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The Road Racers - Discovering the NW200

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pinned in sixth gear, that last 1500 rpm before redline is where things get sketchy. It’s a proper Superbike, cranking out upwards of 220 horsepower, so top speed is in excess of 200 mph. At that velocity the rear tire skitters around, the rider in full tuck trying to catch a draft from the bike ahead. All the while, telephone poles, fence posts and roadside curbs ensure mistakes meet with either injury or instant death. A casual observer must think a road racer crazy...
 
Practice is underway for the 2010 North West 200, and American competitor Jimmy Moore describes his most recent session, his right wrist pantomimes top gear pinned, the left hand wavers back and forth like his Yamaha R1’s rear. Familiar vapors of racing fuel waft through pits, along with the rhythmic wail of Inline-Fours as crews blip throttles prepping bikes. The fickle Irish weather has treated the paddock with an unusual clear blue sky, ideal conditions for racers and fans alike.
Ian Hutchinson
This article and many more like it are featured in Issue Three 2010 of MotoUSA Magazine. This coffee table quality publication features timeless articles that focus on the best destinations and the rides from around the world is brought to you by the editors of Motorcycle-USA.com. Get your complimentary copy with every order from the exclusive distributor Motorcycle-Superstore. (While supplies last!)

 
Northern Ireland braces for tomorrow’s races. Tens of thousands will flock to Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine, the small trio of towns on the northern coast upon whose public roads the 8.9-mile circuit runs. The Triangle follows the coast between Portrush and Portstewart before heading inland to Coleraine and then back. In between, racers will blur through landmarks by now ingrained into their neural circuitry: York Corner, Primrose Hill, Ballysally Roundabout, Mather’s Cross, the Metropole. Along the way, spectators line the course to view the action as riders chance fate.
 
It’s a form of racing that goes all but unnoticed in America, with the NW200 just one stop on a robust Irish road racing schedule that counts more than a dozen events. And this is true road racing, in its most literal form. The road racing spoken of in the US, which is to say races held on purpose-built closed courses, are referred to here, rather dismissively by some fans, as “short-circuit” racing. And while the TT on the nearby Isle of Man may be the world’s most recognized road race, the North West has a mystique all its own.
 
Martin-Curb.jpg
Wilson Craig Honda's Guy Martin skirts the curb on a wet road. The rain is an issue in road racing only when it's wet on some portions of the circuit but dry on others.
First running in 1929 as an endurance race, back then the 200 moniker possessed a literal meaning. Surviving through the decades, the NW200 missed seven years during the Second World War, as well as 1972 for the civil strife that would come to be known as The Troubles. Somewhere along the way its international prestige eclipsed the Ulster Grand Prix, an even more historic road race that runs on the Dundrod circuit south of Belfast. Now the NW200 stands as the crown jewel of the Irish road racing establishment, holding the distinction of being the largest outdoor sporting event in Ireland with attendance estimates as high as 150,000.

While the “200” name remains, the current racing program consists of six races in familiar classes like Superbike, Supersport and Superstock. The North West also features a 125cc 2-stroke class, though the 250cc was dropped for 2010 and the 125’s future seems perilous at best. Races take place on Saturday, with practice on Tuesday and Thursday also drawing crowds. The practice sessions are critical not only for bike setup, but qualifying as well, as the NW200 is a true sprint race. It is another wrinkle that makes the NW200 such a riveting spectacle, as riders grid up and fly off the start line en masse like a traditional “short-circuit” race. The Isle of Man TT, which is itself a notoriously dangerous enterprise killing more than 200 during its 103-year history, launches riders off one at a time to race each other via lap times. At the North West riders bash fairings for position.
 
It’s not a sport for the squeamish. The allure of road racing comes in no small part from its high danger quotient. The level of risk is such that most fellow professional “short-circuit” riders want no part of it. Rider safety is why road courses like the Isle of Man and Ulster Grand Prix are no longer on the World Championship schedule. The margin for error is slim, with mistakes devastating. While fatalities are not frequent enough to be termed commonplace, they do happen – a natural consequence of the racing.
 
Joey Dunlop and Robert Dunlop
Joey Dunlop in his trademark yellow helmet leads brother Robert at the 1991 NW200.Dunlop Funeral
When the 'King of the Roads' died during an Estonian road race in 2000, the funeral in his native Northern Ireland drew thousands of mourners for their national hero.
It is a grim sport that has taken the lives of its legends, two of the greatest being brothers Joey and Robert Dunlop. None have amassed more road-racing glory than the Dunlop clan. The two brothers chartered a family dynasty from the ‘70s through the ‘90s and into the new millennium.
 
Joey claimed 13 NW200 races to go along with an astounding 26 Isle of Man TT and 24 Ulster Grand Prix victories. Dunlop’s career included a whopping total of 117 career Irish national road race victories. Walking through the crowds at this year’s event, the name Joey Dunlop is still heard in casual conversation, often mentioned in a reverential tone. The “King of the Roads” remains a national hero, whose popularity rose above the sectarian divide of his native Northern Ireland. Younger brother Robert carved out his own impressive career and the “Mighty Micro” remains the winningest rider at the North West with 15 victories.

Yet the brothers’ legendary aura has been paid in blood. Aged 48, Joey perished during an Estonian street race in 2000, his death instantaneous upon impact of roadside trees after losing traction on a wet road. His funeral drew more than 50,000 mourners. Robert’s death came at age 47, crashing during 250cc practice at the 2008 North West. A seized engine threw Dunlop over his handlebars while going 160 mph at Mather’s Cross, a particularly lethal high-speed section of the track. He was hit by a following rider and later succumbed to his injuries in the hospital.
 
The two are interred near the NW200 grounds in their hometown of Ballymoney, a small city in County Antrim – one of the six Ulster counties to make up Northern Ireland. Ballymoney remains a sanctum of Irish road racing, with the town hall hosting a museum dedicated to the sport. The Joey Dunlop Memorial Gardens are also there, which honor the fallen heroes, and just down the road from them sits Joey’s Pub, a popular stop for riders to hoist a pint in memoriam.
 
Michael Dunlop
Brothers Michael (top) and William (bottom) carry on the Dunlop road racing legacy, the sons of the NW200's winningest rider Robert Dunlop. Cousin Paul Robinson races in the 125 class.
William Dunlop  winner of 250 and 125 races at the North West 200 and son of the late Robert Dunlop.
Those greats are gone, but a new generation of Dunlops have since claimed their road-racing birthrights. Brothers William and Michael, sons of Robert, each have NW200 victories already under their belt. Cousin Sam competes in the 125 class, the son of Jim Dunlop, a brother of Joey and Robert. Yet another cousin races 125, Paul Robinson, whose father, Mervyn, married the sister of Joey and Robert. Mervyn “Robbo” Robinson was himself a road racer of great renown - a member of the famed road-racing quartet dubbed the Armoy Armada (see sidebar) The elder Robinson was also another casualty of the sport.
 
At the 1980 North West a then five-year-old Paul waited trackside, with the thousands of other spectators, to see his father race. But his father never appeared, having died at Mather’s Cross, the very spot that would claim uncle Robert 28 years later. Mather’s Cross was the site of a 2009 fatality as well, racer Mark Young. For 2010 a speed-reducing chicane was built at the location to improve safety. In spite of the danger, then and now, Robinson continues to race. All the racing Dunlops know the ultimate consequence of their sport.
 
Of the current Dunlop racers, Michael has tallied the more impressive totals, scoring a coveted victory at the Isle of Man in 2009. It was also Michael who in 2008 took victory in the 250 race just days after his father died, dedicating the win to him. “I’ve been in road racing and I’m a road racing fan, so obviously I’ve been at it from the start,” says Michael Dunlop, in the NW pits at a fundraising booth for his father’s memorial statue. “It’s just one thing I’ve been brought up with.” But when asked about the risks and obvious danger, the plain-spoken 22-year-old is unsentimental. “No, that’s the way it is. That’s the sport. There’s going to be risks. Obviously we know what we’re doing, so we’re trying to do it. It’s one of those things I guess.”

In spite of its somber potential, a mood of celebration permeates the festivities. Riders gather from all points of the British Isles to spectate. A heavy Irish presence attends, but a great amount of Brits ferry from across the Irish Sea as well. Many riders stride about the streets in full racing leathers. Give them 60 seconds to pull on gloves and full-face helmets, which they carry, and most would be fit for a trackday or even a hot lap on the NW itself. In fact, given the fully-geared nature of the fans and the open access of the pits, it’s difficult to discern between competitor and the serious fan.
 
McGuinness
John McGuinness (above) an Isle of Man TT legend and five-time NW200 winner. Honda rider Steve Plater (below left) crashed hard in practice, lucky to suffer only a broken arm. Guy Martin (below, right) an Englishman and one of the more popular riders in the road racing circuits.
PlaterGuy Martin  hailing from Lincolnshire  England  and one of the more popular riders in the road racing circuits.
Had he not been relentless in hounding officials for the latest practice times, Darwyn Young could have been one of those passed by as fan rather than a competitor. A native Irishman, Young has been road racing for three years, contesting the national series. The sport always attracted him, but he “shied away from it,” knowing his loved ones, including mom, would disapprove. But then his brother started road racing, and as Young put it, “you always want to do what your heroes do.” One hero, of course, being Joey Dunlop.

A mechanical factory technician by trade, Young typifies the everyman racers who fill the grid behind the high-profile names. They labor long weekdays for those select weekends. “You have to work 300 days a year just to do this eight or nine times,” admits Young. “This is for myself.”
 
The commitment involved, the shared risk and plain pure joy of the sport unites its competitors, without regards to religion or political creed. Events like the North West 200 help bring together a community that, though relatively peaceful now, still remains estranged in many ways.

“Everybody gets the divide, Northern and Southern, but with motorbike racing there is no divide,” says Young. “It’s just everybody loves just doing what they do and they just meet up and go and do it. It takes all the hassle away from it. Road racing, it doesn’t matter where your background’s from or what you do. You love bikes and you go racing.”
 
Competing in the Supersport class, Young gets less circumspect when asked what inspires himself to repeatedly risk his life for a sport. “I don’t call it crazy,” says the Northern Irish rider, before breaking into a wide grin. “I just call it mentally unstable.”
 
Connor Cummins
Tall and lanky, Manx rider Conor Cummins is a consistent threat for the road racing rostrum.
Mental instability notwithstanding, what differentiates the road racer from his “short-circuit” kin does lay somewhere between the ears. The majority of competitors hail from the British Isles, with a great deal of the elite riders campaigning the British Superbike series. Many are Englishmen, like 2009 NW200 winner Steve Plater, who suffered a high-speed practice crash and was rushed to the hospital at this year’s event (later determined that he escaped with just a broken arm). Soft-spoken Yorkshire rider Ian Hutchinson is one of the paddock’s fiercest competitors. Mutton-chopped Guy Martin, probably the most popular rider in the paddock, sports a jumpy, frenetic nature and a Lincolnshire accent so thick it needs subtitles for most tin-eared Americans.

Manx rider Conor Cummins is far too tall and lanky to be considered a serious roadracing specimen, yet remains one of the most consistent challengers nonetheless. (Cummins is so tall his bike physically looks different than others, the windscreen dramatically higher.) In contrast, Scottish rider Stuart Easton and Irishman Alastair Seeley are pint size – the lightweight Easton managing to shatter the circuit’s top speed in practice at 206 mph.
 
Jimmy Moore
Former AMA champion Jimmy Moore (17) has emerged as a regular competitor at the North West, one of the few Americans to take to the unique conditions of Irish roads.
The course routes through public roads  shut down for half-day increments to accommodate the racing.
The road racing paddock welcomes a sizable contingent of veteran riders too, who parlay experience into extended careers on the road. The 37-year-old Michael Rutter, son of racing great Tony Rutter, boasts an astounding 13 wins at the North West. Englishman John McGuinness, also 37, built his reputation with 15 wins at the Isle of Man, but holds five NW200 victories. Welshman Ian Lougher (pronounced locker) remains competitive at age 46 and campaigns almost exclusively on the roads, a nine-time winner at the NW200.
 
A handful of international riders also discover their niche in road racing and become regulars, including New Zealand’s Bruce Anstey and Australian Cameron Donald. Americans Mark Miller and Tom Montano also test the road racing waters on regular occasion. Another Yank is two-time AMA champion (2002 Superstock, 2001 Supersport), and MotoUSA test rider, Jimmy Moore, whose discovery of road racing mirrors the perceptions of many an American racing fan.
 
“I honestly think if somebody back home saw a video clip or read about it, I don’t think it would honestly sink in. I don’t think they would actually understand,” says Moore on the North West. “And I say that because I was a bit guilty of it too. I knew about these Irish road races. I would read about it and catch the random video, but it never really sunk in until I was driven around the mid-Antrim course (another road race further south between Coleraine and Belfast). It’s better suited for a farm tractor and they’re averaging over 100 mph in a lap. And it’s covered in mud and rocks and cow crap. This is truly a subculture and I have the most respect for these guys.”

The American’s education of the North West began in full during his inaugural outing in 2007. At the time the Oregon resident’s mind couldn’t come to grips with the cold consequences of his new circuit.
 
“You can’t think about it. I caught myself the first half dozen practice sessions that first year looking at everything I could hit,” recalls Moore. “I couldn’t take my mind off the curbing. I was going around corners in fourth gear looking at all the flagpoles with the little foam wrap around the bottom.”
 
A train motors across the bridge towards Portrush while riders fly by benath it -  Relentless North West 200
A train motors across the bridge towards Portrush while riders fly by beneath it during the North West 200.

At the North West there is no run off. There is no reset button. Not only is your life at risk, so are the other competitors. Not to mention the fans. At a certain point, it comes down to adjusting the mind to the new, frightening penalties and limits. Then riding to the edge of them, both figuratively and literally. The pressure can make the thrill from conventional racing pale in comparison.
 
“Short circuit racing is so sterile. It’s boring,” laments Moore. “I got so charged up in 2007 after doing the North West. Afterward I went straight to that new track in Salt Lake City (Miller Motorsports Park) and for two days I was bored out of my mind. I felt like a computer program. I’d be in the middle of practice on a short straight between two corners and catch myself looking off wondering where the people were, because I just came back from somewhere where I was catching people’s toes.”
 
If road racing ruins the track, it destroys enjoyment of street riding too. Michael Dunlop doesn’t bother with a “road bike” as he calls it. Rider Darwyn Young elaborated further: “I wouldn’t ride a motorbike on the roads now. Because my head and my mind has been up to speed at 130 and 140 mph, which is even slow. It would be too dangerous for me to ride a bike and enjoy it on the road.”
 
Discovering Irish Road Racing at the NW 200
Admission to the North West 200 is free, though fans can purchase a prime vantage at a grandstand or local home.
Irishman Alastair Seeley had a strong NW200  taking two victories one in Supersport and the other in Superbike  an Irish rider not having stepped atop the Superbike NW200 podium in more than a decade.
Irishman Alastair Seeley had a strong NW200, taking two victories one in Supersport and the other in Superbike, an Irish rider not having stepped atop the Superbike NW200 podium in more than a decade.

Aside from Plater’s practice crash, the racing at this year’s event went fairly clean, without any deaths. Most of the medical carnage came from the spectators, one falling off a seaside cliff and another incident involving pub fisticuffs, which delayed the racing as medical personnel were sent in, much to the disgust of the fans.
 
From the fans perspective, the key to the North West is scouting a prime vantage and then following the action via loudspeaker, video screen and word of mouth. It’s a communal experience and information burns through the ranks second-hand, with much of the action unfolding literally miles away. General attendance is free, with tickets required only for grandstand areas located at strategic locations like the start/finish and prime overtaking corners. Many spectators show up well in advance and camp out, claiming the best locations early, like a big parade. Which it is really, a brutally fast parade. Also one of the more dangerous, as five hundred pounds of man and machine on a destructive swath could instantly take the life of a spectator.
 
The races themselves click off in short order and most of the riders, particularly the factory-backed top tier performers, run a daunting five-race schedule. Success in the first contest can be met with bitter disappointment in the second, then triumphant reversal once again. The man of the day at this year’s NW was Irish rider Alastair Seeley, who broke a decade-long streak by getting an Irishman atop the Superbike rostrum. Seeley also held the distinction of being the lone double-victory rider with a win in the morning Supersport race. John McGuinness, contesting his 17th NW, took the earlier Superbike win, with Scottish rider Keith Amor giving BMW its first ever NW200 victory by taking the checkers in Superstock. Ian Hutchinson claimed the final victory of the event, destroying the field in the second Supersport race. (After the win, the English rider kept on winning, making road racing history at the Isle of Man TT the following month with a record-breaking five TT wins.) American Jimmy Moore finished a respectable 12th in the first Superbike race, his best North West finish to date. Darwyn Young finished both Supersport races, with 35th and 41st-place results.
 
Paul Robinson laid his winners wreath from the 125cc race on his father Mervyn  a member of the Armoy Armada who was killed in the North West 200 in 1980.
Paul Robinson laid his winner's wreath from the 125cc race on his father Mervyn, a member of the Armoy Armada who was killed in the North West 200 in 1980.

As for Paul Robinson, the privateer rider fulfilled a dream by taking the 125 checkers, his main competitor, cousin William, suffering mechanical troubles while in the lead. It was a poignant moment for the 35-year-old, hunched over his bike and visibly emotional after securing his only North West win to date. The victory fulfilled a personal promise, as the next day Robinson placed the victory wreath on his father’s grave. He dedicated that win to his mother, Helen, a woman who has lost a husband and brother to the North West.
 
Tragedy surrounds road racers, as does heroism. While its ultimate severity may be hard to reconcile, Irish road racing is raw and unbridled. Motorsport in its purest form.
Irish Road Racing at the NW 200 Photos
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Armoy Armada vs. Dromara Destroyers
The Armoy Armada ruled the roads in the 70s and early 80s before racing fatalities decimated their ranks.
Irish road racing flourished in the ‘70s with two famous groups in Northern Ireland carrying on a friendly rivalry – the Armoy Armada and the Dromara Destroyers.

The Armada was based out of County Antrim and featured brothers Joey and Jim Dunlop, along with friends Frank Kennedy and Mervyn Robinson (who would later marry a Dunlop sister). Jim Dunlop, who left racing in the early ‘80s, remains the sole surviving member of the quartet. The rest of the Armada died on the roads. Kennedy was the first to pass, crashing at the 1979 North West 200 and dying months later from his injuries. Robinson expired the very next year at the very same race. Joey Dunlop would race for two more decades, where he amassed the impressive career tallies that made him the “King of the Roads,” before perishing in 2000 at a road race in Estonia. Younger brother Robert, while not a member of the Armada, surpassed all except his elder sibling in career milestones and died at the 2008 North West.
Rivals to the Armada were the Dromara Destroyers, a group based in County Down (south of Belfast and County Antrim). Ian McGregor was the original Dromara Destroyer, snagging the nickname during his glory days in the ‘60s. McGregor’s nephew, Brian Reid, along with local riders Ray McCullough and Travis Steele, picked up the moniker in the ‘70s during their road racing duels with the Armada boys up north.

The counterpoint to Joey Dunlop’s mastery of the roads, Ray McCullough tallied 108 Irish road race wins, 13 Irish Championships and 14 Ulster Championships during his 19-year career. McCullough bested many of the greats, like Barry Sheene and Tony Rutter, and claimed the 250 GP victory in the 1971 Ulster Grand Prix – the last year it was on the World Championship schedule. Though he never raced at the Isle of Man or pursued an international career on the Grand Prix circuit, McCullough was regarded as a world-class talent. He remains revered as one of the greatest living road racing legends.

Joey Dunlop - 1977
The Armoy Armada (top) ruled the '70s Irish road racing scene. Left to right: Joey Dunlop, Fank Kennedy, Jim Dunlop, Mervyn Robinson.
Dromara Destroyer Ray McCullough (bottom) dominated Irish roads like no one else, save Joey Dunlop.

Ireland at a Glance
Northern Irelands Antrim Coastal Road.
“Damn Iceland!” We mocked, with sarcasm, while hoisting pints at Robinsons Pub in downtown Belfast. As an unpronounceable Icelandic volcano spewed aircraft-grounding ash all across Ireland, my travel stay in the Emerald Isle extended indefinitely. Trust me when I say, there are far worse fates in this world than being stranded for a couple extra days in Ireland.

Thirty years of protracted civil strife may have kept the casual world traveler away, but Northern Ireland’s nascent tourism industry wants you to visit. The US is a huge market for the area, with many foreigners making the journey to track down their immigrant roots. It’s a running joke that every American visitor “has a grandmother who’s Irish.” And considering almost 40 million Americans claim Irish ancestry, more Americans may have “Irish” grandmothers than the actual Irish!

The two nations share a strong cultural bond, and in our travels we haven’t met a warmer welcome as an American than during our visit to Ireland. Travelers should brush up on their US history though, as everyone, from cabbie to fellow pub patron, will be talking about the Irish impact on our country. Did you know the hillbillies, Andrew Jackson and Billy the Kid were all, in a roundabout way, from Northern Ireland? So we were told… multiple times.

Tourism is still growing in the North. This isn’t a bad thing, as the countryside, and coast in particular, are unspoiled by commercial development. Bright yellow flowers of the gorse shrub against dark green hills punctuate the memory of our brief one-day ride up the Causeway Coastal Route. The scenic wonder of the area is the Giant’s Causeway, a curious geological formation of neatly stacked basalt columns. A more touristy stop, but highly recommended, is the sweet-smelling Bushmills’ whiskey distillery. All along the way the idyllic coastal scenery made us long for more of the curvy backroads, which our KTM 990 SMT ate up with relish (special thanks to road racing great Phillip McCallen for the rental!).
 
The focal point for riders in Northern Ireland, however, should be the road racing scene. The North West 200 represents just one of six active road races held in the Ulster Counties, with a handful more scattered throughout the Republic of Ireland. For die-hard aficionados, the NW200 is the destination of an Irish journey. For more casual racing fans, it’s a fantastic stop on a vacation itinerary that should include at least two to three days in the North. Take one day riding up the coast and then stake a claim for the action-packed races on Saturday, making sure to spend at least one full day in Belfast.

Notorious as the epicenter of the Troubles, Belfast is a thriving metropolitan city welcoming of tourists. A lasting peace through the 1998 Good Friday Agreement seems to have buried the worst of the Troubles, for now, though the scars are fresh. A cautious optimism permeates, more powerful, we think, than the lingering tensions. Fear should certainly not deter the curious traveler. Follow the advice from that Irish grandmother of yours to not broach politics or religion in polite conversation, unless the locals bring it up (which they often do).

Belfast’s dark past has in fact transformed into a morbid tourism of its own, with the popular “black cab” tours taking visitors through the city’s more notorious sites. At the invitation of the tourism board we took the tour, finding it at turns entertaining and unnerving. On one stop we listened as our guide pointed out the sites of various murders and bombings while neighborhood children laughed and played in a nearby park – the entire time a ski-masked rifleman aimed down at us from an imposing mural. It’s a paradox difficult to explain. Turf remains marked throughout in the city, the vivid murals announcing loyalties.

Our advice? Set the serious stuff aside, head to a pub and order a round for yourself and a local. Not only will they insist on returning the favor once the glass is empty, you’ll be treated to fine conversation and a little blarney thrown in for good measure. And, yes, Guinness in Ireland tastes like ambrosia – an extra “jar” or four, after a long day of riding is absolutely required. We implore more judicious portions, however, when visiting the north coast’s Bushmills distillery and enjoying the free dram of 25-year-old whiskey that comes with your tour.
 
All told our Irish stay was memorable and too short, in spite of our delayed return. Those extra days gave us time to stay up too late in Belfast pubs, where with some new friends we brooded over serious things like Guinness, motorcycles, whiskey and Irish grandmothers. Also volcanoes.

BIKE RENTALS
Phillip McCallen Motorcycles
Northern Ireland is best seen by bike, so snag a rental from the road racing great Phillip McCallen. The former NW200 and IOMTT winner offers rentals ranging from 125 to 2300cc. Tel: 02892622886
www.phillipmccallen.com  

HOTELS
Galgorm Resort & Spa
Country estate turned luxury resort is spendy but posh. Features a relaxing spa and beautiful grounds. www.galgorm.com  

Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast
Luxurious, modern accommodations located right in the heart of Belfast, all within easy walking distance of the town center and shopping.
www.fitzwilliamhotelbelfast.com  

ATTRACTIONS
Ballymoney Museum & Joey Dunlop Memorial Gardens
Proud of its road racing heritage, the town of Ballymoney features a museum dedicated to the sport in its town hall. Down the road fans can pay homage at the Joey Dunlop Memorial Gardens, then amble a little further to raise a glass to the fallen Dunlop brothers at Joey’s Pub.

Giant’s Causeway
An impressive geological formation of thousands of basalt columns, the Giant’s Causeway is worth a stop and stroll. Views from the overlook alone are worth the trek.

Belfast Black Cab Tours
There are numerous cab tours available. Ask for Billy. You’ll know which one, he’s the “black cab” guide with a red cab!

FOOD
We expected the worst, our minds tainted by visions of boiled potatoes that would dissolve through the tines of a fork when lifted to the mouth. Truth be told, we never ate a bad meal in Ireland. And let’s be honest, most of your caloric intake will come from glasses of the local syrupy black nectar the Irish refer to as Guinness.

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Comments
barnyard#31 -ugp  December 3, 2010 06:05 AM
went to assen ok catalunya ok the ulster grand prix mind blowing the biz rip joey
Kevinb99 -irishbikerforum.com  November 19, 2010 01:23 PM
^^^ that's a great write up! Irish Road Race Championships 2011 - Proposed dates Apr 29/30 – Cookstown May 6/7 - Tandragee May 17/19/21 – NW 200 June 17/18 or 25/26– Bush July 1/2 – Skerries July 9/10 - Walderstown July 16/17 – Kells July 23/24 - Faugheen Aug 5/6– Mid Antrim Aug 10/11/13 – Dundrod 150/UGP Aug 20/21 – Munster Aug 26/27 - Athea Sept 10/11 – Killalane Armoy - TBC http://irishroadracers.smfforfree.com/index.php?topic=7161.0
RRFan -NW200 good but it's the UGP for me.  September 3, 2010 06:41 AM
@Spiritof67, I would give serious consideration to attending the Ulster Grand Prix instead of the Northwest. Not alone is it the fastest road race in the world (~134mph average lap speed ! 190+ mph on the flying Kilo) but it offers the best of pure irish road racing combined with knee down "short circuit" style scratching at 130+ mph in some places. It has managed to retain the tight knit atmosphere of a much smaller road racing meet while still attracting the best riders in the world. The Northwest has gotten very commercial with the big teams dictating how it is run and the crowds mean it is much harder to find a good spot to view. Check out Shinysideup100's YouTube channel for a huge number of videos. Oh and best of luck to Derek Shiels @ Killalane !
Alicia Tierney -Girlfriend of irish road racer (Derek Sheils)  September 1, 2010 07:41 PM
Truely a great sport and excitemtent fills every last person who goes to see it, its great to see appreciation all the way over in the states. My heart is in my mouth at every race. I encourage anyone from the states to come visit Ireland and watch these spectacular races.
benroe -Real Road Racing  August 7, 2010 10:28 PM
Now I do love Rossi, Spies, Hayden, Haga, and all of those guys. I have also frequented a track a time or two. But the real men race the IOM and the NW200. These guys do it with such a small margin for error it has no other choice but to be exciting. These guys are racing on roads just like the ones that most of us take our beloved weekend backroad scratches on. It just doesn't get any better than that!! My dream holiday would be to one of these races.
Spiritof67 -One of the World's Great and Legendary Races  August 5, 2010 03:08 PM
I don't know about this kind of motorcycle racing being ignored in the US. ALL kinds of motorcycle racing (save perhaps "supercross") are ignored in the US. But in an earlier era, we had actual road races in the US. Windber PA had them until the early '60s, and it's interesting to note that folks there "rented" space on their porches, lawns, etc. for race day. Personally, I have wanted to see this race for over 40 years and I'm now making plans to attend in 2012. If you really like road racing, this race (and the IoM) are absolute must-sees. Great article, and it stands out that this may be one of the few unique and good uses for an on-line magazine. Congratulations.
Backroad Bob -www.backroadbob.com  August 4, 2010 08:51 AM
BTW Bart, nice bit of scribbing. It shows you went out of your way to capture the essence of the racing and the people.
Backroad Bob -www.backroadbob.com  August 4, 2010 08:39 AM
The Irish racing is like no other place on the planet, even different from the IOM, but it's the people that leave the most powerful impression. I met Robert for the first time at the '07 IOM TT where he invited me over to stay at his home for the following year's NW200. I regret not taking him up on his offer. Very special people.
frank -viewing the NW200  July 27, 2010 12:08 PM
For those tech savvy enough you can find many of the Irish roadraces on the Bit Torrent sites shortly after it airs on the BBC.
Gasser -Takechancesgofast  July 27, 2010 08:35 AM
I can relate to this kind of road racing real good because every weekend I pound my 08 CBR 1K on the Big Island of Hawaii's 54 miles of Saddle Road that I turned into a 100 mile loop from sea level to 9,000 ft riding it Isle of Man style on the gas going faster than the crash...good fun s**t bruddah's.
will parker -Irish Roadracing..  July 26, 2010 02:47 PM
sure you won't see short circuit guys at thses races anytime soon, but these guys sure have Big Balls..

Joey Dunlop was a GREAT rider period.
CliveP -Norn Iron (Northern Ireland local pronunciation)  July 26, 2010 02:24 PM
This internet does amaze me at times. Here I am in Co. Armagh reading great things about this little country on MC USA.

Thanks guys. Nice to see we got some things worth sharing.

Come on over y'all and relax, oh and probably best bring an umbrella if you will leave the pubs for long.

If I didn't already live here I must admit I would love to visit.

See, not one word on religion or politics! Oops