CORRY COR­NER Joey at the top of an il­lus­tri­ous list of rid­ers

Fingal Independent - - SPORT -

DUR­ING my re­cu­per­a­tion from my re­cent oper­a­tion I have been scan­ning my old col­lec­tion of slides and pho­tos, with the main rea­son to save them onto modern dig­i­tal, and also to help me get through the three months off work.

The ad­vances in modern tech­nol­ogy have been won­der­ful in this way, and while I slagged off some of this tech­nol­ogy a few months ago, this is some­thing that has helped save both my col­lec­tion and san­ity.

I have put up a num­ber of fold­ers of these pho­tos from the late 80s and early 90s on so­cial me­dia and I have had some lovely com­ments and re­quests for pho­tos.

There is one ques­tion that I have been asked a num­ber of times since I started my work, and that is: ‘Who was our great­est ever rider?’

Straight­away I re­mem­bered the great Joey Dun­lop be­ing asked how it felt beat­ing the leg­endary Stan­ley Woods on the day he past Woods’ record of 10 Isle of Man TT wins, and he said: ‘We are in dif­fer­ent eras and it’s hard to com­pare what Stan­ley did, as there were dif­fer­ent ma­chin­ery, roads and rid­ers when he was rac­ing com­pared to where I am at.’

A pow­er­ful state­ment in­deed from a rider who went on to win 26 TT races, and thank­fully I was there to see most of them.

To me, Joey was our great­est ever rider, but there are so many other fans who will have their own favourite.

Grow­ing up on the orig­i­nal Sker­ries 100 course, I be­gan to get my favourites as a young race fan. Rid­ers like Len Ire­land and Ce­cil Craw­ford spring to mind, but the name of Tom Her­ron soon came to the fore.

I don’t know if it was see­ing his van parked out­side my cousin’s house where he stayed when he raced in Sker­ries, but to see ‘Tom Her­ron In­ter­na­tional Road Racer’ painted on the side was some­thing dif­fer­ent for a young lad from Loughshinny.

As I started trav­el­ling the length and breadth of the coun­try, and be­fore I went to the Isle of Man for the first time, the name of Ray Mccul­lough was in ev­ery­one’s talk of rac­ing.

Mccul­lough and Her­ron had a bril­liant bat­tle at my first visit to the Ul­ster Grand Prix, and in the days where two strokes dom­i­nated the scene these two lo­cal rid­ers were the king­pins.

In the back­ground we had Gra­ham Young and Donny Robin­son, who were start­ing to come to the fore, along with the likes of Joey, Mervyn Robin­son, Frank Kennedy, Trevor Steele and Ian Mcgre­gor.

Ray Mac, as he was known, was the king of Sker­ries, win­ning 17 races be­tween 1965 and 1977, and yet the Dro­mara rider only ever raced at the South­ern 100 in the Isle of Man, which took place in July, and never raced the TT.

Her­ron and Young were com­pet­ing in the old Grand Prix where they could get en­tries, and Her­ron was at the top end of his game, but in the ul­tra-com­pet­i­tive class of the Grand Prix he was in a David and Go­liath sce­nario.

Win­ning an Ir­ish road race cham­pi­onship is one thing, but at world level it was tough. Yet he man­aged to fin­ish in fourth place in the 1976 250 and 350 World Cham­pi­onships. That same year he won the Se­nior TT, the last of the world cham­pi­onship races held over the moun­tain course.

The fol­low­ing year he fin­ished run­ner-up to Ja­panese rider Takazumi Katayama in the 350 world cham­pi­onship, and he was still a pri­va­teer.

In 1979 he fi­nally got the break that he de­served, and he joined the great Barry Sheene and Steve Parish in the Heron Suzuki fac­tory Grand Prix Team.

The first few races of the year saw the Lis­burn rider take two third places and a fourth, but he crashed out in the fourth round of the cham­pi­onship in Spain, suf­fer­ing se­ri­ous burns to his arm.

He re­turned to race at the North West 200 but trag­i­cally crashed out in the fi­nal race of the day, on the fi­nal lap, in the Match Races and trag­i­cally lost his life. That be­came known as ‘Black Satur­day’ as three rid­ers died that day, as along with Her­ron there was Frank Kennedy and Scot­tish rider Brian Hamil­ton.

On the lo­cal scene, and com­ing up be­hind Ray Mac, was an­other Dro­mara rider - Brian Reid.

Rac­ing in Ire­land was be­com­ing like a fan club, and you ei­ther fol­lowed the Dro­mara De­stroy­ers, (Mccul­lough, Reid, Steele and Mcgre­gor) or the Ar­moy Ar­mada (Joey and Jim Dun­lop, Mervyn Robin­son and Frank Kennedy). We also had a bril­liant Dublin rider in Conor Mcginn, who was start­ing to in­flict de­feats on the top rid­ers from the North, some­thing we hadn’t seen in the south for a good few years.

Joey took his first TT in 1977, win­ning the Clas­sic TT, de­spite stop­ping in Ram­sey to check his rear tyre, and he came back in 1980 on John Rea’s OW31 Yamaha to take a bril­liant Se­nior TT win, beat­ing the fac­tory Hon­das and Suzuki.

He achieved it by lit­er­ally pulling the wool over their eyes, rid­ing with an en­larged tank which saw him only stop once to re­fuel, whereas the fac­tory rid­ers had to stop twice.

He was helped along the way by an­other great Ir­ish rider, Sam Cle­ments, who gave him help to enlarge the tank.

In 1981 Mcginn was on top form at the TT, and in prac­tice for the Ju­nior TT he was third fastest over­all be­hind the fac­tory Kawasaki of Graeme Mcgre­gor, but dis­as­ter was to strike the Stil­lor­gan rider when he crashed in the 500 race on the Maine Au­to­point Yamaha at Lau­rel bank, and his in­juries left him wheel­chair-bound.

Nor­man Brown was an­other up and com­ing rider, and the classy Newry rider was light­ing up the lo­cal scene. He was the new star, and he got an early chance on a fac­tory Suzuki at the Ul­ster Grand Prix in 1982, in an ef­fort to stop the mighty Joey and Honda from tak­ing the World F1 Cham­pi­onship.

He took to the task, but it was Dun­lop and Honda who took the world ti­tle. In 1983 he be­came only the sec­ond rider to come from win­ning the Se­nior Manx Grand Prix the pre­vi­ous year, to win­ning the Se­nior Clas­sic TT, in the process break­ing the lap record.

He was again signed to ride for the fac­tory Suzuki team at the Ul­ster, but only two weeks be­fore that he took part in the Bri­tish 500 Grand Prix. With the rain start­ing to fall, Brown slowed, and was tour­ing back to the pits. He was passed by a num­ber of rid­ers, but trag­i­cally Swiss rider Peter Hu­ber didn’t see him and ploughed into the back of Brown. Both rid­ers lost their lives in the ac­ci­dent.

Joey was spend­ing a good bit of his sea­son with the Honda team in the Bri­tish and World Cham­pi­onship, with only se­lected races on home turf.

His younger brother Robert was mak­ing an im­pact into the lo­cal scene, and we also had the likes of Steven Cull, Sam Cle­ments, both rid­ers from Ban­gor and great com­peti­tors on the roads.

There were Court­ney Junk, Noel Hud­son, Sean Mcs­tay, Eu­gene Mcdon­nell and Con Law, along with our own band of South­ern rid­ers - Ge­off Cronin, Alan Coul­ter, Ron Sherry, John ‘Bart’ Byrne, Eric Gal­braith and of course Ed­die Lay­cock.

Lay­cock came from the same area of south Dublin that most of the above rid­ers hailed from, and it was clear that he was go­ing places. A stylish and com­pe­tent rider, he was soon mak­ing a name for him­self, and while it was still hard to get com­pet­i­tive ma­chin­ery spon­sored in Ire­land, Lay­cock opened plenty of eyes when he beat the great Joey in a clas­sic 250cc bat­tle at the North West, on prac­ti­cally Joey’s back door in 1986.

This didn’t go un­no­ticed by one of the great spon­sors of road rac­ing, Joe Millar, who gave the Dubliner his break af­ter Millar’s top rider Eu­gene Mcdon­nell was killed in a freak ac­ci­dent at the 1986 TT.

Lay­cock took ad­van­tage of the top-class ma­chin­ery that the Rand­las­town Haulage Con­trac­tor was pro­vid­ing, and he beat a young up and com­ing Steve His­lop in the ‘87 Ju­nior TT, although His­lop re­versed the re­sult in the For­mula 2 race.

Lay­cock was to go on and win an­other TT, as well as break­ing the lap record at the Ul­ster on a 500 Honda. He then went on to race at the top of Grand Prix Rac­ing.

Brian Reid was join­ing Joey on the world stage, and while Joey went on to take five World For­mula 1 TT Cham­pi­onships, Reid took two F2 crowns.

In 1988 a young Por­ta­d­own rider called Phillip Mc­callen made his way onto the scene. He had taken six road race cham­pi­onships in 1987, but he be­came the first rider to take two Manx Grand Prix in a week in ’88, and that was the start of his il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer that saw his dom­i­nate the in­ter­na­tional road race scene and end his ca­reer equal with Steve His­lop on 11 TT wins.

Joey was still top­ping the TT win lad­der, as well as the Ir­ish scene, but in 1996 a young fella from

Ed­die Lay­cock was one of our best ever rid­ers. Here he is in ac­tion dur­ing the 1990 Bri­tish Grand Prix.

The late great Tom Her­ron in his fi­nal race at the North West 200 in 1979. Photo cour­tesy Face­book.

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