Belfast Telegraph

How an illustrious list of Ulster stars showed true class to leave a lasting impression on the world-famous TT

From Con Law to McCallen and Reid to the Dunlop family, a look at the history books shows that our boys have shone on Isle of Man

By Roy Harris

First staged in 1907, the unique Isle of Man TT is unquestionably the ultimate test of man and machine in what is effectively a time trial over 37-and-three-quarter miles of rolling Manx countryside on closed roads, through towns, up one side of Snaefell Mountain and down the other.

The start/finish line is in Douglas and a full circuit takes around 17 and a half minutes at an average speed of over 130mph. The lap record - currently held by Michael Dunlop - is 16mins 53.929seconds, a speed of 133.932mph.

At the TT - named after the original Tourist Trophy awarded to the first winners - competitors travelling from Ulster to that small island in the middle of the Irish Sea have a terrific record against the best road racers in the world .

Donaghadee-domiciled Stanley Woods was a 10-time TT winner between 1923 and 1939, riding a variety of machines - Cotton, Norton, Moto Guzzi and Velocette all took him to victory.

His 1935 seven-lap Senior win on the Guzzi, when he surprised rivals by not taking a final fuel stop, turned a 26-second deficit into a four-second victory over Norton-mounted Jimmy Guthrie and set a then new lap record of 85.53mph after over three hours of racing.

Joey Dunlop's feats on the island are legendary; a record 26 wins between 1977 and 2000 - seven TT F1, six Lightweight, five Ultra Lightweight, four Senior, two Junior, one Classic in 1980 and one Jubilee, his first victory in 1977.

Who will ever forget 1985 when Joey, brother Robert and other riders, race bikes and equipment were lucky to escape when the ex-fishing boat Tornamona, transporting them to the Isle of Man, sank after getting into difficulties?

All 13 passengers and crew were rescued by the RNLI Portaferry lifeboat. The bikes were later recovered by divers as Joey, being interviewed back on dry land, produced a classic line when asked had he been frightened at any stage.

"Frightened? I was near myself," he replied in pure Ballymoney tones.

The near-miss didn't hinder Joey's racing as he sped to a treble - only the second rider to achieve this feat after Mike Hailwood.

Formula racing (F1, F2 and F3) was introduced to the TT programme by the FIM/ACU governing bodies in order to placate the organisers after the event lost its World Championship status in 1976.

Joey made the F1 class his own, winning six in a row between 1983 and 1988 - all on Hondas. In fact, 24 of his wins came on the Japanese machines.

Will his record of 26 triumphs ever be beaten? Many die-hard supporters think it won't be or downright don't want it to be, but Morecambe's John McGuinness is only three behind and threatening the tally despite being a non-starter through injury for the last two years.

Joey, of course, had his injury woes in 1989. He had been written off by many as not being capable of winning on a big bike again, that it was beyond him, but he certainly rammed that opinion down the throats of doubters by taking a sensational 2000 F1 race victory on the SP2 Honda, beating the V&M Yamaha of the late David Jefferies, who retired a lap from the end after an epic struggle.

The Dunlop name is synonymous with the TT.

Joey's brother Robert won five TTs but also suffered a monumental accident in 1994 when the rear wheel of his Medd Honda RC30 broke while exiting Ballaugh Bridge, leaving him with serious leg and arm injuries. On his recovery, he returned to winning ways at the TT in the 125cc race of 1998.

Robert's sons, William and Michael, followed their father and uncle Joey down the TT route with differing results.

William has never won a TT but has four podiums, while Michael's name appears 15 times on 'Silver Ladies' (the winning trophies) and he is striving for more.

The saying goes that one man's bad luck is another man's gain, and in 1989 Joey was injured in an Easter crash at Brands Hatch and declared unfit to ride at the TT.

He had a hand in getting Phillip McCallen the ride on his Hondas and the Portadown rider grabbed the opportunity with both hands, going on to win 11 TT races between 1992 and 1997, including becoming the first man to win four races in a week in 1996 - a record that stood until Ian Hutchinson's unique five-timer in 2010.

Dromara's Brian Reid, who was the TT F2 world champion in 1985 and '86, has five TT wins to his credit - two 350cc Juniors in 1992 and '93, F2 in 1986, Supersport 400cc in 1992 and Supersport 600 in 1990.

He has also suffered bad luck on the island, breaking down or crashing when in contention for race wins.

Newry's Norman Brown (left) won the Senior TT on Hector Neill's Suzuki in 1982, becoming the first rider since Phil Read to win back-to-back Senior TT and Manx Grand Prix Senior races. Sadly, he was lost in a racing accident at Silverstone the following year.

Lowry Burton, from Carrick, and Dundrod's Pat Cushanan became the first Irish crew to win a Sidecar race in 1986, a year later taking their second when Burton became the oldest TT winner.

Steven Cull won two TTs but it was one he didn't win that brought headlines - the 1988 Senior, when he set a new lap record of 119.08mph on Francis Neill's 500cc Honda triple only to have the machine burst into flames exiting the Creg.

Old timers Ralph Bryans, Tommy Robb, Johnny Rea (father of triple World Superbike champion Jonathan) all won a TT, while Manliff Barrington, Eddie Laycock and Artie Bell won two.

Ballymoney's Adrian Archibald is a three-time winner, taking a F1/Senior double in 1993 for the TAS Suzuki team after his team-mate David Jefferies had been killed in a horrific practice crash.

Dungannon's Ryan Farquhar is also a three-time winner, while Dromore's Tom Herron won two Senior TTs in 1976 and '78 and the 1996 Lightweight 250cc race in an illustrious career on the island.

Sadly, Herron too lost his life in an accident while racing at the 1979 North West 200.

And Con Law, from Upperlands, Co Derry rode to a 250cc Junior double on Waddon Ehrlich and EMC in 1982 and '83, becoming the first man to lap at over 110mph on a 250cc machine.

All are now in the history books of arguably the greatest motorcycling spectacle in the world.

Belfast Telegraph

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