it’s the engine noise

It would be wrong to suggest that the old man and herself spent every weekend of the 1970s at a noisy, smelly event, but motorsport was a big part of my childhood. Sitting in the back seat of the Cortina, or in a caravan on top of a hill, while high speed rally cars passed a finishing line and slowed down. The old man pressed the buttons on the clock, herself wrote the time on the big sheet and on the navigator cards, and off the cars went to do it all again on another stage. The Circuit of Ireland, the Ulster Rally, Donegal Rally, Bushwhacker Rally, Knockalla hill climb and many, many more. Our family routine, for years. Since this was what we did, I decided to be interested in what was going on. I complied scrapbooks and knew who all the drivers were. Billy Coleman was my favourite: I even wrote to Jim’ll Fix It about him. Maybe it was as well that one didn’t work out.

rally car, hill, beach

So, really I ought not to have been surprised by the film Road about the motorcycling road racing Dunlop family, from Co Antrim. Two generations of world class racers. Two sets of brothers. A dangerous sport, with many fatalities. I’ve often wondered about the Dunlops. About what it’s like to be a woman in that family. What the film showed me was that while the particulars of the sport are not familiar to me, the community is. Joey Dunlop, playing about with his mates, working at an engine, touring the country at weekends- that just put me in mind of the old man and his cronies, laughing in a garage, giggling at an evil plan to wind one another up. Getting older and wiser and outing the brother from his room so they could play on the Scalextric racing set that Santa brought. The world of the Dunlops isn’t the alien reality I’d imagined. It’s oddly familiar to me, though an extreme version.

Road begins with a quotation from Milan Kundera: The man hunched over his motorcycle can focus only on the present instant of his flight; he is caught in a fragment of time cut off from both the past and the future; he is wrenched from the continuity of time…in other words, he is in a state of ecstasy; in that state he is unaware of his age, his wife, his children, his worries, and so he has no fear, because the source of fear is in the future, and a person freed of the future has nothing to fear.The film demonstrates the truth of that for those four men; Joey, Robert, William and Michael.

Everybody in Northern Ireland is familiar with some bits of the Dunlop stories, but that didn’t stop me being glued to the screen. I was gripped, anxious and elated. I was tearful, and I wanted to embrace the all of the Dunlop families.


I would have watched the film even if Lovely Liam hadn’t been narrating, but his voice tell a wider story. He’s from just down the road from the Dunlops, but brings an international dimension. This is about one family, one minority sport, yet tells the story of families, brothers, and what we all do to survive.




You won’t have to have had a childhood surrounded by loud engines and motoring magazines to appreciate Road. In the UK, it’s available on BBC iplayer. Also released on DVD/ other formats I don’t know anything about.

photo of Knockalla hill climb, the most beautiful of all hillclimbs, from 

One thought on “it’s the engine noise

  1. A friend of mine was married to a motocross “star” back in the 70’s. It was a big deal and I remember being quite enamored at all the energy and excitement that surrounded the sport. I lost track of them decades ago, but you brought that all back to me and I had to smile at how young and impressed I was at the time. It sounds like a very interesting DVD. I don’t know that it’s being offered “over here” but if I see the title, I’ll have to take a peek. It sounds interesting and i never miss an opportunity to spend time with Lovely Liam! 🙂

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