Gary on road to following great dad Joey Dunlop into road racing
Gary Dunlop was just 16 when his legendary father Joey - the record-breaking 26-time Isle of Man TT winner and five-time TT Formula 1 World champion - passed away following a crash in Estonia in 2000.
Now 32 and working in the family public house in Ballymoney, aptly named 'Joey's Bar' which attracts tourists from all over the globe, Gary recently made the shock announcement that he would be making his road racing debut at the upcoming Mid Antrim 150 on April 2.
Road racing and the Dunlop family name go hand in glove in Northern Ireland, and Gary's mother Linda is fully supportive of her son, explaining: "I support him all the way."
Currently at Bishopscourt Race Circuit near Downpatrick, where he is competing at today's Enkalon Trophy meeting on his Joey's Bar Racing team 125cc Honda, Gary explains why he's decided to compete for the first time in 13 years.
"I had a wee run out at the Sunflower Trophy meeting back in November," was how he so eloquently put his surprise fourth-placed finish on the Joey's Bar 125cc Honda, after his cousin William Dunlop pulled out of the event at the eleventh hour.
Gary equalled that feat with another fourth-placed finish during yesterday's opening 125cc race at Bishopscourt and said: "The Sunflower and this race have been the two most enjoyable days I've ever had on a bike."
Modest by nature but a very witty and straight talking character, Gary explained that 'having a go' at road racing has always been something he's been keen to do. But as the son of Joey Dunlop, it was never going to be something he could achieve by slipping in under the radar. Until now that is.
Following his father's untimely death in 2000, a couple of seasons of racing on the local short circuit scene allowed him some breathing room and time to reflect and have 'a bit of craic' with his cousin and close friend William - himself an accomplished road racer in his own right, with multiple Ulster Grand Prix and North West 200 wins.
Having trimmed himself down over the winter months from a well-rounded golfing enthusiast into a leaner looking racer, some 35lb lighter, Gary decided to take in a few track days before making any firm commitment to racing this season - and as he explained, he was pleasantly surprised.
"I really enjoyed the track days on the bike and immediately felt better than I did when I was racing as a teenager," he said.
"William had already said to me 'why don't you give it a go' and now that I'm fitter I see it as an opportunity not only to race, but to put another 125cc two-stroke on the grid in a class I'm very passionate about."
During his time away from competing, Gary was still a regular figure in the racing paddocks, helping William out at various meetings and even accompanying him to a plethora of British championship races on both 125cc and 600cc machinery.
At times during those trips, the sound of silence would have been deafening driving along in a van with two Dunlops - quiet men in their own right - but as Gary explained, the biggest craic they have had over the years was on the golf course, a passion they both share.
"We haven't played as much recently as William has been able to use a few excuses about being injured, but in truth he just knows I'm better than him," joked the racing publican, who has also taken to playing football as part of his new-found fitness regime with local team Dunaghy in Ballymoney.
Mum Linda prefers not to get involved.
"If you say nothing you can't get into trouble," was how Linda put it, and Gary was equally as keen to deflect any attention away from his family with this new venture.
"Back then there was probably too much happening for me to go into road racing, but doing it now is my own decision," he explained, making reference to the tragic circumstances almost 16 years ago in Estonia that rocked his family and the world of motorcycle racing.
On his mum Linda, who is also technically his boss in Joey's Bar, he said: "Mum has given me time off to go and test the bike at Kirkistown recently, but I know she doesn't want me road racing. In all honesty what family would want them road racing, but she knows I'm set in my ways and let's me make my own mind up."
Explaining why, after 13 years away from the sport, he decided to finally have a go between the hedges, he said: "I've left it until now as I'm 32 and no one is expecting me to go out and try to be challenging at the front.
"Yes I'm Joey's son, but when all is said and done I just want to be regarded as another rider out there competing because I enjoy it.
"My goal is to have a bit of fun with no pressure, then go back to the day job.
"At the end of the day that's what most of the lads road racing are doing; racing for the craic."
His appearance at Mid Antrim will undoubtedly attract attention from a number of quarters.
But the road racing fraternity are a respectful bunch, and most will just be happy to see yet another rider swell the entry numbers in the programme - despite his name being Dunlop.
Win or lose, a little bit of history will be made on April 2 at the Mid Antrim when Gary makes his opening foray between the hedges as it was at the very same venue where his dad picked up his first bit of road racing silverware - finishing fifth on a 200cc back in 1972, when young Gary was but a glint in the late, great Joey's eye.