The Road Racers: The Making of a Classic

Words: Stuart Barker Photographs: David Wallace

David Wallace’s documentary film about the Armoy Armada is an all-time biking classic.

Shot in the summer of 1977, it followed a then unknown Joey Dunlop, together with Mervyn Robinson and Frank Kennedy, as they raced the Irish roads on a shoestring budget.

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Using pioneering techniques such as on board cameras, The Road Racers has become a cult classic amongst bike racing fans. In a rare and exclusive interview, double BAFTA award-winner director David Wallace takes us behind the scenes of the greatest road racing documentary ever shot.

Merv and Frank working on a bike. Theories and practical solutions combine in sturdy jumpers and sideburns.

“Most people’s image of bike racing at that time was of Barry Sheene and all the glamour that surrounded him with the Brut adverts on TV,” says David Wallace.

It was 1977. Sheene had won his second 500cc world title and enjoyed a playboy lifestyle more reminiscent of a rock star than a motorcycle racer.

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Nowhere was particularly private. And when everyone can see what you’re doing, you pretty soon stop caring about keeping things private and just get on with the job of racing.

He had the Rolls-Royces, the helicopters, a penthouse pet hanging on his arm, and the world’s press eating out of his hand. Sheene had it all, and his success had made bike racing more popular than it had ever been in Britain.

But there was another side to bike racing in the 1970s and David Wallace was determined to capture it on celluloid to complete the picture.

Joey leads Ray McCullough. Tough race.

As he says: “Joey Dunlop was unlikely to be offered an aftershave advertising contract. I took some photographs in 1976 and his hair was so unkempt you could barely see his face when he was working on the bike.”

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Read more and view more images in the May/June 2019 issue of Classic Raceron sale now!

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