playing in the wee stream down the bottom of the paddock, messing about on the bicycle in round where the scrutineering bay is, and obviously watching all those great races through the 80s and 90s. It’s like a home from home for me.
“The memories I have of my Dad racing there are ridiculous. He has the record for the most number of wins at Dundrod but it’s not just that… I know everybody probably thinks it’s the TT and he did love the TT, but Dundrod was his favourite course.
“I mean, everybody that’s really interested in road racing is going to say that this is their favourite, it’s pretty much agreed between all the riders, all the big riders, that this is the place they love most.
“The memories are there every year, my Dad came away pretty much every time with something and it means a lot to me to race this track. I love it just the way he did.
“Noel, the clerk of course, has given me rider number three. I wasn’t too sure about it at first as it’s my Dad’s number and it’s a bit strange for me but it’s a nice legacy and if it helps give a bit of publicity for the 125 class and the Ulster Grand Prix then I’m happy.
“My aim is just to get round in one piece and enjoy it to be honest. And it’s not just me to think about, I have young Sam Wilson riding for the team, Derek McGee is riding one of the nights for us and my cousin Paul is riding another night, I’ve another two cousins out there too. It’s great to get good results but I don’t really set any goals. Everybody getting back safe after a good day on the track is what makes me happy..
“I don’t actually think I’ll be that good straight away. I had thought about doing a fast short circuit somewhere before the Ulster but because I’m running so many bikes I haven’t the time to get anything done. Saying that, I know every corner on this circuit but riding round it on a bike is going to be a completely different story. I’ve never ridden a circuit as fast as this before, nothing even close to it.”