LIFE ON THE ROADS

As TT time ap­proaches, one of its bright­est stars reveals all in new book

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He may only be 28 years old, but the re­cently re­leased au­to­bi­og­ra­phy from the 13time TT win­ner is a cap­ti­vat­ing and bru­tally hon­est ac­count of his life to date that goes deeper than any in­ter­view you’ve seen of the man on TV or in the press.

De­spite be­ing born a Dun­lop – road racing’s royal fam­ily, his up­bring­ing is not what you might ex­pect, one where money is tight and he has to fight for ev­ery op­por­tu­nity ev­ery step of the way.

From his in­tense re­la­tion­ship with his idol and fa­ther Robert, to his first wins as he pro­gresses from club racing to the roads and ul­ti­mately be­ing a TT win­ner. It’s a no-holds-barred take on his life, the death of his fa­ther and un­cle Joey Dun­lop; through to racing today, his ri­vals and above all deal­ing with the in­grained ex­pec­ta­tion of be­ing a Dun­lop.

Joey’s Bar

There was no bet­ter place to get the noise go­ing than in a lit­tle pub on Sey­mour Street in Bal­ly­money. Joey’s Bar was just about the flashiest thing my un­cle ever spent a penny on. And it wasn’t bought to be a show-off. He wanted a haven, if you like, for the boys to as­sem­ble. There were only two rules. Num­ber one: leave your re­li­gion at the door. And num­ber two: bik­ers wel­come. Dad loved it there. They all did. Joey would pull pints and run the place in his own quiet way, but he was happy to dis­ap­pear into a cor­ner with his brothers when they came by. It was par­adise. My dad could go and have a red wine with Joey, Jim, his dad and their friends, and talk for hours if he felt in the mood. And even if Dad stepped in­side and there was no-one there he recog­nised, plenty of the fel­las would know ex­actly who he was. ‘Oh, you’re that Robert Dun­lop. What are you? Made of metal now? Let me buy you a drink.’ As a kid in the 1990s you got to go in more places than maybe you would today, with the rules and that. No­body thought about the smok­ing or the late nights, or if they did, it wasn’t some­thing to get in the way of the good times. Af­ter one of the lo­cal races, Joey and my dad would all head to Sey­mour Street and of­ten my mum would drop us boys off there to catch up with the old fel­las’ news. That’d take about a minute, then he’s knocking back the wine with his mates and I’m chasing my cousins around the pub. Joey had five

kids and to­gether we could make some noise. We’re Dun­lop kids in a Dun­lop pub in Dun­lop coun­try. No bug­ger dared com­plain. My favourite nights were the ones that got a bit messy. The lock-ins at Joey’s Bar were leg­endary. Those were the nights I’d be al­lowed – no, I’d be told – to hop be­hind the bar and pour my un­cle a beer. Next to me much of the time was one cousin or an­other. We were part­ners in crime, no mis­take. I re­mem­ber pulling a pint one day and think­ing, I’m run­ning this place and I’m only nine!

Be­ing a Dun­lop

Some peo­ple would have buck­led un­der the weight of ex­pec­ta­tion. Make no mis­take, be­ing a Dun­lop around a road-racing paddock was a big deal. A jour­nal­ist or two asked me how it felt to be con­tin­u­ing the Dun­lop name. I said, ‘There’s noth­ing we can do to im­prove what my dad and my un­cle have al­ready done. The best we can hope for is if we don’t f*ck it up.’ I’m not sure they printed the ex­act quote. My dad was sat­is­fied enough with my per­for­mance, although he men­tioned again and again the risks I’d taken out there. In my de­fence, the road was dry and I knew what I was do­ing. In his de­fence, he had his brother and his own ac­ci­dent as ev­i­dence.

Mak­ing a mark

Aghad­owey is a short cir­cuit right round the cor­ner from our house. I just stuck the bike in the back of the van, no warn­ing, no noth­ing, and we went down and en­rolled on the day. No sooner do we pull up than it starts to get a wee bit driz­zly out in the paddock, then a bit heav­ier, then the heav­ens re­ally open. We’ve just got Ron­nie’s van, noth­ing else. There’s no space to work on the bike or even stretch your legs with­out get­ting a del­uge from Ni­a­gara Falls. But given the rush we’d come out in, the 125 needed a few bits and pieces re­placed, so I had to go through with it, rain or not. I’m barely out there five min­utes when this boy across the road gives me a holler. He has a large lorry and an awning run­ning along the length of it. He’s out there with his me­chan­ics, his son – who was racing – and his fam­ily. They’re all dry as a bone.

‘Hey now,’ he says,‘you want to come over?’ That’s a wel­come you’d be happy to hear, awning or not. So Ron­nie and I wheel the bike over and we do our tin­ker­ing and gen­er­ally get ready for the first race. It all goes like a dream. I man­age to win from pole and I’m set up right for the sec­ond out­ing. There’s a bit more spice to this one be­cause the lad whose awning we’re shar­ing qual­i­fies on the front row next to me. It’s no bother to me. I know I’m faster. Maybe it’s cock­i­ness but af­ter a strong start I be­gin to drop back and a few boys go past. I’m not hav­ing that. I try to sh*t out the cob­webs and go hell for leather. One by one I pick the lead­ers off. Sud­denly I’m in sec­ond and there’s just the boy with the awning ahead of me. Let’s put things in per­spec­tive for a sec­ond. His dad’s a di­a­mond. His kid’s a de­cent enough fella him­self and more than okay as a rider. It’s no shame com­ing sec­ond to him. In fact, there’s an ar­gu­ment to be made that I should al­low it to hap­pen. The last thing I’d want to do is cause a ricket for ei­ther of us. Imag­ine go­ing back to the awning if any­thing like that were to oc­cur. I think all this for maybe half-a-sec­ond. Then I think, F**k it. I’m hav­ing him.

It’s the last lap and I’ve been run­ning closer and closer to the boy and I know I’m nearly out of time, so I just run up the in­side of him. There’s no plan but

‘It’s the last lap and I’m out of time, so I run up the in­side of him’

ob­vi­ously one of us is go­ing to have to go off-piste if we’re to avoid an ac­ci­dent.

One thing’s for sure. It’s not go­ing to be me.

Twenty sec­onds later, the boy’s still try­ing to find his way back on to the track as I cross the fin­ish­ing line. Ron­nie’s slap­ping me on the back but that’s about the only friendly face I see. At the awning Ron­nie had to sep­a­rate the lad from belt­ing me. His dad let me have both bar­rels of ver­bals. Ob­vi­ously it was not one of my more mag­nan­i­mous mo­ments. But a win is a win, that’s how I saw it. That’s how I see it to this day. If you have a chance to win you owe it to your­self to take it. The record books don’t re­mem­ber the good guys. They just re­mem­ber the suc­cess­ful ones. I come from a fam­ily of record break­ers. Can you blame me for want­ing to join them?

En­ter­tain­ing roy­alty

Be­ing around the paddock and the pits with my dad was like turn­ing up to a party with Bey­oncé on your arm. The boy was a su­per­star. Everywhere I’d been with him do­ing the wee races that year, you had the odd chap com­ing over for a chat or a photo, but at the Manx, where there were so many amateurs, so many fans and stu­dents of the sport, there wasn’t a soul who could hide how much they ad­mired him. I went back to the paddock once to look for him and found him sit­ting in this old boy’s awning drink­ing this fel­low’s red wine. They’d never met be­fore in their lives but this fella, I prom­ise you, thought he was en­ter­tain­ing roy­alty.

First TT win (2009)

Straight out of the box ev­ery­thing felt right. Glen He­len, I’m slid­ing all over the road but I’m lead­ing. Bal­laugh, I’m touch­ing kerbs but I’m lead­ing. Ram­sey, I’m lead­ing. Start/fin­ish, I’m lead­ing. First it’s by 10 sec­onds. Then it’s 15 sec­onds. Then it’s 20. I knew ex­actly where I was be­cause there was this wee fella hold­ing a board when I ex­ited Greeba. First time round it had ‘P1 +4’ writ­ten on it. I couldn’t be­lieve it. They were my stats: I’m in first place with a four-sec­ond lead. He’s not part of my team or any­thing; I didn’t even know his name. He just took it upon him­self to help me out. I think break­ing the lap record dur­ing prac­tice must have got his at­ten­tion, or maybe it was my name, be­cause he didn’t do it for any other riders. And the thing is, he still does it to this day. I some­times see him in the pits and he’ll give me a clenched fist and say: ‘Go on, good luck.’ An­other boy, Phil, does the same thing in the moun­tains. Amaz­ing re­ally. They’re just guys, like so many oth­ers in my ca­reer, who just want to help out. They’re all in­valu­able.

Ev­ery suc­cess is bui lt up of tiny parts. Like an en­gine. Any­way, thanks to this boy with the board, the ex­cite­ment was build­ing in me as I came round on the last lap. All I had to do was keep it on the road – that would be enough. One slip and Bruce, Steve Plater or Conor Cum­mins were ready to pounce. Some­how I hold it to­gether. When I take the che­quered flag I’ve won by 30 sec­onds, achiev­ing an av­er­age speed of 125mph. The record was 126. And I did it on my old bike. Joey Dun­lop: 26 TT wins. Robert Dun­lop: five TT wins. Now add Michael Dun­lop to that list.

‘The record books don’t re­mem­ber the good guys, they re­mem­ber the suc­cess­ful ones’

Robert Dun­lop was a fighter who’d do any­thing for his fam­ily

Michael (left) and Wil­liam (right) couldn’t wait to race The win­ning started young and it’s not fin­ished yet Robert soon re­alised his youngest son had tal­ent... lots of it Robert Dun­lop’s ter­ri­ble crash in 1994 rocked Michael Cheeky Michael jumps on his d

Robert was in­cred­i­bly proud as his youngest son started win­ning big Michael finds a way of mak­ing a bike do what he wants it to There were hard times and heartache, but plenty of laughs too 14 TT wins and at just 28, Michael is not done yet

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