If there's one fact that's beyond dispute in the world of motorcycle sport it's that Northern Ireland's always been the epicentre of "between the hedges" motorcycle road racing.
The strength in depth of world class road racers that this part of the UK has produced is bonkers. But drill down a bit further and one begins to realise that a small village nestling in the beautiful countryside of County Antrim is especially steeped in road racing history and tradition. If anywhere can lay claim to being road racing's "central HQ," then the village of Armoy and its surrounding roads can.
With a population of just over a thousand residents, Armoy will always be associated with four very special inhabitants who hailed from around the village. For three seasons from 1977 - 1979, Frank Kennedy, Mervyn Robinson and Joey Dunlop were revered within the road racing community for their incredible skill, talent and bravery on roads circuits. Two of the riders ran motorcycle workshops in Armoy and used to test and run their engines in on the local roads - particularly Hillside, Lagge and Glenshesk roads. These roads constitute some of the main sections of the Armoy Circuit. A fourth member of this elite group was Joey's brother - Jim Dunlop and it was this road racing 'band of brothers' that became known as the Armoy Armada.
Keith Amor leads Guy Martin
Irish National Road Racing
Whilst the Isle of Man TT with 114 years of history may lift the laurels for being the world's most famous road race, Armoy and the other Irish National road races are equally unique in their own right and every bit as compelling as a visual spectacle. With mass starts, narrow bumpy country back lanes, tricky technical circuits that riders love, fantastic vantage points for spectators and unbelievable proximity to the circuit, Irish National road racing is as visceral and exciting as it gets. Guy Martin sums it up in his own inimitable way - "if you're a road race fan and you've not been to watch an Irish road race - then you're not really a road race fan."
Supersport race start
Races like Armoy represent a throwback to the grassroots of the sport. In this day and age of corporate sponsorship packages and multi-million pound salaried sports, attending an Irish national can feel like turning the clock back - and that's brilliant. They've a unique and compelling culture. Being based around small villages or towns creates a friendly atmosphere and a strong sense of community spirit. The races are vitally important for the communities and equally important for the sport of road racing. A close relationship exists between the smaller national races - like Armoy, Kells and Tandragee and the International events like the NW200, the TT and the Ulster GP. Many TT and NW200 winners like Michael Dunlop learned their trade on the smaller circuits. It's where many of the big stars of the sport cut their teeth.
Adam McLean McAdoo Racing
The Armoy "Race of Legends"
The idea of holding a race of legends in and around the village was first hatched in 2007 but in order to do this, a club had to first be established to affiliate it with the governing body of the sport. And so, the Armoy Motorcycle Road Racing Club (AMRRC) was formed in 2008 with the first races held the following year.
Right from the start, the Club invited many of the top names and managed to get Guy Martin involved from year one. He played a big part in establishing the race from the outset on account of his profile and popularity.
Since then, the race has gone from strength to strength gaining a reputation for being extremely well run and organised by Clerk of Course Bill Kennedy MBE and his team of dedicated volunteers / club members.
The history of this whole area allied to the significance of a road race on the very stretches of road used by the Armoy Armada to test their engines is massive. Since the first race was held twelve years ago, Armoy has rightly gained a world-wide reputation for being one of the best races on the Irish National calendar.
The Armoy Circuit
At just over three miles long, the triangular circuit is raced anti-clockwise and has just about everything riders and fans seek: umpteen jumps, a number of blind entry corners, many technical sections like Acheson's Leap, some fast 165 mph straights and of course the famous Lagge jumps - which Dom Herbertson has described as "motocross on Superbikes." The riders love the place - Herbertson reckons that "it's the greatest circuit in the world!" He's always bursting with enthusiasm! Guy Martin has described Armoy as "an awesome track" and "about as extreme as road racing gets." And the fans love it because of the number of great spectating points around the course.
The 2021 Armoy Race of Legends Returns!
Bill Kennedy and the team at AMRRC have worked especially hard this year to ensure that a safe event can be staged. Comprehensive health and safety measures have been put in place including the setting up of a special vaccine centre pre the races as part of a wider community safety plan. Every effort has been taken to make this a safe event - and the public has been asked to play their part and abide by the regulations and additional safety measures in place for this year.
Both fans and riders are desperate to see some great real road racing action again. The grids are going to be packed with a first class list of entrants, pre- event passes have completely sold out and loyal sponsors like the Diamond Bar in Ballymoney, the Mermaid Club in Kircubbin and Stanley Stewart from Ballymoney - (plus some new sponsors), have returned - which is great to see.
A top class list of entrants is led by eight times Armoy "Race of Legends" winner Michael Dunlop who'll line up on the Synetiq BMW M1000RR by TAS Racing. It's the first time Michael will have raced in almost two years. He'll be joined by Derek McGee, Derek Sheils, Dom Herbertson, Davey Todd (Wilson Craig Honda), Paul Jordan (Burrows RK Suzuki), Adam McLean (McAdoo Racing), Joey Thompson, Michael Sweeney, Daryl Tweed and Mike Browne - the list goes on! Another major highlight and sure to be a real crowd pleaser, is Dunlop will also be racing an MV500 (possibly a Black Eagle machine?) in the Classic Race and will go head-to-head with Guy Martin who has entered his BSA Rocket 3. It's great that Armoy includes some classic racing too!
This year's Armoy road races is a ticket only event and all tickets have been sold. If you've not been lucky enough to get hold of one you can always tune into the highlights programme which will be broadcast in the near future on BBC NI. Watch this space or check out our social media links for updates. Everything's in place for a terrific return to live road racing - all that's required is for the weather to behave!
We've been to Armoy a couple of times and love the place and the people. The racing's mind blowing. We can't begin to imagine the amount of work and effort that's been put into organising this year's races and we want to wish Bill Kennedy and his team, everyone at the AMRRC - plus all riders, teams, fans, medics, marshals and the local community a safe and successful meeting.
May the sun shine over Armoy this Friday and Saturday! (Weather Gods - do your bit).
📸 Special thanks to Shaun Lewis