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Sunday, July 3, 2022

The NW200 and the Ballymoney connection.

Ballymoney and the NW200 have had a long-standing and close connection with each other. FUSE FM Ballymoney takes a closer look at it.

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As we prepare for the 2018 Vauxhall NW200, we take a brief look at the connection that Ballymoney had and continues to have on the Northern Ireland motorbike racing scene and in particular the NW200.

You could be forgiven for thinking that motorcycle racing and Ballymoney began with the likes of Paul Robinson, Adrian Archibald or the racing dynasty of the Dunlop family. While their contribution can never be denied and continues to be influential, its goes back even further than this.

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One if not the first local club to be established in the local area was the Coleraine MC&LCC (motor cycle & light car club) who formed in response to the increasing popularity of the motorcycle scene in 1922. One of their very first events took place a short distance from Ballymoney in the local village of Ballybogey. They called this the ‘flying mile’, but this would only be the start, going on to create the 50 mile Ulster Championship and an 100 mile event, the ‘Coleraine 100’.

Three years later the first Ballymoney club was formed, Ballymoney MC&LCC and it would be a member of that club, F.H. Lockett, who would win the first ‘Coleraine 100’.

Start of NW200

The NW200 of today is a much different event from its humble beginning’s back in 1929 at its first race meeting, but one thing that hasn’t changed is its continuing popularity. Named so for its location in the North West of the country and that it’s was first created to be a 200 mile circuit.

Originally the event was ran by the Derry & District Motor club but after a split in the club, despite the success of the NW200, a new club was created, the North of Ireland Motor Club (NIMC). This club started by organising their first event in Ballymoney but would go on to take over the NW200 several months later and would do so for over 30 years before handing the reigns, or should that be controls, to current event organisers Coleraine & District Motor Club under its current title, the ‘Vauxhall International North West 200’.

Armoy Armada

Back a little closer to home four individuals whose names have a permanent place in motorcycle race history, would organise a popular, if short-lived, race meeting in Armoy. This race event just 9 miles from Ballymoney lasted just 3 short years known as the ‘Armoy Armada’.

‘Armoy Armada’ Picture Credit AMRRC

The Armoy Armada consisted of Dunlop brother Joey & Jim, Mervyn Robinson and Frank Kennedy. Sadly only one of these individuals is alive today, Jim Dunlop, with the other three going on to lose their lives all as a result of a motor racing accident. Frank & Mervyn lost their lives on the NW200 circuit in 1979 & 1980, while Joey would go on to great success only for his life to be cut short in 2000 in a race in the Republic of Estonia several weeks after taking another win at the TT that year.

In 2009 the racing began once again in Armoy with the ‘Armoy Road Races’ which was and continues to be organised by the AMRRC under the watchful eye of club Chairperson & course director, Bill Kennedy, the late brother of Frank Kennedy.

This years sees the Armoy Road Races celebrate 10 year anniversary since its revival and the dates are scheduled for 27th & 28th July 2018.

A Racing Dynasty

There have been many riders from Ballymoney and surrounding districts that have had great success on the motorcycle racing circuits and not just at the NW200.

One name that stands out among the rest, not just in Ballymoney, but around the world…The Dunlop’s!

Motorcycle racing was in the Dunlop’s blood with brothers Joey, Robert and Jim all racing from a young age. Even their sons have racing in their blood. Both of Roberts sons William and Michael all race as does Jim’s son Sam, who can be seen racing at the Armoy Road races.

But it would be Joey and Robert that would cement the name Dunlop in motorcycle history. Here is a brief timeline as to their connection and impact to the NW200.

1957 – This year would see the 1st, and most certainly not the last, 100mph achieved at the NW200. This of course is pale in comparison to the 209mph lap record which now stands today.

1979 – Joey would take his first of many wins at the NW200 that year which was also celebrating its 50th year. Sadly however tihs achievement was overshadowed by the tragic death at the race of former ‘Armoy Armada’ indiviual Frank Kennedy along with two other lives that year.

1986 – Jump forward 7 years and Robert would pick up his first win on the NW200 circuit in the 350cc race.

1987 – Joey picked up many wins at the NW200 since his first win in 1979, but his notable hat trick was in 1987 on the 750cc and both Superbike races.

1990 –  Not to be outdone Robert would pickup his own hat trick in the 125cc and both superbike races.

1991 – Yet another hat trick for Robert and then again in the 1993 & 1994 race season at the NW 200.

2000 – A sad year for racing fans as this would be Joeys final appearance at the NW200, then onto the TT before losing his life racing in the Republic of Estonia. Over 50000 people would attend Joeys funeral in Ballymoney.

2008 – Eight years later Robert would lose his life, this time on the circuit that Dunlop’s helped make famous, the NW200. The crash happened in a practice lap at the notorious Mather’s Cross. His son Michael however just two days later raced in the 250cc picking up the win in tribute to his late father.

Lasting Memories

Despite Jim Dunlop the last of the brothers and Armoy Armada still alive no longer racing, the Dunlop’s continue to influence road racing through Michael, William & Sam Dunlop. Michael and William will yet again this year be racing at the NW200 with Michael’s debut on the Tyco BMW.

As permanent tribute to the Dunlop brothers Joey & Robert and their achievements to road racing, the two each have their own memorial gardens and statues at the bottom of Ballymoney. Both gardens are situated side by side and just a short distance at the railway station is ‘Joeys Bar’, a pub bought by Joey and which still remains in the family to this day, remaining a popular gathering spot of bikers from all over the would especially during race week.

Joey Dunlop Memorial Garden. Picture Credit: Codie Murray
Robert Dunlop Memorial Garden. Picture Credit: Codie Murray

With thanks to information gathered from Ballymoney Museum, Vauxhall International NW200 & AMRRC.

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