The Most Famous Motorcycle Racers Of All Time
Ever since the invention of the internal combustion engine, men who have been crazy enough to put a container full of flammable liquid between their thighs have existed. Motorcycling is the provision of the most un-adulterated and sublime combination of risk, thrill and absolute freedom, it’s obvious that this is a religion we dearly subscribe too. But then we truly know them and their cult status as being real men of flesh and blood. These are the men who stand above the many greats of the motorcycling world. These are the men who have left an indelible mark on motorsports. These are the five most famous motorcycle racers of all time.
Born in Northern Ireland on 25 February, 1952 the mighty Joey Dunlop was not just a hugely famous motorcycle racer. For, he is and will forever be a national treasure. During his career he won a staggering 26 Isle of Man TT races, most number of wins till date. Joey Dunlop was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1996. He was also awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by the Queen in 1986 for his contributions to British motorsports and for his humanitarian achievements. Joey Dunlop also spearheaded in putting Irish road racing scene on the international map. His is a legacy that has been taken forward by his nephews Joey and Michael Dunlop two astonishingly brilliant road racers in their own rights.
Among his staggering collection of race wins and legendary stats, he had won the first Ulster GP in Northern Ireland. After his victory in 1979, he went on to win the race another 23 times over his career. When you think of it, Joey did 110mph average speeds on 1000cc monsters with relic tyres and basic suspension across 7.7 miles, all that thirty-five years ago, you realise just how fast, talented, brave and insane the man was. Joey had won everywhere on the planet, Wining Northwest 200 13 times. He won FIM Formula One TT world championship five years in a row from 1982 to 1986, and many many more. Joey Dunlop kept winning till his last breath. He died in a tragic accident while crashing out of the lead in a 125cc race at the Estonia Pirita-Kose-Kloostrimetsa circuit in 2000. He had already won the 600cc and 750cc events at the circuit before it. Joey Dunlop was a man, legends look up to, and he will forever be among the greatest men who ever raced motorcycles.
You put him on anything with wheels and an engine in between and he would turn up real fast speeds. That is what the legend of Mike Hailwood is all about. The British racer, ‘Mike The Bike’ as he was lovingly called was a natural with the motorcycles. During the length of his career as one of the famous motorcycle racers, Hailwood also jumped on to the Formula 1 championship for his hunger of speed. Hailwood won the 1961 250cc GP championship along with two 500cc Championships in 1962 and 63 riding MV Agusta’s. Along with his Formula 1 stint (twice) he also took a GT40 to 3rd place at Le Mans in 1969. Mike was not just a brave racer; he was also a brave hero. In 1973, during the South African F1 GP he saved Clay Regazzoni from his burning car after a horrific accident.
In the process of saving his fellow driver, Hailwood himself suffered burns but his actions saved Regazzoni’s life. For his heroic display of courage and sportsmanship he received The George Medal, the highest bravery award for a civilian in the United Kingdom. Mike Hailwood is also considered to have won the most thrilling Isle of Man race ever. In 1967 Senior TT, he defeated the legendary Giacomo Agostini (MV Agusta) while riding a Honda RC181. By 1979, the then 39 year old Mike Hailwood had won a total of 76 GP’s, 112 GP Podiums, 14 IMOTT Victories and Nine World Championships. At the age of just over 41 years, Mike Hailwood died in a tragic car accident Warwickshire, England. What he left behind was a legacy that might never be repeated again.
Kenny Roberts or “King” Kenny became the first ever American to win a Grand Prix World Championship. In fact he won three consecutive 500cc Championships from 1978-80. Not just a fierce competitor Kenny was also a pioneer for safety, riding style and directions in technology. Back in the late 70’s Roberts used a cornering style that was contrary to the norm of the time. By wrapping duct tape around his knees, Roberts was able to what we know today as “dragging a knee.” He brought Grand Prix racing to the states by promoting the development of Laguna Seca by forcing the FIM’s hand in 1980 to re-write the rule book on track safety and improving the pay for riders. He also went out on his own to build Moto GP bikes for his own team.
The Australian legend, Mick Doohan raced in what can be termed as the most inane era of motorcycle racing. It was the times of monstrous 500cc two-strokes that produced power in excess of 240bhp’s, but Mick made them look easy. He also can be called the John McLane of MotoGP as he kept coming back from injuries, always faster yet. His Aussie grit showed how it was done as he dominated the 90s even against almost impossible odds. All this achievements were when he almost lost his leg to gangrene after a horrific crash at 1992 Assen GP. He came back just 8 weeks after a life threatening situation and fought fiercely with Rainey for the title. Interestingly, even after not racing in 4 races consecutively, Doohan only lost to Rainey by just 4 points.
Mick Doohan won his first World Championship in 1994 and then kept winning till 1999 back to back. A nasty crash in 1999 during Jerez qualifying saw him break a wrist, a shoulder and bad right leg. Mick Doohan retired from Professional racing shortly after.
Arguably the Greatest Of All Time, but definitely the world’s most popular motorcycle racer by a fair margin, Valentine Rossi is as big a sportsperson can ever get. The Doctor as he is lovingly known is known to be a fierce competitor on track. Rossi is someone who can be regarded as the face of the premier class motorcycle racing. He has done more for the promotion of MotoGP than any marketing campaign put together. He has been a gigantic force on the track with his 9 world championships and off it as well with this No. 46 being the favourite of merchandise industry. The longest running career at the highest level, with most number of race starts. He is the only rider to have won championships at both 500cc era and four stroke era. He has also won every he has raced and won all, 125, 250,500,990,800 cc world championships. HE has seen his rivals come and go but he has always continued.
With every year the competition has kept getting more intense and Valentino has kept re-inventing himself and kept fighting for the top slot with a much younger opposition. Valentino Rossi is an epitome of what a motorcycle racer can be.