Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Home News

A portrait of a snapper as a young fan

Photographer Stephen Davidson on the inspiration behind his new book about road racing legend Joey Dunlop

Published 04/04/2015

Joey Dunlop on the RC45 Honda in 1999 at the North West 200.
Joey Dunlop on the RC45 Honda in 1999 at the North West 200.
Joey Dunlop takes a tea break
Joey at the racetrack
Joey working on a 250cc Honda at the 1994 Tandragee 100
Joey before racing

As a boy I watched him and he was a local hero. I started going to races in the mid-70s I was just a fascinated fan. I bought a camera so I could capture some of that fascination.

He was on one hand just like us and from the same part of the country. Lived in the same kind of houses, drank in the same pubs, it was very familiar and ordinary.

But what was very different about him was when he put on a set of racing leathers and threw his leg over a bike. He was something extraordinary and was able to take on the world and beat him. There is great pride in that, that one of our own could do that.

I would have known him to speak to and I think anyone outside of his close circle who said they knew Joey well is a liar. He was someone that very much kept himself to himself and went about his business in his own way.

I just wanted to try and capture that.

It was just great to record that. He had a fierce determination and had a great passion for what he did. He was always able to focus. The whole world would have been standing around looking at him and he was able to work away and paid no attention.

I'll always be immensely grateful to Joey. I bought a camera for fun to photograph him and then as fate would have it, it turned into a day job.

The fated year 2000 when he died was something completely extraordinary. He went to the Isle of Man aged 48 and he won the race completely against the odds.

He was beating men half his age. Then he went on to win two more TT races.

You knew, as a photographer, that what you were witnessing was something historic and special in sporting history.

He knew it was a real marker being laid down. I always love photographs of him working at the bike. That is what drew me in at the start. He was oblivious to the world around him - even if it was raining. It was those kind of moments you wanted to capture.

It wasn't the photographs of him standing on the podium with a bottle of champagne; it was the photographs of him lying in the back of a van after hours of racing soaked in sweat that I wanted to capture.

If there was ever a poignant moment, at the end of the TT race week in 2000 Joey came third in the final race and there was this tradition that in the Isle of Man - there is this antiquated lapsed scoreboard and is manned by boy scouts, a real tribe of them! At the end of the week the winner of the senior TT meets them.

It was David Jeffries who won it but the scouts wanted to meet Joey. I was working in the Press room and it was hectic, but spotted the scout master talking to Joey and walking away and I knew what was happening. I then thought I better follow them and grabbed the camera. He met the kids and I said to him 'could we do a photograph?' The boys and girls loved it. He is just sat in the middle of them - surrounded by all the scouts.

This picture with him surrounded by the scouts - I didn't know it at the time but it turned out to be the last picture I ever took of him. A few months later he died in Estonia. I'm so grateful that I have that.

It's not my favourite photo of him but it is the most poignant.

I was working in Casement Park covering a football game when the news came through.

There was just a huge intake of breath by thousands of people. Everybody was totally stunned and at a loss of what to do.

If you have to say one thing about Joey Dunlop, about what makes him different from other sporting people - and we have some many, is no one gave so many people so much pleasure over such a long period of time.

Joey was racing for 31 seasons. He came out of a niche sport and became a world-famous figure. That is part of what his legacy is and that still gives people who came from the same background a great sense of pride.

  • Stephen Davison (53) is the author and photographer of the book Joey Dunlop King Of The Roads Anniversary Edition

Belfast Telegraph

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph